It’s that time of year — everything is pumpkin spiced, our fantasy football league waiver wire is saturated with disappointments, and our marathoners are asking “Should I run through this pain?”

The answer comes down to analyzing the type of pain you’re experiencing. (Are you just sore, or does it feel more like someone is stabbing your knee?) Use this handy scale of Pain Levels 1-5 to figure out if it’s safe to keep on keeping on, or if you should get checked out.

Pain Level 1: HMMM.
If something alerted your Spidey senses, but the pain let up quickly either while running or as soon as you stopped, let’s dig a little deeper. Ask yourself:

  • Did it continue for the duration of the run, or go away pretty quickly?
    If it went away, your muscles were just stiff and you needed more of a warmup. If you don’t already have a dynamic warmup routine, put one in place and hit us up for suggestions.

  • Is it a pain you’ve had before or something associated with an old injury? The top risk factor for a running-related injury is — you guessed it — a previous running-related injury. Are you keeping up with your rehab and homework? If not, start it up again and see if the pain goes away. 

  • Are you tapering for a race?
    If so, it’s possible that the pain is just in your head. Taper pains are very common, and often just your body and brain’s way of responding to decreased training volume.

Pain Level 2: YEP, SOMETHING IS UP.
For a manageable pain that comes and goes or rears its head but lessens as your legs warm up, it’s OK to keep running (for now), but you need to be even more diligent about recovery.

Stretch, roll, ice anything that’s nagging you for 10 mins, at least 3 times/day. Check the wear patterns on your shoes and remember to replace trainers after every 300-ish miles, and even more frequently for racing flats and minimalist shoes.

If pain continues for more than a few runs, seek advice from a PT, especially if it’s only on one side of your body.

Pain Level 3: OUCH.
The pain shows up every time you run. You’re tightening up or hurting post-run and popping Advil like they’re Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered almonds.

If the pain hits Level 3 mid-run, head home at an easy pace and bail on the workout. Give it a day or two of complete rest, and choose a route that’ll keep you close to home for the next run in case it happens again. It’d be a good idea to get checked out by a PT.

If you’re feeling like you’re toughing out your runs regularly, something is definitely up. Take a few days off from running completely, and try some lower impact activities. Cutting back a bit on mileage won’t make you lose fitness, and in fact, it could help you run faster. Studies show strength training just once a week will make you a more efficient runner by using less oxygen at a faster pace.

If cross training causes the same kind of pain as running, book that PT appointment.

PAIN LEVEL 4: OH PLEASE NO.
Running hurts, you’re unable to recover between workouts, or the pain doesn’t go away at all.

When you hit Level 4, do not run again until you’ve been checked out by a physical therapist. Ask yourself — does it hurt with walking too? Is it painful to go up or down stairs? Your PT will want to know the answers to those questions.

PAIN LEVEL 5:  HOLY F.
You’re limping, felt a pop or tear, or a sudden shooting pain has shut you down.

DO NOT try to shake it off and run again. Limit limping (otherwise you can cause even more damage to yourself), get off your feet as quickly as possible, put ice on whatever hurts most and call your favorite PT to get in ASAP. If we determine that you need imaging, we’ll work with with an orthopedic specialist to get you in right away.

If, on the other hand, everything feels really good and the only pain cave you find yourself in is one of your own choosing based on workout intensity — well done! Keep up with the strength training, core and single leg drills as your mileage increases so you can stay healthy til you toe that start line! 

— Team Clutch PT