Pain Management for Runners

We’ve talked plenty about pain in past posts. Specifically, we’ve dealt with preventing and treating all sorts of acute physical pains that afflict all endurance athletes. But, in your training and competition, you’ve likely faced pains that weren’t covered in those articles. Maybe you’ve been overcome by self-doubt or mental and physical exhaustion mid-race. Or perhaps it was emotional stress gearing up to an event. Either way, athletes force themselves to work through thins that would stop many people in their tracks.

How do they do it? What are some strategies that you can use in your training?


Get Used to It

I know it sounds harsh, but getting used to pain is one of the best pain management strategies there is. A recent study published in the journal Pain set out to understand the extraordinary coping skills of triathletes.

The subjects used in the study competed at an elite level, including the notorious Ironman Triathlon which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles of cycling and a complete 26.2 mile marathon. Clearly, these individuals are used to pain.

Also observed in the study were non-athletes who exercised casually, acting as the control group. Both groups were exposed to controlled pain sensations and given a series of questionnaires designed to rate the subject’s attitude towards pain.

The athletes and the non-athletes both experienced the same amount of pain, but the athletes were able to cope more effectively. Not only did the triathletes demonstrate an increased ability to mentally moderate the amount of pain that they felt but they also reported being less afraid of experiencing pain than the control group.

The exact mechanisms at work here aren’t fulling understood yet but, several theories have surfaced. Specifically, there are two thoughts that emerged from this study that can be useful for everyone, even if you never plan on running a triathlon.

First, it seems like the reduced fear of pain allows athletes to cope better. Working yourself up and being stressed will only worsen any pain you’re experiencing and lead to feelings of doubt.

But the researchers also notes a more physical cause of these observations. The intense training that the triathletes subject themselves to on a regular basis could be teaching them how to respond to pain.

For the rest of us, the application is frustratingly simple: Deal with it. The more you train, the better you’ll become at understanding and coping with any pain you face. You’ll also be more confident and less likely to experience stress or fear.


Don’t Push It

But you shouldn’t just plow through all pain. Generally speaking, pain is a useful sensation that allows your body to let you know when something is wrong.

If you experience sharp, sudden pains in your feet, hips or shins that worsens as you run, you should stop immediately. This could be a sign of a small break in the bone called a stress fracture that shouldn’t be ignored.

Any pain that makes you limp or change your stride could be your body letting you know that you’ve torn something and should stop.

Also, any sudden chest or stomach pain, especially when coupled with a fever, shallow breathing and extreme sweating should take you out of the race immediately.

Careful training and experience will teach you individualized coping mechanisms that can help you deal with the pain that comes along with your sport. However, make sure you aren’t pushing through serious pains that could be the sign of a major injury.

Have you developed coping mechanisms in your training? Please share them in the comments.