How To Manage Those Small (But Pesky) Aches and Pains

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Nothing worth having comes easy. That saying, as much as we sometimes do not care to admit, is by and large quite true. And it is especially true for us as runners. We know what it is like to sacrifice spare time, sleep, fun nights out with friends, and our favorite chocolate and caramel covered cheesecake during the intense weeks and months of training leading up to a goal race. And sometimes that sacrifice also means dealing with minor aches and pains that, if we were not committed to our goals, most of us would use as an excuse to stay tucked in tight under the covers when that early alarm goes off, instead of getting out of bed, lacing up our shoes, and hitting the treadmill. Now, we are not talking about major injuries that can completely sideline us and stop us from running altogether. (If you experience an injury to that extent, then, by all means, you SHOULD take time off! Listen to your doctor and take time to rest and heal… even if it means pushing off your goal race until the next racing season.) No, these are those minor aches that seem to creep up out of nowhere and are really more annoying than anything. So how should you handle them? How can you find the wherewithal to push through and what can you do ahead of time to prevent such minor issues and injuries?

Reel It In

Sometimes, a small, nagging injury is just our body’s way of telling us to back it off and take some rest. This typically does not mean we have to take weeks or even consecutive days off from running. But preparing yourself to run any level of distance endurance event can be tough, and might mean pushing yourself out of your comfort zone many times over. In fact, you will likely end up working yourself harder than you have ever had to before, especially if this is your first endurance race. Those small pains can be our body’s way of telling us to just take it slower or skip a run altogether. This can be hard, especially for those of us who are Type A and like to stick strictly to what is written in our training plan. You might start getting nervous and anxious about what might happen if you veer from your schedule. But you can also almost guarantee that if you were to continue onward, full speed ahead, that small, minor ache could turn into a very big problem. And then YOU would have a very big problem come race day. Listen to your body. It is smart! It knows what it needs to perform its best, and it will tell you. An unplanned rest day will not derail your progress one bit.

You can also look for alternative exercise programs and workouts, if you are concerned about losing your fitness or if you still want to be sure you are reaping the physical and mental benefits of working out in general. Small pains are a great excuse to try a bit of cross training. (In fact, if switching it up is not already a component of your training plan, I highly suggest doing so. You will strengthen and work muscles and parts of your body you might not otherwise, so your overall fitness will improve, and you will also give your joints and muscles a break from the weight-bearing load associated with running.) Cycling is often an easy substitute for running, as most runners who belong to a gym and do some of their runnings on a gym treadmill likely already have easy access to their gym’s cycling and spin classes. Other fitness classes that get your heart rate up and focus on toning muscles and improving strength (like High-Intensity Interval Training classes, or strength training classes with lighter barbells and dumbbells) are another class option that your gym probably already offers. And if not, sign up for an app like Class Pass to get access to trendy and fun classes in the city where you live. Swimming is another excellent alternative. It will work your entire body but the weightlessness of your body in the water is like its own form of therapy for tweaked muscles and tendons. If you don’t want to swim specifically, but have access to a pool, you can also try pool jogging!

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RICE, RICE, Baby

Somewhere between high school gym class and your close group of running friends, someone has probably mentioned the acronym “RICE” to you – “Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.” We have already touched on the best part, but the other three components definitely come into play when trying to work out those small injuries. After a run, when you start to experience pain, ice the area for about 20 minutes. The great thing about icing is that you don’t have to be contained to just your couch in order to ice. You can grab an ice pack and throw it on your achy areas while at work or in the car. And the same goes for “compression,” so long as you have the right compression sleeves, socks, and gear. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until you are in the comforts of your own home to wrap the tender area in a snug bandage (unless of course, you can wear attire that covers it up, or if you just don’t care what kind of compression bandages you’re rocking in public. In which case, more power to ya!) The elevation piece is mainly necessary for those pesky minor pains that just don’t seem to be getting better with rest, ice, and pain reliever. Schedule some complete downtime for yourself in bed or on the couch in front of the TV and prop those legs up on a pillow. This helps to decrease swelling and inflammation and will speed up recovery time.

Regular Massages and Professional Therapy

If you have the resources (i.e. time and money), then scheduling regular deep tissue massages and seeing a physical therapist are probably two of the best things you can do to work out some of those kinks and prevent future problem spots. A sport or deep tissue massage promotes blood flow to areas that get repeated use, and thus tend to be tight. (For runners, basically our entire legs could use a good massaging every now and then.) You don’t have to have a major injury to see a physical therapist, either. They can do a lot to help prevent a future injury by assessing how you run and where you tend to carry stress and weight, and then use stretching and medical equipment to put you on the right track to pain-free running. If these options are out of your range of options, you can reap similar benefits through at-home massage tools and techniques. Investing in a quality foam roller is absolutely imperative as a runner. But there are also other devices and tools that are made to target specific areas and provide really targeted deep tissue relief (such as massage balls and other types of massage rollers).

Sources

  1. Dr. Sergai DeLaMora, TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR COMMON RUNNING INJURIES, NY Orthopedics Article,
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