Many runners pride themselves on being able to tough out the routine aches and pains that go along with asking more of their bodies. And when you're training for a race, or feel like you're gaining fitness, you may feel reluctant to take an unplanned break, or to spend money and time seeing a doctor, especially if there's a chance that you might not like what the doctor has to say.
And many times, it's just really unclear which pains can be run through and which pains demand surrender—especially if you're new to running. "It's often very hard to determine what is worthy of a doctor visit and what isn't," says exercise physiologist, biomechanist and running coach, Adam St. Pierre, founder of ASTP Coaching in Boulder, CO.
Here are some tips to help you determine whether you need to make an appointment.
"Soreness in the body of muscles is usually just a sign that you've pushed your body in training," says St. Pierre. "It will recover and be stronger after some time passes." When pain feels like it's in a joint, or a place that doesn't seem to have lots of muscle mass (like the inner or outer ankle, heel, or the IT Band), or the ends of muscles (the hamstring at the knee or up near the butt), "that's when I get more concerned," St. Pierre says.
Pushing your body farther or faster than it's gone before is bound to make you feel a whole-body achiness, that's pretty even on both sides of the body. But often, factors like muscle weakness can contribute to injuries and issues on one side of the body. If you feel pain on one leg, glute, foot, or ankle, but not the other, see a doctor.
General muscle achiness and tightness tends to feel better after an adequate warm up and a sustained bout of easy running, say 10 to 20 minutes. But when you have a full-blown injury, it will persist or feel worse with each footstep. It is far better to cut a run short and take a rest day, then to try to ignore and run through a worsening pain, and turn an irritation into a full-blow injury that could sideline your training for weeks or months.
If the discomfort starts to get in the way of everyday activities like climbing the stairs, standing up from a sitting position, sitting or standing in a certain position, or even walking, it's time to get help. When those discomforts are severe enough that you feel them during those simple movements, not only is it unpleasant, but chances are that you're going to start developing compensatory movements to avoid the pain. And that could lead to other injuries and irritations.
If the pain persists even after five to seven days of rest, cross training, and easy running, see a doctor, says St. Pierre. The period of time you need to rest and get ready to run again can vary a lot between individuals, so listen carefully to the signs that your body is sending you about whether you're on the road to recovery, or need medical attention.