Running Injuries: Risk vs. Reward

When was the last time you heard someone say, “My calf was hurting all last week, but I ran through it anyway and now it miraculously feels fine”? Probably never, right? This scenario is extremely uncommon. On the flip side, at Marx Running we constantly hear the opposite: “My shin was hurting last week but I ran through it, now it hurts all the time and I can’t run.” This, unfortunately, is the scenario we see over and over. There’s something that runners just don’t get when it comes to taking care of their bodies. If something hurts, it probably hurts for a reason, and at the end of the day rest is usually the only thing that will make it completely better. It makes sense, right? When the body is injured, rest allows it to heal or repair itself. That’s what our bodies do. The swelling in a sprained ankle subsides, a stress fracture heals itself (and makes the bone stronger than it was before), and a pulled hamstring ultimately sees the muscle repair itself. So why do we think it’s okay to run through injuries?

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This brings us back to the title of this blog post, “Risk vs. Reward”. There’s a tradeoff involved in running through a potentially chronic injury. On the one hand, and this is the highly unlikely scenario, the pain subsides and you’re able to continue training as planned. You took a huge risk in running through the pain but were rewarded with not losing any days of training. On the other hand, and this is the most common scenario, your pain gets worse and you’re forced to take considerable time off. This is the story we hear people tell us on a daily basis. Most people do not make the right tradeoff in the risk-reward scenario. But it doesn’t have to be like this! When you have a nagging ache or pain that lasts for more than a few days, take a few days of rest! This is truly the most effective way to nip a potentially chronic injury in the butt. Yes, you may lose four days of training or even a week, but the alternative is losing more than a month if the injury were to become chronic. It sounds so simple: something is hurting, so you rest for a few days. But in practice barely anyone ever really listens to their body.

The main point here is that runners need to do a better job when dealing with potentially chronic injuries. In our experience, it’s rare that people make the right choice. We should also note that it’s not easy to take time off. It takes confidence and discipline to do something that we’re uncomfortable doing (resting). But the potential payoff is huge in the grand scheme of things. Chronic injuries stunt your development as a runner. Taking a few days off here and there may set you back a tiny bit, but the end result will get you to a much better place. It’s normal to have minor aches and pains that come and go on a day-to-day basis, but the next time that your calf or foot or hamstring flares up for more than a few days, do yourself a huge favor and rest instead of trying to run through it. It will be hard, but it will ultimately be better for your long-term development and prevent you from a more serious chronic injury.

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