For any serious runner, pain is part of the game. Just remember that pushing through pain is one thing and pushing through an injury is quite another.
Nobody knows your body better than you. So be sure to listen when it’s trying to tell you something. If you hurt yourself during a workout, how you respond can make the difference between cutting a workout short (frustrating, but not so bad in the scheme of things) and sidelining yourself for a much longer period of time (just plain lousy).
If you do find yourself in pain from a simple injury — sprain, strain, pulled muscle — there are a few quick, generic precautions you can take right away to minimize further damage and set your body on the path to healing as quickly as possible. Physical therapy students are taught these techniques through the acronym RICE: Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. (Some throw a P in the front for Protect, as in stopping physical activity right away to prevent additional injury.)
Either way, here’s the deal:
Rest. Just as important as stopping a workout after an injury, it’s also important to take it easy afterward. Your body needs to heal. Don’t put stress on the injury until you’ve given it a chance to recover. If the pain is ongoing, your doctor or physical therapist can tell you when it’s appropriate to start pushing it. In the meantime, just take it easy.
Ice. Applying ice to the injured area can help reduce swelling and provide pain relief as well. Wrap your ice or cold pack in a towel (rather than placing directly on the skin) and ice in short intervals. Think fifteen minutes on, fifteen minutes off.
Compress. This will also help reduce swelling and promote healing. Wrapping with an elastic bandage will often do the trick. Don’t wrap too tightly; throbbing or discomfort are both bad signs. You might have to take a few cracks at it before you feel comfortable.
Elevate. Lifting the injured area up above the level of your heart will limit swelling and help you heal (kind of the theme here). Propping a hurt foot or ankle up on a couple of pillows while you rest can do a world of good.
Remember, these are general guidelines and certainly not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Severe or ongoing pain is enough reason to get a professional involved. But for the inevitable minor injury that sneaks up on the best of us from time to time, remembering RICE can help you get back on the road as quickly as possible.