One of the most difficult things for a runner to determine is when it is okay to keep running through pain versus when it’s time to ease up. It is a very common thing for runners to experience various aches and pains due to general muscle soreness, so not every pain you feel will be a significant cause for concern. There are, however, times when it may be necessary to pay attention to what your body is telling you in order to avoid any long-term, or possibly even permanent, injuries.

Pain is quite a complex phenomenon, and it comes in many different forms, making it difficult at times to nail down what may be the cause of what your body is feeling. It is important to note that pain does not always equal muscle, tissue or nerve damage; for example, cramps can be very painful, but only in very rare cases can they cause permanent damage to your muscles. So if pain can be somewhat misleading, is it okay to just say “No pain, no gain” and keep running when you’re feeling significant pain? If you do decide to run through the pain, does that put you at risk of experiencing permanent nerve damage?

The answer will depend upon where exactly you’re experiencing the pain, as well as how severe the pain is. If you run frequently and are experiencing mysterious pain running through your foot, you may be dealing with a nerve issue. When a nerve is irritated or injured, it can produce symptoms such as weakness, burning sensations, loss of motor function, numbness, tingling, or shooting pain through your foot. If you’re experiencing any of these types of symptoms, it is not advisable to continue running, as this may aggravate the injury and possibly cause more permanent damage.

Sometimes muscle inflammation due to overuse can be the cause of nerve problems; the inflamed muscle may begin to put extra pressure on the nerves in your foot, essentially trapping or pinching those nerves. This type of condition can affect several different regions of the foot, and is often treated by cortisone (anti-inflammatory) injections. Another condition known as neuroma affects the nerve between the toes. Neuroma makes it very difficult to put weight on the ball of the foot, and often may feel swollen, like there’s a rock in your shoe. Excessive and repetitive high-impact exercises (i.e., running) can create or further aggravate neuroma; cortisone injections are used to treat this condition as well. It’s always best to treatment with non-addictive protocols, especially if you have a history of substance abuse treatment.

A good rule of thumb to use is that if something hurts so bad that it’s difficult for you to walk on it, you should not be running on it. Although it may be tempting to just write off the pain and power through, it is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health. In addition, it is a good idea to visit a podiatrist to properly diagnose the issue. If you still want to remain active during your break from running, you can engage in low-impact exercises such as swimming, rowing or biking, in order to reduce symptoms of nerve damage without risking further injury.

Dr. Titko, an avid runner, helps you maintain optimum foot health; extending your running season and minimizing injuries.

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