Whether you just took up running or a serious athlete, log enough miles, and you’ll experience aches and pains in your muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissue.
In some cases, you might able to keep running through the discomfort, but often serious running pain means that you need to assess your running routine, even stop training altogether.
So how do you know when it’s okay to run through the pain, when to slow it down, and when to rest and go see a doctor?
If you’re looking for answers, then you’re in the right place.
In this post, I’ll briefly explain the different types of running pains, with suggestions on when it’s okay to keep training and when to stop.
Let’s get started.
Word of caution. Let the record clearly state that I’m not encouraging anyone to keep running through injury.
If you have chronic pain, get it checked out by a professional.
I’m not a doctor nor play one on the internet.
Measure your Pain
Running pains are not created equal.
Instead, these come in many forms, whether it’s a sore muscle, achy joint, bone fracture, inflamed tendon, or throbbing headache.
They also vary from one runner to the next.
To help you decide how to best react to these running pains, consider grading them on a pain scale of 1 to 10.
Mild Pain 1-3
You experience it at the beginning of a run, but it usually subsides as you start to warm up and continue running.
In general, it’s safe to run through mild pain.
If you have any problem areas, opt for the RICE protocol after your session.
Moderate Pain 4-6
This type of pain manifests as you start running, but stays at a tolerant intensity throughout the workout.
While you can still run through it, it’s better to listen to your body and adjust your training approach accordingly to prevent things from getting worse.
Severe pain – 7 to 10
This type of pain is so serious that you feel it before, during, and after your runs.
In fact, the agony increases as you log in more miles, forcing you to limp or change your gait.
Never run through this type of pain as it will do you more harm than good.
Instead, take as many days off from training as long as you have symptoms.
You should also consult your doctor, who will recommend the right treatment and prevention options to help you return to running pain-free.
Where is the pain?
Now let’s dive into some of the most commonly affected limbs while running.
Pinpointing the exact affected area can help you determine what’s going on and how best to proceed.
Pain Region – The Head
If you’re experiencing a headache after running, it could be caused by bright sunlight (especially squinting), dehydration, or exhaustion (due to swelling blood vessels).
To avoid it, make sure (1) you’re drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your runs; (2) wear a hat with a brim and running sunglasses when running in the sun; and (3) change your running duration or time of the day.
But if you often get headaches after running, or suffer from any other unusual symptoms, such as a stiff neck, confusion, double vision, vomiting, or God forbid, fainting and loss of consciousness, then seek medical care.
Pain region – The Foot
Since the feet take the brunt of the repetitive pounding of the sport, it’s an injury-prone region in runners.
The foot is an incredibly complicated structure made up of a network of bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and fascia that work together in harmony and serve as the foundation to every running step you take—and there are plenty of things that can go awry with this key body part.
One dysfunctional cog and the whole machine can be slowed down to a screeching halt—or stop functioning altogether.
Let’s look at a few issues.
Reason 1 – Improper Running Shoes
If your feet feel tingly or numb, poor blood circulation could be the culprit.
Check if your shoes are too tight.
If it’s the case, loosen them up and give your toes enough wiggle room.
Apply the RICE protocol as soon as you get home.
Seek medical care if the numbness persists.
Reason 2 -Heel Pain
If you experience most of the pain in your heel, especially if it’s worse in the morning, you could be dealing with plantar fasciitis.
Every case is different.
You might push through mild plantar fasciitis, but in other cases, any extra miles can cause more damage to the ligament.
If your pain is severe, stop training for a few days, then start running again once you’re pain free.
Reason 3 – A Blister
Blisters are by no means a serious injury, thereby, running through them should be no problem, as long as you minimize the friction against your skin.
Apply gel, jelly-like blister bandages or put a tissue over the affected area
Pain Region – The Shins
The lower leg, including everything between the knee and ankle, is a prime spot for aches and pain thanks to running’s high impact nature.
Runners can suffer from a couple of different overuse injuries that strike this region.
Reason 1 – Shin Splints
If the pain is neither on the front or the back of the shins, you could have shin splints, which is a common overuse injury among beginner runners who try to do too much too soon.
Shin splints are the catch-all term used to describe pain below the knee either on the inside part of the leg (medial shin splints) or on the front outside part of the leg (anterior shin splints).
Shin splints can often be treated with rest and ice, but if symptoms don’t improve, consult your physician to make sure you have a stress fracture.
