Paul Osterman, L.A.T.
Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedics, Sports Medicine
Everyone has heard the saying "No pain, no gain," and, if you're training for a long-distance race, chances are that you've felt some pain.
General muscle soreness and mild discomfort is common among runners, and it often is the sign of a successful training program. When training for a long-distance race, it's important to gradually progress your training and not overstress your body. Overtraining can result when you push your training too quickly and the workload exceeds your body's normal ability to adapt to the stress placed on it without appropriate rest or recovery time.
When putting your body through the rigorous training required for a marathon, how much pain is too much? When should you power through, and when should you take it easy and get checked out?
The most important thing is to listen to your body. Sometimes runners get into a mentality that they must finish a particular run in progress, and they don't listen to or respond appropriately to their aches and pain.
A lot of runners experience knee pain, and it doesn't mean that you have to give up on your goal, especially if your pain level is low ― 0 to 3 on a 10-point scale ― consistent, doesn't escalate and you don't have swelling the day after the run.
If your knee pain is at a lower level and never changes, you can keep running, but you should get it evaluated by a health care provider. Also, use ice and stretching or lower your running intensity to ease the pain, rather than use medication to mask the pain.
However, if your pain level escalates more than two points, or you wake up with swelling in your hip, knee or foot, you need to get checked out or you may increase your risk of worsening the injury.
One thing that prevents athletes from getting checked out is the fear they'll be told they must stop training. While there are cases when a health care provider must say a runner shouldn't run, it's likely you can keep working toward your goal in some capacity. Pain that is short-lived, improves with activity or resolves with rest is generally not concerning.
Researchers have found that runners can moderate knee pain with changes in pace. An athletic trainer or physical therapist can help you modify your plan and educate you about stretching and interventions so you can finish your training and race. So listen to your body and keep working toward your goal.