Pain and running – a necessary evil? How best to understand and optimize soreness in your running.

Pain and running – a necessary evil? How best to understand and optimize soreness in your running.

Aaron Lewis, APA Sports & Exercise Physiotherapist and Performance 360 CEO


Running is something that many people love doing and do for a variety of reasons.  Get fit, lose weight, personal challenge, mental health, competitive nature, because my doctor told me to … One thing I learned quickly in this game is that the serious runners cannot be told the dreaded 4 words – You cannot run. So today we will answer when is running bad for you? And how do we make sure we keep you ticking over the k’s for whatever reason you need to


Runners will get sore.  If you don’t you probably aren’t running enough!!  But what is the difference between soreness, pain and injury and when is that relevant???


So, let’s start with some basic working definitions – whether medically accurate or not hopefully this will help to give you an idea of what they are


Soreness is more than likely a post exercise or physical event in which the body is undergoing a natural adaptation to be able to handle that same or greater stimulus.  The classic here is the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that no doubt many of you have suffered.  There are a series of hormonal, physiological, inflammatory, biochemical responses which I don’t think any of us need to understand except that the body does stuff to help us adapt to whatever it is we need to do.


Pain is a warning system set up by the central nervous system to warn us consciously of danger to the tissues in our body.  Now this bit is important – PAIN DOES NOT MEAN TISSUE DAMAGE.  If you read nothing else than read that line, please.  Pain is a system set up by the body whereby it receives a signal from the tissue and the brain determines its capacity to handle what you are doing and then decides on a course of action.  This includes one of many things including pain (others being muscle inhibition – turning the muscle off, muscles tone – tightness or alter biomechanics (the way you run) by unloading).  To state the obvious pain can be well painful but it isn’t always a bad thing and shouldn’t always be respected and understood.


Injury is the actual breakdown of a tissue which can be acute (sudden twang, tear, sprain, strain etc.) or can be insidious (occurring over time or gradually).  This is often but not always associated with pain.  In fact, in the insidious onset case is rarely associated with pain.


So, what does this mean for all you runners out there??? It means listen and understand your body.  A few key things every runner can do to assist there progression and performance as a runner because ALL of soreness, pain and injury will eventually catch up with you and if not stop you running stop you running at your peak and achieve the goals you want based on your reason for running.


  1. Set goals – you need to set a goal or target and then plan to achieve it. Be it a running event; a gradual progression to a 10 km run.  Running Forrest Gump style is where I see most injuries and pain come from
  2. Get your training plan or running program right and understand the concepts of load management and progressions.
  3. Measure everything you do – km’s, intensity and speed are the main ones you will need. This I am sure is a redundant task for many of you nowadays with all the tech and apps out there
  4. If starting out after a break – regardless of your level of running experience and volume – ease into it. Listen to your body if it is sore.  Remember soreness is a sign your body is making itself better so let it!!!  Soreness taking 2 to 3 days to recover form is much better than injury taking 6 weeks to 3 months
  5. Strength training (I hear you all say augh – I hate the gym; I don’t want to bulk etc. etc. but we will cover this in more detail later)


So how do we use this information.


I want you all to calculate how much you have done over the last 4 weeks.  We will keep it simple and just go with total km’s.  Some of the more advanced runners with higher workloads and variable training programs can contact me for some more detailed methods.  Add up the total km’s and divide by 4.  This is called your chronic load.  This figure is the key to minimising the risk of soreness, pain and injury from stopping your running and the belief is the larger this number the better your capability of running lots of k’s at your peak.


So, with chronic load and how it works.  You take that number and you plan out the next 7 days.  Your goal is to be between 0.8 and 1.3 times this figure.  Any less you risk deconditioning and muscles switching off to “rest and recover” and any more you increase the risk of injury, pain and soreness.  This next week is called your acute load.  If you have one week at 1.5 x your chronic load your chance of pain and injury developing is doubled over the next 4-week period.  If you go 2 times your chronic load in a 7-day period that risk becomes 7 times more likely!!!!




Week 1: 10km over 2 runs

Week 2: 12.5km over 3 runs

Week 3 15 km over 1 run

Week 4: 10.5 km over 2 runs


Total km = 48.  chronic load = 12.


The range for the next week to optimise running capacity is 9.6 to 15.6 km.  It doesn’t matter if this is done over one run or 7.


Now it doesn’t guarantee no injury or pain and soreness is still likely so listening to your body is crucial.    If you get sore during a run and it recovers overnight or within a day or 2 (whether assisted with natural means or not) this is okay.  However, soreness on soreness on soreness can eventually result in pain or injury and a reduction in running performance.  Do we stop?  No!! We may just need to adjust back to the lower level of that capacity – think of it as one step back to go 2 steps forward.


If you feel your running has gone beyond soreness and is affecting your capability to run the volumes or intensity you desire to achieve the goals, you wish that’s when it is worth getting it looked at by someone who knows what they are doing.  There are many google diagnoses and gurus and internet experts out here that may have solutions that have worked for them or others, but your body is your body, your running style and goals are yours.  Get a proper diagnosis and plan and make sure it all makes sense.


Look out for some further exercise tips on the P360 Website, Social Media channels or get in touch with us via our email or through Messenger.