Is It Ok to Run Hurt?

How Can We Help?

Michael Boyleby Michael Boyle |

A piece in the New York Times entitled When It’s Ok to Run Hurt offered some strange advice. It advocates exercising while injured. In fact, the article encourages you to “ take one anti-inflammatory pill, like an aspirin. Ice the area for twenty minutes. Then start your usual exercise, the one that resulted in your injury, possibly reducing the intensity, or the time you would have spent. When you finish, ice the injured area again.”

I can only say “Wow”. In the NY Times no less. A physician recommending pain masking/ management prior to exercise. If you want to really get people aggravated, disagree with someone who has the word doctor before their name. So here I go. I’m not so sure about this little bit of advice. Although I understand the rationale, I worry about the implied message. The rationale is that activity is better than inactivity. I would strongly agree.

However, my experience with runners is that most running injuries are injuries of overuse. Although they are clearly not talking about overuse injuries and continuing to train on them, I think many runners will deliberately twist this advice into permission to run hurt and better yet to “premask” their symptoms with a dose of ice and anti-inflammatory medication. This is a perfect case of telling a group of people exactly what they want to hear.

There is a group of runners I often refer to as Speed Limpers. They are the ones limping along in a knee sleeve. I usually pass one a day as I drive. Usually the run is barely more than a walk and is painful to watch. The Speed Limpers are celebrating dangerous advice with a cold glass of water and a few Advil. They have been validated by the medical community.

My advice would be more along the line of Dr. Robert Steadman, also quoted in the article. Dr Steadman, a prominent Orthopedist in Vail, Co. and founder of the Steadman-Hawkins Research Foundation offers a different view. Steadman says “play it safe and cross train”. This is advice that is much less likely to be twisted and misinterpreted.

As a coach, I know one thing for sure. People hear only the things they want to hear. Most people are just looking for the answer they already wanted and unfortunately Dr. Weinstein just gave them a license to further injure themselves. I’m sure Dr. Weinstein would say that wasn’t his intent, however intent doesn’t matter.

My advice, if it hurts don’t do it. Further advice. The question “Does it Hurt?” can only be answered yes or no. Any answer other than no is yes. “It goes away after a few minutes” is a yes. “Not if I warm-up well” is a yes. I have never seen anything good come out of working through pain. There are plenty of ways to exercise. Find one that is pain free.