Reason 2 – Stress Fracture
If the pain starts off mildly and gradually gets worse the more miles in, it could be a stress fracture, which requires immediate medical attention.
Stress fractures consist of small cracks, or severe bruising, in a bone that causes discomfort and pain.
It often strikes runners in the shins and feet.
The condition happens when muscles become fatigued and can no longer absorb added shock.
Taking time off running is essential as continued strain on the bone can lead to more serious injury.
And you don’t want that.
Pain Region – The Ankle
Your ankle joint is one of the most important running joints—so it’s no surprise that it’s a common source of pain.
The joint forms the connection between your body and the ground, and there are several roots for running-induced ankle pain.
The following are the most common:
Reason 1 – Ankle Sprain
If you sprain your ankle during a run, stop running, especially if the joint is swollen or the pain is intense.
Running on a sprained ankle may damage the affected ligament, making you prone to further injury.
As a rule of thumb, get home straightway, and apply the RICE method.
Try to keep the affected joint mobile but don’t overstress it.
Reason 2 – Achilles Tendonitis
Experience soreness on the back of the ankle?
It could be Achilles tendonitis, which is an overuse injury of the Achilles’ tendon, the large tendon that attaches your calf muscles—the gastrocnemius and soleus— to the back of your heel bone.
Under repeated load, the tendon contracts and is forced too hard, resulting in inflammation or irritation.
If you have it, stop running and go home.
Next, rest, apply ice, compress, and keep the affected limb raised above heart level.
Pain Region – Knees
The knees are a problematic area for runners as there are different overuse injuries that involve knee pain.
In fact, out of all aches and pains that plague runner, knee pain from running is the most frustrating and debilitating.
Reason 1 – Runners Knee
If you feel pain under or around the kneecap, runners’ knee might be the culprit.
Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, the condition consists of damage to the cartilage under the kneecap, and it’s often caused by movements that load the knee joint on a flexed position.
Stop running for a few days, and RICE the affected knee.
You should also work on strengthening your quadriceps and stretching your hamstrings and hip muscles.
Reason 2 – Iliotibial Band Syndrome
If you feel pain around the knee on the outside of your leg, it could be the inflammation of the iliotibial band.
The IT band stretches along the outside edge of the upper leg, from hips to the knee.
Rest immediately the moment you notice IT band pain.
That means shorter distances or no running at all.
The condition can turn chronic if you don’t give yourself a break from running.
Reason 3 – Patellar tendon strain
Feel the pain just below the kneecap?
If so, it could be a patellar tendon strain, which is an inflammation of the tendon surrounding the kneecap (patella).
This tendon is a key part of leg structure, attaching the patella to the shinbone as well as helping keep the patella in line as the leg bends and straightens during the running gait.
Running through a tendon strain is asking for trouble.
If the pain doesn’t subside within a few days, have it looked at.
Pain region – The Hips
Prolonged sitting often causes tight hip flexors, which are usually made tighter the more miles you log in without following a consistent stretching routine.
That’s why hip pain from running is a common concern in the running world.
Reason 1 – Typical Soreness
When it’s just soreness.
In most cases, the pain subsides as you get fitter and gain more experience running.
You should also stretch and use a foam roller to improve mobility and release tension in that area, especially in the hip flexors.
Reason 2 – Bursitis
If you notice pain or swelling directly in the joint, then you could be dealing with hip bursitis.
If it’s the case, halt your running routine and opt for pain-free cross-training options and stretches you can do at home.
Pain region – The Lower back
Running’s high impact nature can take a toll on your back, causing soreness in the lower back, especially in runners taking up the sport for the first time.
Experience back pain during a run?
Try stopping and stretching for a few minutes.
If symptoms don’t improve, stop running altogether, and seek treatment.
Most cases of back pain are caused by a specific cause that you need to address before it gets better.
To prevent lower back pain in general, work on strengthening your core as well as trunk control and unilateral lower-body resistance training.
Pain region – The Chest
Stop running on the sport if the pain is spreading to your neck or shoulder and/or being accompanied by double vision, breathlessness, profuse sweating, and faintness.
In some cases, these are the symptoms of a heart attack.
Next, seek medical help immediately —or pray someone is nearby to help.
There you have it.
The above covers some of the most common pains runners experience during training as well as how to proceed in the presence of pain.
The key thing is to always listen to your body and readjust your training approach accordingly.
The rest is just details, as the saying goes.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.