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When Should I run? And when should I run to the doctor?

BY Jennifer Van Allen

Runners often experience aches and pains during training, but how do you know when to run through it, when to rest and when to see the doctor? Read these tips to help guide your decisions.

Any runner pushing their limits will experience aches, pains and unfortunately injuries as well. In the process of training it can be tough to determine if you can run through the pain, should take some time off or if you should make an appointment with the doctor. While some general achiness is to be expected any time you’re pushing your body farther or faster than it’s gone before, most aches should be gone one or two days after a hard effort.. After all, it takes longer for the muscles, bones, and joints to adapt more slowly to stresses than the aerobic system.

This can create a gray area for runners. If the pain isn’t severe enough to warrant an immediate trip to the doctor, but it is enough to cause some concern about your next run you may be wondering what to do. Follow the guide below from Runner’s World, to help you decide which course of action is best for you.

First, here are four warning signs that you should rest and see the doctor:

  1. Your pain is asymmetrical. If you have pain on one side of your body, but not the other, it’s probably something to check out, says Nikki Kimball, a champion ultrarunner and physical therapist from Bozeman, Montana.
  2. Your pain persists for more than 72 hours. You want most aches to go away between three days and a week after they begin, says Stephen Pribut, a sports podiatrist in Washington D.C.
  3. Your pain is sharp and limited to one spot.
  4. Your pain is getting worse.

Stages of Pain

In addition to the warning signs above, Bruce Wilk, a physical therapist, coach, and owner of The Runner’s High specialty shop in Miami, has developed a five-point checklist that you can use to determine whether you should run, walk, rest, or rush to the doctor.

Stages one through three encompass the normal discomforts that go along with pushing your body farther and faster than it’s gone before. Take two to three days off of working out, ice five times a day, and use compression and elevation.

However, if you encounter a red flag or you reach stage four or five, stop working out and seek professional help immediately. Find a sports medicine specialist or orthopedist, preferably someone who has experience working with runners. A local running club or store may be able to recommend someone.

Stage One

An unfamiliar and disconcerting pain while running. It hurts when you are running; it stops hurting when you are done. Red Flag: It forces you to alter your stride.

Stage Two

An unfamiliar or disconcerting pain at rest. It may or may not hurt when you run, but it aches when you are done. Red Flag: The pain interferes with your rest.

Stage Three

Pain during normal daily activities. It hurts when you walk or climb the stairs, or when you are sitting at your desk after a run. Red Flag: The pain forces you to avoid the stairs, walk barefoot, or alter any other normal daily activities.

Stage Four

Pain that makes you take medication, including shots or prescription or over-the-counter meds. Red Flag: It hurt, but taking ibuprofen (or got a cortisone shot), makes the pain go away.

Stage Five

Pain that stops you from running or even walking. Red Flag: It hurts when walking, sitting, lying down, or standing…not to mention running!

Use this as a guide to help you determine your best course of action. Of course it never hurts to err on the side of caution.

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About Jennifer Van Allen

Jen Van Allen is Special Projects Editor for Runner’s World, where she manages their training programs, including the Runner’s World Challenge, the marathon and half-marathon training program, which has graduated over 6000 runners. She is a USATF & RRCA-certified running coach and she has written three books, including the Runner’s World Big Book of Marathon and Half-Marathon Training. To get more great tips and training plans to run your best race, check out the marathon and half-marathon training plans from Runner’s World, the worldwide experts on training and racing for more than 40 years. For training plans, and access to the RW experts on training, nutrition, and injury-prevention, consider taking the Runner’s World Challenge, Runner’s World’s online marathon and half-marathon training.