What to Do About Running Aches and Pain

karen janos
Written by

Running, or any exercise, will cause you to feel some pain. That's part of improving your cardiovasuclar fitness and the muscle-building process. But, how do you know the difference between normal aches and true pain, which can be the sign of something more serious?

Normal aches and pains include things like muscle soreness, some minor twinges here and there in your joints and, after a particularly long or hard run, some difficulty getting moving or stiffness. These types of aches will generally go away on their own either during a short break or after not running for a few days. If these pains persist for more than three to four days, they may be a sign of something wrong.

Some examples of pain that are not typically "normal" and should be taken seriously are: 

  • sharp, stabbing pain, especially if it doesn't let up if you stop or walk
  • throbbing pain in your legs, particularly if it persists while resting
  • shortness of breath after you've rested for a few minutes
  • any sort of tightness or constricting feeling in your chest

More: What Effect Does Running Have on Your Heart?

Also if putting your full weight on either leg causes real pain in any joint, you should consider that pain outside of the norm. You know your body best so pay attention to what it's telling you. Most runners know when an ache or pain is not normal for them.

More: 4 Running Setbacks and How to Handle Them

If your pain falls more into the "normal" category, you may want to give your body an extra day to rest, but besides that you shouldn't be alarmed. However, if your pain crosses over into the more serious category, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. A doctor can help diagnose what's wrong and hopefully get you back to running more quickly than if you ignore the problem.

If you can't see a doctor immediately, don't go for a run. Until you see the doctor, it is better to stay on the sidelines. While waiting, you can help yourself by using RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Using the RICE method can help heal injuries like joint pain or pulled muscles. It obviously won't do anything for shortness of breath or tightness in your chest. For those pains you really need to see a doctor right away, even visit the Emergency Room, if necessary.

More: Do's and Don'ts for Icing Injuries

Using RICE is straightforward. First you rest the injury—in other words, DON'T RUN. Next you ice the affected area, provide compression via a brace, ace bandage or perhaps compression attire, and then elevate the injury. Elevating the injured area allows blood and other fluids to run back into your body and away from the injury, thereby decreasing any swelling.

The key message to any runner is know your body. If a pain is more than what is normal for you, seek out a specialist's help, and follow their advice. Most injuries can be solved if you are smart about helping your body heal.

More: 3 Ways to Build an Injury-Proof Foundation for Running

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