One of the most popular articles in last week’s online version of the New York Times was a story about whether it’s a good idea to run through pain. The high reader ranking wasn’t a surprise, even if the article’s placement in the fashion section was. The timing was perfect since newfound gym rats and overly enthusiastic runners are probably feelin’ it about now. A twinge to the outside of the knee. Dull ache in the arch of the foot.
The article says some doctors now believe resting an injury is not the answer to swifter healing; running on it is. This is, of course, music to any avid exerciser’s ears since sitting out an injury is usually just as difficult—moreso when there’s a personal goal on the line. Long-term relaxation just isn’t part of many runners’ routines.
Beyond broken bones or torn ligaments, these doctors say, it may be okay to continue running despite the pain. The article also advocates runners who do work through it first take a single anti-inflammatory pill, like aspirin or ibuprofen, and apply 20 minutes of cold therapy before hitting the road or trail. This will reduce the inflammation causing some of the pain. Reduced mileage and/or cross-training may also be part of the prescription.
The physicians that were interviewed were referring to chronic, dull pain often diagnosed as, say, tendonitis or arthritis. Sharp pain that only worsens over the duration of exercise demands medical attention. But not everyone has the same pain threshold; it isn’t always easy to know when something more serious is afoot. Nor does someone fixated on fitness or obsessed with weight always have the good sense to stop and seek medical help before resuming their regular routes after reading that running while hurt may be OK.
The author, Gina Kolata, also wrote a sidebar about following this unconventional advice while dealing with her own running woe: foot pain. Because the pain isn’t any worse when she runs or walks, there’s reason to believe the running helps. But she’s seeing a doctor to make sure she isn’t doing more damage.
Now that’s sound advice.