Am I hurt or am I just sore?
This is a common question you might ask yourself, especially the day after a hard workout or starting something new.
I used to be really bad at answering this question, which says a lot about my background and how far my knowledge has come since I was a 5’2″ high school freshman.
I was having a conversation with a friend about this the other day and we decided that it all came down to the old school mentality our coach
Sure we were tough and had a “nose down” type of attitude, but this led to the idea that being sore was some kind of weakness. We ran through a lot of warning signs because… that’s just what we did. A mix of not knowing any better and wanting to be the runner with the most grit, but inevitably the injury team could have fielded a Varsity and Junior Varsity squad by the time conference rolled around.
* For the sake of clarity to anyone who didn’t run in high school, the “top 7” runners on the team were the Varsity squad and the next 7 were considered Junior Varsity, we had a small team – ok back to the post
You do need to be able to recognize that soreness is ok! but only within a certain context…
So what are these so called ‘warning signs’?
You can expect soreness after a good, hard workout or after a mileage increase, and that’s fine but be cognizant about where you feel it!
This comes down to DOMS!
DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, is caused by micro-tears in the muscle. These tears are necessary for building muscle/building better endurance in the muscle. All good things!
However, inflammation is an unnecessary byproduct of this process. Inflammation, essentially your muscles’ response to training*, can cause excess tightness throughout your body and can really impact the flexibility of your muscles and joints during this period.
*A more technical definition dealing with inflammation – biochemical processes release proteins called cytokines as “emergency signals” that bring in your body’s immune cells, hormones and nutrients to fix the problem
So if we think of DOMS as a 48 hour window; any pain past that is a cause for concern. I usually follow this protocol with my athletes:
*Soreness up to 48 hours after: probably not serious unless it is near the joint or throwing off running form – monitor the situation and be sure to take care of yourself! Follow The Art Of Foam Rolling!
If it’s over 48 hours and there is still muscle pain, then it is probably time for a cross training day. I would recommend staying active in your recovery to help speed up the process, however if you’re legs are dead…
There is nothing wrong with an off day or two!
If there is still pain after the next 3 days (the 5th day post initial soreness) of taking time off or cross training — call this the next 72 hour rule — then it is time to go see a chiropractor or physio or sports doctor, at this point there is something wrong and the sooner you find the problem, the sooner you can start rehabbing!
So let’s look at a few scenarios –
INJURY TIMETABLE 1: First workout in spikes
Day 1 – Calf soreness/tightness but overall run goes fine
Day 2 – Calf is extremely sore, achilles tendon feels swollen and running is throwing off your gait – take a cross training day today
Day 3 – Feels a bit better but you still bike for the day
Day 4 – Calf still feels tight but after biking, a light jog and foam rolling you feel a lot better
Day 5 – Back to running!!
INJURY TIMETABLE 2: First big increase in mileage
Day 1 – You don’t really notice it but your legs are overall sore from the mileage so you take a super easy day
Day 2 – Your legs feel better but now you feel the soreness in your shin area, painful to the touch – take a cross training day tomorrow
Day 3 – Running is out of the question today, your shins are hurting when you walk
Day 4 – You don’t feel any better today and even biking is causing your shins to ache!
Day 5 – You feel just as bad as you did yesterday (you spent 3 days cross training and it doesn’t seem to be hurting)
Day 6 – It could be a stress fracture or it could be really bad shin splints, so think about going to see a chiropractor or physical therapist or someone in that field as it could be a muscular problem that can be worked out.
As with anything, listen to what your body is telling you! Do not be stubborn and think,”I’ll just run through it” because that mentality will put you on the shelf for a long time.