New runners often can get discouraged because of pain and soreness.
And that’s perfectly normal.
The aim of this lesson is to help you recognize your pain and make smart decisions on whether to keep running or to take some time off.
I spoke with Dr. Greg Lehman (Physiotherapist, Chiropractor, MSc Spine Biomechanics & Strength & Conditioning) about how beginner runners can learn to decipher and deal with pain.
Let’s dive in.
What’s the difference between good pain and bad pain?
Yeah, that’s a great question and it’s something we work on.
It’s tough because you’re going to be sore if you’re a new runner.
You’re going to press on like the inside of your leg bones and there are going to be muscles in there and those will be sore for sure, especially maybe if you’re just a little bit overweight and you’re learning how to run. You’re going to be sore the day after.
You can even feel it all over.
If you go from running four kilometers to running eight, once you get over seven and it’s so much more than you used to, you’re going to be sore during your run and you’ll feel it all over.
So that type of soreness is normal. You’re allowed that sort of two, three, or four out of ten of achiness.
If you start running, and it gets worse during your run and it doesn’t go away with stopping running and resting for a bit, that’s a problem.
That’s sort of like that bad pain where you have to… and it feels different.
It’s just a lot more than three or four out of ten.
Where you want to be most concerned with starting running is if you press on a bone and it’s like a very local sharp small point, that’s really sore, it starts to get sore during your run and then again it stays sore throughout the run and you can feel it later, those are big ones to watch.
The little aches and pains, you shouldn’t really be feeling them too much at rest after you’ve been running for a few weeks.
It’s normal to be sore when you’re going downstairs, but the big one is that bony tenderness because that could be a stress fracture that you want to get checked out for sure.
What are some tips to help alleviate some of the soreness?
Not after it’s been done. I mean, I think all my colleagues would get mad at me, right?
So we all think we can help people recover. But there’s no magic cure.
There are no lotions, massages, things like that.
They can help little aches and pains, but they don’t really facilitate any healing.
There’s no ointments, baths… those things don’t really matter.
They just sort of mask it a bit.
I mean, the best thing is smart training. And that’s slowly building up and listening to your body and when you need a rest, it’s okay to take one. Or just run half of what you were normally going to do.
That’s the only way to recover well.
And then, in general, you just need to be healthy all over. I mean… and I don’t just mean like what you’re eating.
I mean your sleep, you need to be emotionally healthy.
All of these things are just like this whole human being needs to be as good as it can be.
Because a lot of pain can manifest due to other factors too. Often people’s back goes out when they are having a stressful time at work, or maybe it’s the anniversary of something they’re grieving.
So you have to be cognizant of all of those things as well.
What are the most common injuries you see for new runners when they are coming into your clinic?
It’s the inside of the shins for the new runners.
It’s like the calf is the thing that everyone gets.
But it’s not the calf, it just feels like it’s the calf. What happens when you start running that’s different than everything else is your bone bends on the inside.
It goes into a bit of a tension, it bends inwards, and your bone is like, what the hell are you doing. And it takes a long time to adapt.
I mean, fractures take six weeks to a year to really grow. And so when you’re running, you’re building new bone.
First you’re breaking it down, which happens all the time and then you’re building it back up. And you’ll get sensitized, so that’s the big one.
That’s why you really need to go slow.
And it’s also normal to have that type of pain for a while.
Is building up gradually the way to go and help avoid or minimize that pain?
Oh, build up gradually and don’t follow a program that everyone else follows if you don’t feel it’s right for you.
Those programs are all based on averages and they’re trial and error.
They don’t work for everyone.
When I started running, I really eased into it. I couldn’t even do the running room program. It was too aggressive for me.
Holding back when you feel good (yes, it’s hard!)
I was doing three-in-ones and two-in-ones. And I was relatively fit, cardiovascular wise.
But my body wasn’t ready or my connective tissue wasn’t ready for it. So that’s a problem, too.
Runners are going to start feeling better six to eight weeks into a program. And they’re going to want to run harder because their heart and lungs can handle it. And they got to hold themselves back a bit as well.
And we’re just publishing a paper on this now where we’re arguing that strength training, even if it’s actually with a dead lift where you do it through a full range of motion, is even better for flexibility training than just straight up static stretching.
Every time you have a muscle that feels tight or like it’s holding on, strength training is often the best thing you can do for it.
So for any minimal aches and pains, the best thing is to train it. It’s almost like you are strengthening for sure, but there’s some way where you use it and you use it a lot.
And then it’s like you teach the brain that it’s okay, I’m strong.
I can handle this and it’ll relax and then that pain will eventually go away.
Experiencing some pain and soreness when you start running is normal.
Do not ignore the pain and take note of its level on a 1-10 scale.
If the pain is 4 or below, does it go down as your run progresses? If yes, keep going. If it gets worse as you run, stop the workout and see how you feel tomorrow.
Also pay attention to your running form. If you’re experiencing pain and you change your form and favour a particular side of your body, shut it down.
And when in doubt, get checked out by a registered physiotherapist or another medical practitioner that works with athletes.