Should You Run Through Pain?

How to tell the difference between aches and pains—and when you just need to stop.

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There are countless articles, inspirational quotes and photos telling us to embrace the pain or that pain is weakness leaving the body. I’m a big fan of these mantras. They are at the forefront of my mind during most tempo, interval and long runs. But, embracing the pain isn’t the best idea all the time. There is a time to push through pain and a time when you should pull the plug on your run.

It can be tough to distinguish between the different types of pain. There’s the pain of a kick-your-butt hard workout—the burning in your lungs and the lactic acid in your legs as you push to finish that mile or interval. Or it could be the muscle soreness and heavy legs type of pain that comes at mile 22 of a marathon or the day after a tough workout or long run. These are the days you want those mantras to keep pushing.

The other kind of pain—basically anything throbbing, piercing, sharp, dull— is pain you don’t want to mess with. Take it from me. Running through this kind of pain is never a good idea. It seems like an obvious statement, but I am sure many of us have been there before. You feel a dull ache or pain, and you reason with yourself that somehow running through it will make it magically disappear. Been there, done that. Most of the time, the pain will just continue – or get worse.

If you feel some sort of pain during a run, stretch it out for a few minutes and then try running again. If the pain continues or worsens, it’s probably a good idea to call it a day.

Perform RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) when you return home. If there is pain the next day, don’t run on it. At this point, it could be beneficial to start looking for a professional’s opinion.

These days I am not afraid to make it a rest day (or days) or to cross-train when something seems to be off. I’d much rather take one or two preventative days off then be forced to take weeks off due to a major injury.