When we run, our body moves fast and repetitively, while we think, listen, look, observe, talk to ourselves, and enjoy.
Unfortunately, when any musculoskeletal pain arises, our physical and mental training is interrupted and challenged. Our perceptions when running may change, and it is highly likely for our attention to focus on the area where we are feeling pain. Worldwide, running is a sport with a high number of enthusiasts, and the percentage of injuries is directly proportional to that number; indeed, approximately 50% of runners suffer injuries, and the most common type are overuse injuries.
Now, the big question is: what can we do when we feel pain while training? Will I have to completely cease all of my athletic activities? Do I continue training with the same load, until my program is completed? Should I modify my training routine? Should I consult a specialist?
The answers are not simple, and will depend on several factors.
From discomfort to pain
The first step is to classify the pain and any potential injury. Some concerning signs and symptoms may be any increase in volume, locked joints, constant aches which do not recede even after resting, any pain over 5 in a scale of 1 to 10, and any alteration in your running technique or form, instituted to avoid discomfort. If you have any of these symptoms, the advice is to consult a specialist and be examined, because you could be suffering any of the most common running injuries, such as, among others, stress fractures, Achilles tendinitis, and plantar fasciitis.
To find out more about these injuries and what changes you can implement to avoid them, you may read the following article: How to reduce the risk of injuries in Running
An optimal diagnosis, along with changes in your routine and a proper rehabilitation, could help you move forward and return to training in order to accomplish your goals as soon as possible and in a correct manner.
What happens when you are in pain once several hours after training have elapsed? When pain begins as a mild-moderate pain, but then progressively increases? Or when you feel pain at the beginning of your training and then the pain ceases? What about when the pain is localized or diffuse, and always in the same area?
If the pain is mild or moderate, we can implement changes to the training workload. Nevertheless, it is always advisable to seek guidance from specialists, because even if the pain is mild or moderate, the pain could worsen over time, as we explained before when we indicated that the most common injuries in running are overuse injuries.
Training workload will depend on volume, number of hours, distance, intensity, strength, and type of activity; intervals, slopes, and surface. These factors, along with lifestyle habits, such as work, sleep hygiene, nutrition, rest, and hobbies, will all influence the workload assumed by your body’s tissues while running, mainly focused on your tendons, muscles, and bones.
Pain and injuries will occur when the training workload exceeds the capacity or ability of your body’s tissues to sustain it. For this reason, it is always key to return to the beginning whenever you feel pain.
For example, some ways to reduce the workload are: to take more breaks, to reduce your speed or intervals, to try your routine with a flatter slope, to change your trainers or footwear, or the surface you’re training on. In addition, if you want to improve the capacity of your tissues, you should train your strength and flexibility, engage in active mobility before your training routine and observe your resting periods, thus working on your stability, and improving the strength of your weaker muscles.
DOMS pain and overtraining
Delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is pain that appears 12 or 24 hours after physical exercise. Peak pain is reached on the second or third day, and then the pain’s intensity decreases. The cause for this type of ache is inflammation and microscopic damage to muscle fibres, due to intense training. This process of pain, damage, and adaptation is normal and expected, and, consequently, there’s no reason for concern, provided it follows the cycle described above.
Overtraining is another classic example in which the athlete loses his/her balance between workload and capacity, exceeding his/her training loads.
The symptoms are varied, and among them we can mention the following: general fatigue, insomnia, thirst, loss of appetite, weight loss, amenorrhea, muscle pain, tendinous pain, more frequent colds and infections, reduction of strength, reduced coordination, difficulty concentrating, general apathy, and loss of libido, among others.
These unexpected symptoms will bring about health problems for runners, causing their records to worsen. For this reason, if you detect any of these symptoms, the suggestion is to consult a specialist in order to properly adjust training workloads.
Finally, another specific type of pain you can face is the classic acute pain, a sharp and burning pain that appears unexpectedly during training. If you feel an intense pain, which occurs fast, you could be facing a potential injury. Compression and protection of the section of your body where you feel the pain is advisable, along with seeking help, consulting a specialist, and following all recommendations, in order to successfully move forward with a progressive and guided return to athletic activities.
In conclusion, the prevention of injuries and the search for balance is a goal sought by all athletes. However, when this objective is frustrated, we should not ignore it. When pain arises, our bodies are letting us know that something is going on, and it will always be better to act in advance.