So you are training for a race and you begin to feel some pain. What do you do? First, remember that pain is good. Pain is our body’s way of telling us what is going on and what we might do about it. Way back in high school my coach told us about good pain and bad pain. It went something like this:
Good pain is muscle soreness the day after a strong workout. If you worked your tail off, your muscles have little tears that need to heal. That is why we alternate sprinting/strength days with recovery days that are relatively short and easy. Bad pain, however, is stabbing or throbbing pains that does not resemble soreness. Good pain is something to brag about because you know that you are going to be faster and stronger when it heals. Bad pain makes you weaker, requires complete rest, and may call for some medical help.
I know how badly you want to meet your next goal, but you must listen to your body. If you are not sure whether a pain is good or bad, treat it as if it were bad. In the long run, you will meet your goal more quickly if you heed the advice your body is giving you. Better to ease up & rest up for a day or two than to make it worse and be forced to completely quit for a much longer time frame.
RICE is a common guideline for when you suspect that the pain that you are feeling might be bad pain. I know that you have heard it before, but you would be amazed how many runners ignore the most basic of medical procedures until it is too late. Begin using RICE as soon as you suspect that your pain might be bad pain!
Rest is a key part of repair. Without rest, continual strain is placed on the area, leading to increased inflammation, pain, and possible further injury as well as increasing the length of time that it takes to heal. In general, the rest should be until the you are able to run with the pain essentially gone.
Ice is excellent at reducing the inflammation and the pain from heat being generated. A good method is ice 15-20 minutes of each hour for a 24–48 hour period. You may want to wrap the ice in a towel to prevent your skin from getting frostbite. Be careful to not ice for too long so that your blood flow will not be too reduced to allow nutrient delivery and waste removal.
Compression aims to reduce the excessive swelling that results from the inflammatory process. Too much swelling results in significant loss of function, excessive pain and eventual slowing of blood flow through vessel restriction. An elastic bandage is ideal because it reduces swelling without cutting off the flow of blood that is need for recovery and normal function. The fit should be snug so as to not move freely, but still allow expansion for when muscles contract and fill with blood.
Elevation aims to reduce swelling by increasing venous return of blood to the systemic circulation. This will not only result in less edema, but also aid in waste product removal from the area.
A cautionary word about pain-relievers:
The use of anti-inflammatory NSAIDS such as ibuprofen and aspirin can be a healthy part of the process of reducing inflammation so that you can heal more quickly. NSAIDS and pain-relievers such as acetaminophen should NOT be used to mask the pain. You need to hear what your body is telling you!
If a few days of the RICE treatment does not help your pain, consult your doctor.