How to Listen to Your Body to Avoid Injury

Written by


During the last few miles of the marathon at the 2010 Ironman New Zealand, I was experiencing several thoughts and emotions.

I was most enthusiastic about my body feeling strong, without muscle or joint pain. Seven months of training had finally paid off. My main goal for every Ironman triathlon has been to finish before the cut-off time feeling somewhat strong.

I am fortunate, being a doctor of physical therapy and certified as a USA Triathlon coach, that I am able to design a training program for myself which will help to prevent injuries, but also help me to finish a race feeling strong. I feel that my background has helped me avoid getting injured. We all need to learn how to listen to our bodies and understand what our body is telling us.

As a former collegiate volleyball player I had to deal with several injuries secondary to the increased demands of the sport, especially practice time. The most severe injury was a fractured lumbar spine. I endured years of physical therapy to overcome the pain and resumed playing volleyball at a high level.

It was very difficult to listen to my own body at that time. I was unaware of the consequences of playing through the pain and I felt I would be letting my team down if I could not play due to injury. I felt I owed it to my team, my school and my coach to play regardless of the pain level or the consequences to my body.

Throughout my educational training as a physical therapist I came to understand the importance of listening to one's own symptoms during a sport. The effects of playing through pain can be detrimental. I know of many athletes who train endlessly for a marathon or a triathlon only to be sidelined by an injury.

If athletes listen to their own symptoms during their training, they will have a greater chance of recovering and rehabilitating before the race date.

Symptoms During Your Workout

Listening to your body is imperative when training for a running race or a triathlon. Symptoms that you might feel during training could either indicate joint stiffness, muscular tightness, muscle soreness or pain from a previous injury. Stiffness, soreness and tightness are normal symptoms encountered during training, especially in a warm-up.

These symptoms should subside after approximately 10 minutes of an easy warm-up. However, sharp pain or severe tightness that persists during the workout could indicate a serious injury.

If you experience severe tightness or pain which persists during the workout, decrease the intensity, decrease the distance and stretch mid-run. If your symptoms subside, return to your normal workout the next day and listen to your body during the warm-up and workout.

However, if the symptoms continue, rest from running for approximately 48 hours. Ice the area of concern for 15 minutes every two hours and assess the symptoms. If you feel symptoms at rest, the injured area is still inflamed and the athlete should continue to rest or perform pain-free cross training. If the symptoms persist at rest and last longer than two to four days, the athlete should seek professional advice from a qualified physician or physical therapist.

MORE: How To Prevent The 6 Most Common Cycling Injuries