Running through the pain barrier

Anyone who has ever run with an injury or painful niggle will know that it is a slippery slope to running ruin. And most runners will be aware of the cautionary and sensible advice that you’ll get from your local physiotherapist – usually this will be couched in terms such as your biomechanics will be compromised or you may find that one part of the body over compensates for the injured part. From my perspective that advice is pretty sound, but I believe there’s an even deeper problem that arises when you run injured or even when you’re sore or have a niggle that doesn’t go away as your run progresses.

You need to ignore the little voice in your head that encourages you to keep going, especially when you start gradually making subconscious adjustments to your running technique in an attempt to lessen any pain you might be feeling.  This is bad news whichever way you look at it. Sure it might have been a technical weakness that got you into this mess in the first place, but sometimes you can make a bad situation worse by letting your body decide which way it’s going to compensate for the pain.  I’ve got a theory on this – I think it’s pretty good.

Running in pain 585

Running with good technique is dependent on making contact with the ground with your muscles activated from the hips to the feet – you actually need to capture the ground with the foot and almost pull it towards you, push over your hips with your butt and launch yourself into the next stride.  To do this well requires that you are ready to embrace contact with the ground, welcome it even, without any fear of getting hurt.

The problem when you’re a bit sore or injured is that every-time you contact the ground you’re in pain.  The body and mind’s natural response is to shy away from the pain. Where you previously hummed over the ground with a dynamic stride, you’re now wincing with every-step, the more it hurts the more you try and land softly, and as soon as you start doing this you’re entire running technique will begin to crumble around you.  Running through the brick wall of pain might make you tough, but it’ll also make you a swimmer.

Good running form needs muscles to be active at the point of ground contact, when you’re flinching from pain the running muscles want to shut down and you’re left with a dead landing that ironically has the pain increasing the more you try and protect yourself.  The moral of the story is to rest if you’re sore, and if you can’t bring yourself to rest, definitely run at an easy pace that will be more forgiving on your compromised mechanics.  If you’re injured, complete rest or cross training is the answer – continuing to run through a long term injury is likely to instill bad habits that might be hard to break when the injury finally heals.

How many times have you thought about pushing through an injury or running with pain?  If you’re like me you’ve done this at one time or another – perhaps even habitually getting out there in spite of your throbbing muscles.  It might be tempting to tough it out, we runners are of course hard nuts and we tend to run through pain until we crack, but before you do think carefully about the long term implications of running injured.  Before I go on, let me define what I mean by being injured – basically any pain that doesn’t go way once you’ve warmed up and run for five minutes.  A tiny bit of soreness here and there that you don’t have any awareness of during your running is usually nothing to be too concerned about.  However, all pain is a warning sign and shouldn’t be ignored – many times small niggles graduate to full-blown injuries.

Where you need to sit up and pay attention is the situation where you start sore, run sore and in some cases the pain gets worse as your run progresses.  If this is you then stop running and seek treatment immediately and try to figure out what the root cause of the pain or injury might be.

Near perfect running technique, hamstring and glute activation prior to contact

One of the counter-intuitive things about running is that the more you try and land softly, the harder you’ll hit the ground and with less of the body’s natural shock absorption systems engaged.  Conversely if you attack each stride with intent and embrace contact with the ground, you’ll land with all the body’s shock absorption and energy storage and return systems engaged.  You can see the runner above demonstrating near perfect running technique, the muscles are primed and ready to contact the ground with purpose.

So the running technique tip is that any adjustments you subconsciously make when you’re sore or injured could lead to habitual changes in the longer term; these are definitely not the habits you want to instil in your running.  Don’t forget, the swimming pool and water running beckons for pain junkies!

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