Hurts So Good?
Pain is temporary. But how temporary? Temporary enough to call it a day? Push on? Or something in between? When you are in the thick of it there are only four questions you really need to ask yourself when experiencing pain. Those questions you should keep in mind come from three types of pain you should be aware of as an athlete; Effort, Fatigue, and Imbalance.
As athletes, we are all familiar with putting in a good effort. That feeling of being tired at the end of a routine workout. This is more than that. This is the pain you experience after a hard workout or a race. The pain that has you bending over and putting your hands on your knees or flopping onto the ground onto your back. This is the Pain of Effort. It really hurts and you know you will be sore from it for a day or two, but all will be good after a massage, a healthy meal, a good night sleep, or all three. The next day you can push on with your training with an easy session and knowledge that the next hard workout will go just as well.
But what if you string a number of those tough workouts together as in a competitive season or marathon training. This the Pain of Fatigue. That deep underlying soreness that just doesn’t go away no matter how much you sleep, eat, or make use of that dusty foam roller. It’s that feeling you have three weeks out from your marathon. Pain of Fatigue also comes on when you don’t take true recovery days and kill every workout (even though no one is watching). This is when that addiction you have to exercise gets you in trouble. You start to question if you should take that extra day off to let your body recover a bit more or push on and see if it will recover on its own. If you find yourself asking this question you should take the day off. Chances are you won’t recover before you next big workout, you will do the workout harder than your body can handle, and you will end up sick, or worse, injured.
This brings us to the last type of pain, the Pain of Imbalance. Structural Imbalance is when your body is not functioning properly; the opposite sides are working differently. Wether you are dealing with an injury, a cramp, or poor technique, staying balanced and aligned is the key to avoiding Pain of Imbalance. There are two stages of pain from imbalance; both will most likely come up in a competition type setting, although pain from imbalance may occur in any repetitive training situation.
The first type of Pain of Imbalance is when you can make adjustments to your technique and reduce the amount of pain you are feeling thus allowing you to continue with your activity. For example you are running a trail race and you roll your ankle. It is mild enough that you can walk it off and continue but you now have a limp to your stride. That limp is the adjustment you make, usually without much thought. It is not so bad that you need to stop and drop out of the race, although possibly at a slower pace. You modified your stride to diminish the pain so you can finish. A bit more time on the clock and in need of attention from medical after, but you crossed the finish line.
The second type of Pain of Imbalance is the type that will lead to a catastrophic injury. This is when you need to step to the sideline and call it a day. You know any further participation could be season or career ending. These are broken bones, torn ACLs, dislocated joints, concussions, and other traumas. Hopefully this is pain you have not experienced before; so sharp and strong that you can’t focus on the task at hand. Don’t push it and you can come back another day after rehab to compete again. Push it and you extend the time you are not participating in your favorite activity.
Feeling pain? Ask yourself if you are taking a risk continuing. Then do the smart thing and take the proper measures. After all, you are participating in your sport for a lifetime.