Everything You Need to Know About Pain

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As an athlete, you’re likely all too familiar with a host of different aches and pains. And you’ve probably developed your own methods for dealing with this standard nuisance. Understanding what causes these issues, though, is the first step toward knowing how to treat, prevent and just general deal with the variety of unpleasant sensations you might encounter.

So what are these different signals? What do they mean? What can you do about them? Perhaps most importantly, is it okay to run through the pain?

Location, Location, Location

When some pain or discomfort strikes, take a second to pinpoint exactly where it is. While its important to know the location in terms of affected body part, you also need to be able to differentiate between issues in the joint, muscles and bone, which sounds a lot more complicated than it really is. For the most part, your brain is pretty good at letting you know precisely where these signals are coming from. Otherwise, you wouldn’t really be able to do anything about it, and the whole pain process would be serve no purpose.

Pain directly in the bones can be a sign that you’ve suffered – or at a high risk of suffering – an injury. This is true even if that pain doesn’t feel particularly severe. By contrast, some soreness in your joints and muscles can be a fairly normal part of strenuous activity.

Timing Is Everything

It’s also important to think about when the pain started. Specifically, did the discomfort start during or after your run? If it was delayed, how delayed? Did it wait a full day to show itself or was the onset within 30 minutes of your workout?

Although this might seem like a trivial detail, it will combine with the other factors at work here to give you a pretty clear picture of what’s going on and how to proceed. Sudden pain that starts while you’re still running, for example, can be a sign that something has gone wrong and you should stop the activity. Stiffness or soreness that sets in 24 hours or more after you’re workout has ended is fairly common, however.

What Causes The Pain

Clearly, then, there are actually a lot of different things that can cause pain during or after your workouts. Treatment and prevention, therefore, will change on a case by case basis. In some cases – which will be covered later – there isn’t even a whole lot you can do.

For runners, though, there are some pretty common issues that arise. Most aches and pains come from at least one of these sources:

  • Stress fractures – On the fairly serious end of the spectrum, it is possible for those constant, repeated impacts to create cracks in your bones. The small bones in your feet and shins are particularly at risk for this type of injury. This can occur during or anytime after your workout.
  • Tendonitis – Each time you move, tendons are stretched and pulled and tensed around the complex structure of your joints. Over long periods of time, repetitive movements like running can irritate these tendons, causing them to swell. Runner’s knee and tennis elbow are prime examples of common forms of tendonitis in athletes. Tendonitis usually sets in a few hours after you’re done running.
  • Bursitis – Also in those complicated joints of yours, are small fluid sacs called bursa which aid in the safe and smooth movement of your limbs. Similar to tendons, bursa can become irritated and inflamed through prolonged, repeated activity. Bursitis will generally make itself known a few hours after your workout.
  • Overuse injuries – While this term can technically refer to any injury caused by overworking your joints, bones – including those listed above – it also covers the pain associated with pushing your muscles too far. Each time you exercise, your muscles are damaged. In response to this damage, those muscles are rebuilt bigger, stronger, faster and better than ever. But this can only happen if you’re body has the time and nutrients needed to properly recover. If not, your muscles will fail to improve and will only be stressed through your workouts. Not good. This pain can show up during your runs or a few hours after.
  • Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – More frequently known as DOMS, this particular type of soreness starts 24 to 48 hours after your workout and did actually a normal part of the reparation process just mentioned.

When To Stop

For runners, the biggest question is often “Can I still run?” And, in many cases, the answer is yes. But runners have a tendency to push through the pain and endure lots of hardships to reach their goals. Often, this is an important skill.

In some cases, though, it can be counterproductive. It’s important to note, however, that experiencing pain rarely means that you have to become totally inactive until things get back to normal. Instead, you might just have to dial back the intensity for a while.

All that being said, how do you know the difference? This is where those issues of location and timing come into play. If a sudden pain in your muscles, joints or bones starts during your workout, stop immediately. Wait for the pain to subside. If, after a few minutes, nothing changes, your workout should end for the day. But if the pain does go away, start slowly and see what happens. Hopefully, the pain will stay gone. Unfortunately, if it comes back, you should stop the activity. If that pain hangs around for another day or two, see your doctor.


Similarly, a pain that appears shortly after your workouts should be monitored closely. Persistent, limiting pain should keep you out of the gym and send you to the doctor’s office.

DOMS, however, is rarely a reason to stop interrupt your workout routine. As mentioned, DOMS usually sets in 24 to 48 hours after your workout and can last up to a week. While might be uncomfortable and difficult to workout at the same intensity as you normally would, moderate-intensity movement can actually help to reduce the swelling and stiffness in the affected area.

Depending entirely on the timing, intensity and location, then, not all forms of soreness should have any meaningful negative affect on your workout. Conversely, some pains do mean that you may have to slow down or even take a break.