Should You Run Through the Pain, or Take a Day off?

There's a certain amount of pain and soreness that comes with distance running. If you stayed on the couch every day one of your calves or thighs felt a little tight, you'd never get in shape. On the other hand, running through an injury can make that injury worse, leaving you sidelined for weeks or months. How do you know whether your discomfort is something you should run through, or a sign of impending injury? If any of these three statements are true, you should ice your sore area and take the day off from running. Otherwise, suck it up and head out the door.

The Painful Area is Swollen and Red

Swelling and redness indicate that the discomfort you're experiencing is more than just muscle soreness. If the swelling and redness is in a joint, you may be suffering from tendonitis or a strained ligament. If it's a more muscular area that's red and swollen, you may have pulled a muscle. A good place to start is taking a few days off from running. Stretch and massage the affected area gently, and apply ice for about 20 minutes at a time. Re-evaluate the situation after three or four days. If the pain is gone, try slowly returning to running. If you don't see substantial improvement, seek medical advice before you start to run again.

When You Jog, You Notice That Your Gait Is Altered Due to the Injury

Take a few jogging steps, even if they are just across your living room. If you feel like you're naturally able to run with your normal stride, then you're probably okay to go for an easy run. If your gait is abnormal due to the pain, on the other hand, you should take the day off. Running with an altered gait will just put strain on other joints and muscles, potentially leading to additional injuries.

You Feel Friction or Hear a Clicking Noise When You Bend a Joint

When you bend the sore joint, do you feel resistance and a slight "grinding" sensation? This is a sign of inflammation of the tendon sheath, which is a layer of tissue that covers the junction between a tendon and a muscle. It often occurs in the tendons in the bottom of the foot and in the Achilles tendon.  Tendon sheath inflammation is a mild injury, but if you keep running through it, you may cause permanent damage.

Take a couple of days off from running, and ice the area. You can return to running, just a few miles at a time, once the pain is completely gone. If the pain lingers more than a few days, be sure to see a doctor or physical therapist.

Keep in mind that when an area is just sore for a few days, and then a new area is sore, this is usually not a cause for concern. On the other hand, when the same area hurts repeatedly for a week or longer, you can usually consider yourself injured and should see treatment from a doctor or physical therapist (like those at Eastern Shore Physical Therapy).