Runners Should Be Aware of These Pre-Injury Signals

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Runners’ high is not just an expression; it’s a scientific fact, as studies have shown. The great feeling after jogging that makes you smile and boosts your mood is one of the best results of any cardio exercise. Running is a way of life for many people, but when does it start pummeling you into the ground?

People are all built differently and therefore they all respond to stressors to the body differently. “Rest and recovery are just as important, if not more, as training to build strength and endurance,” Dr. Joseph Alencherry, DPM, AACFAS, says. “A basic rule of thumb is listening to your body; if there is pain, this is usually an indication that there is an injury and ignoring this can have detrimental consequences.”

Some discomfort after a long run or a marathon is normal. But there is such things as “too much” that many people ignore. It means they should rest for longer than planned. Runners have to learn the difference between soreness and pain.

Soreness vs. pain

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“Some runners have predisposed condition such as flat feet or other foot condition that may lead to pain after long run and not necessarily has injury during running,” Dr. Gary Lam, DPM, says. “But [it] usually will last 2-3 days with rest, icing/warm compress.” You can even take NASIDs, very common pain relievers, for a day or two. “[The] pain should not be persistent and make you unable to walk,” Dr. Lam adds.

You should not feel any pain if you’re resting on the couch, Michael Gonzalez, physical therapist and athletic trainer with STARS, adds. A cause of concern can be there is a strange sensation in the lower leg area.   

Pain after long runs

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“Some aches and pain are normal and should resolve in 72 hours with good nutrition and rest. These are usually dull and diffuse. If not, perhaps it’s worth a professional evaluation,” Dr. Alencherry says.

“If you have sharp, shooting type pain that prevents you from applying weight to on a limb, then it should be attended to immediately,” he adds.

How much pain is a symptom

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“Repetitive stressors such as that from running can lead to inflammation, and this is a normal phase of healing,” Dr. Alencherry says. Sustaining inflammation can cause damage to the tissue, which overtime will weaken body structures and put them at risk of easily being injured. “Once inflammation has reached a certain threshold we perceive this to be pain. Ignoring this low grade pain often sets the stage for an injury,” he adds.

Every person is different do everyone will have a different threshold, Gonzalez says. “If the pain is bad enough to make you not want to run, then it may be too late – you’re already injured,” he adds.

Pain, tension, inflammation, muscle cramps

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They are all mounting before an injury. “Inflammation is a body response to stimuli,” Dr. Lam says. “[It is] usually present with red, hot, swollen and pain. Tension is more like your feeling and/or mild body response. Tension is like an alert to you; if you ignore it, the next thing that can happen is injury,” he adds.

If the pain occurred as soon as the run was over, it may be due to new footwear or a new course, Gonzalez says. “The body is trying to tell you that something wasn’t right.

If there was an acute ache out of nowhere, there usually is an easy fix. “But not if the pain built up over time,” he adds.

Recognize signs of inflammation

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Runners get injured because they sometimes fail to recognize tension and inflammation. “Some people may ignore them but most of us probably get injured because we fail to recognize these signs of inflammation,” Dr. Alencherry says. “It can be diagnosed based on general appearance of a body part. Most definitive way would be via an imaging study such as an ultrasound or MRI,” he adds.

Also, the pre-injury joints usually feel exhausted, Dr. Lam says. You also feel weakness and limited range of motion.

Some questions runner should ask themselves, according to Gonzalez, are “Am I flexible as yesterday?” and “Do I feel super tight today?” Increased tension will only get worse if not released, he says.

Hips, ankles, shoulders

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People should perform pre-running stretching exercises to all joints in order to assess any weakness, pain and limitation, Dr. Lam says.

You can’t see but you can feel inflammation, stiffness and heaviness, Gonzalez adds. “If you feel any of these, there may be an injury lurking around the corner,” he adds.

Having difficulty using a particular body part is perceived as stiffness, decreased range of motion or reduced strength.  

Test yourself

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“In order to squat, you need quadriceps, hamstrings, soleus, gastrocnemius muscles and back muscles to have a good coordination,” Dr. Lam says. “If the runner used to able to do it but suddenly cannot perform it, [he or she] definitely needs to find out why. Obviously, if any of these muscles cannot function properly, the runner is prompt to have injury,” he adds.

In general; there are no definitive tests that can tell you whether you are not ready to go out for a run. “It really comes down to how you feel, whether you can stretch your hamstrings, whether you feel pain there, and whether you feel loose enough,” Gonzalez says.

“The key is to know your own body’s limits and be able to recognize them so that you know when you’re pushing yourself too much and risking injury,” Dr. Alencherry adds.

Preventing an injury

Squats test hip and ankle mobility, but a person who can perform them perfectly doesn’t have a lower risk for injury, Gonzalez says.

A warm up followed by a stretching will increase blood flow to the muscles, tendons and ligaments and prepare them for exercise, Dr. Alencherry says. “I also encourage stretching after exercise for the same reasons.”

Other factors include your running shoes, track and weather conditions.

More readings:

The Best Exercises to Help Sore Muscles Recover Faster

17 Most Common Fitness Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Health Symptoms You Should Never Ignore (But Dismiss Anyway)

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