The Soggy Sock: Navigating Pain as a Runner

Navigating pain as a runner Mar30th 2023
Written by Christina Schultz

Even if you are doing everything right, aches and pains will still come at some point in your training. It’s just part of the territory.

It’s important that we keep in mind that pain does not equal damage. Certainly, it can be a warning signal- that’s what it’s intended to be, but it is not always cause for panic.

If you picture the fire alarm you have in your house, its sole purpose is to alert you of the danger of a fire. But sometimes you just leave the popcorn in the microwave for 30 seconds too long and the alarm sounds even though there is no danger. Sometimes the alarm is faulty and goes off for no real reason.

So how do we navigate these signals when running?

I like to use a traffic signal to help clients picture these categories. 

Green Light

Pain Scale: 0/10 to 2/10

Pain that ranges from 0 out of 10 to 2 out of 10 is completely normal and is our “green light” to keep going.

Yellow Light

Pain Scale: 3/10 to 4/10

This pain often warms up as you go and doesn’t last greater than 24 hours. This level of symptoms is ok to run through but is a definite warning sign that more recovery may be necessary.

Yellow light pain can also be a signal to look at our training plan and make sure it makes sense in terms of intensity and recovery progressions. If this pain becomes a regular occurrence, it’s time to consider going to see a physical therapist.

Red Light

Pain Scale: 5/10 or higher

This pain can be described as:

  • Doesn’t warm up
  • Gets worse
  • Sharp pain
  • Pain that doesn’t resolve over 24 hours
  • Wakes you up at night
  • Pain that accompanies a change in diet or menstrual cycle.

This pain is cause for a visit to the physical therapist for further direction.

There are of course exceptions. In the case of bone stress injuries, for example, 0/10 pain is the only acceptable level.

Sudden weakness, changes in sensation, and pain in both left and right limbs should be screened by a doctor.

But as a general rule, this traffic light should help point you in the right direction when you’re on the go.

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About the Author: Christina Schultz

Christina Schultz graduated with a degree in exercise science from Florida Atlantic University. She was a captain for the cross country and track teams at the University. She went on to earn a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of St. Augustine. While at St. Augustine, she was a head high school cross country coach and distance track coach at a local high school. During this time she became a certified strength and conditioning specialist in order to enhance her abilities to treat athletes and improve their performance.

Christina moved from Jacksonville, FL to Greenville, SC with her dog Rosie to help keep our community active. She continues to run in her spare time and is enjoying exploring the city and hiking.

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