You might actually be able to hit the pavement with chronic pain.
Running hurts sometimes. Most often, the aches and pains are not debilitating and certainly won't stop you from putting sneaker to pavement. Occasionally, though, those tiny tweaks can turn into something more. But, you might be surprised by what physical therapists say you can power through. In fact, in the latter stages of rehab for certain common conditions, running can be an important part of the recovery process. "Without a doubt, running can help catapult you back to performance," says Scott Weiss, DPT, owner of Bodhizone in NYC.
Always consult your own PT or doctor about your individual issues and to get a proper diagnosis and recovery plan, but here are a few ways to determine if your injury might be the kind you run through—or not.
Identify Acute vs. Chronic Pain
An injury that happens all of a sudden due to a trauma, such as an ankle sprain or a broken bone, most often needs total rest in order to properly heal. Chronic injuries that occur in response to ongoing stress are much trickier. “Generally, it’s not recommended to run through anything that is torn, but I would say that can also be a matter of pain tolerance and stability,” says David Reavy, PT, owner of React Physical Therapy in Chicago. “If you have a torn ACL but have strengthened your quads and hamstrings in order to dynamically stabilize the knee, it may be okay to continue running on flat ground or a treadmill.”
The same is true for other conditions: once you've started appropriate strengthening and stretching exercises from a physical therapist, you may be able to keep running. “Specific injuries that might not keep you sidelined include Runner's Knee, iliotibial band syndrome, piriformis syndrome, patella tendinitis, Achilles tendinitis, and plantar fasciitis,” says Reavy.
Gauge Your Pain
If it increases the more you run, that’s a major red flag that you should stop. However, “if pain is low, a 3 out of 10 or less at the beginning of the run and is gone by the end of the run, or if pain is low during the run and is not aggravated by the activity, you may be able to continue,” says Reavy. “But make modifications, such as decreasing duration, incorporating run-walk intervals, or reducing hill or speed work.”
Pay Attention to Your Thoughts
“When you cannot complete your run without thinking of the injury the entire time, it's time to call it quits,” says Weiss. “If on every step your consciousness is on the injury, that's a sign you're better off resting or finding an alternative form of exercise.”
If you’ve been running through the injury and not getting worse, but also not getting any better, you may want to reassess your routine. “The more you stress the injury through its natural healing process, the more you may delay healing,” says Weiss. “The body can only tolerate so many stressors at once.” If that’s the case, taking a more significant break may be in order to get yourself back in action.