Running Injuries: My Pain Management Plan

It’s 6:55 AM.  I’m wrapped in ice as I shoveling down a healthy bowl of cereal while I’m writing this post.  I had a fun 4:40 AM run with my friends Rushton, Rob & Dawn.  We ran 9 1/2 miles in the cool morning for which I felt great….for about the first 6 miles.  That’s when “they” decided to join me for the last 3 1/2 miles.

We all know who “they” are.  They go by many names…..the ache, the twinge, the grab, the tightness, the cramp, the stitch or, my least favorite, the stab that feels like someone just shot you with a gun!  Call them what you want but their real name is “Pain“.

This morning the Pain Brothers made their arrival with a sudden tightness in my low back which quickly shortened up my stride.  A half mile later I felt a tweak in my right arch followed 1 mile later by a grabbing sensation in my left calf.  My mind quickly went to work thinking, “I need to get this running pain under control fast.”

When I mentioned my pains to Rushton at about 8 miles into the run, recognizing my sports medicine background, she challenged me with one stern question: “What are YOU going to do about it?”

Keeping little Pains From Being BIG Injuries

Here’s exactly what I did to combat my 3 running injuries to keep them from forcing me to walk home and/or to miss my big race next weekend:

During the Run

  1. I slowed my pace while slightly shortening my stride to balance the sound and feel of my foot strike on both sides.  I noticed that I was striding too short with my right leg and too long on my left.  “Balance my body” was my message to myself.
  2. Every 3 minutes I did 3 Carriocca drills on each side while keeping my knees low to emphasize trunk rotation and loosen my hips and lateral thighs.  I do this during all my long runs and races as well.
  3. I switched to the other side of the road to change the road angle to relaxed my legs.
  4. I trusted my body’s ability to “work these problems out” instead of easily taking on the very disruptive “Damn, this is just my luck that I’m injured again!” mindset.

After the Run

  1. I drank 15 oz of a water & Gatorade mixture to hydrate my inflamed tissues.   (1 minute)
  2. I elevated my legs against the wall while pumping my ankles, wiggling my toes and setting my quads to emphasize the drainage of leg waste products produced during my run.   (4 minute)
  3. I aggressively rolled out my quads, IT bands, hamstrings and calves.   (4 minute)
  4. I performed Active Release Techniques on my right plantar fasciitis and left calf strain.   (3 minute)
  5. I quickly stretched my hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, calves and toe flexors under the enthusiastic supervision of Marshall, my Flexibility Advisor.   (4 minute) 

    Marshall, Flexibility Advisor
  6. I took 600 mg of Advil.  (30 seconds)
  7. Finally, with my legs feeling more relaxed, my muscles more pliable and my mind at ease with my running injuries, I iced my calves and thighs with my 110% Play Harder cold compression sleeves.   (30 seconds)

Is It Worth 1.2% of My Day?

Do the math.  It took me a grand total of 17 minutes to complete all of my post-workout rehab to reduce my running pain by 80%!  That’s about 1.2% of my day.  The old “I just don’t have the time to take care of my injuries” is not part of my vocabulary.  I suggest that you adopt the same rule.

I have my big mud run race next weekend and I can’t afford to disrupt my training or to have running pain interfere with my busy schedule.

Take Home Points

  • Taking care of a running injury quickly and properly is the key for the mature athlete if you want to stay in the game.
  • You can never find time to take care of injuries.  Instead, make the time and it doesn’t have to take long.
  • The first step to getting healthier below the neck is to get your mind healthy above the neck. Visualize yourself being healthy & happy then do what is necessary to make it a reality!


Author: Mike Ryan

After 26 seasons as a full-time certified athletic trainer and registered physical therapist in the National Football League, Mike Ryan has outstanding first-hand experience. His unique professional and athletic background has sharpened his skills in the arts of sports injury management, elite rehabilitation, performance enhancement and injury prevention. Mike is now taking his experience to mainstream America. His mission is simple: Sports Medicine advice that is easy to use and brings fast results. Learn more about Mike Ryan

4 thoughts on “Running Injuries: My Pain Management Plan”

  1. Hi Mike.
    You have posted a good rehab protocol…. but I think you should also incorporate back strengthening exercises in management of running injuries.
    All the best for your major race.

  2. Mike, great information. I have been sharing these same principles with my clients/athletes for years. It is so important to pay attention to the acute pain. Other soft tissue programs seem to interfere with recovery in the acute phase, however, it was great seeing you use the Active Release Technique(ART) for your recovery during the onset of the pain . Being an ART provider here on Amelia Island and the only ART instructor in Florida, I have always used ART on acute injuries and the recovery is very quick. It is great that the Jags have someone that understands ART. Thanks.

  3. Why was your stride long in the first place? It is great that you have wonderful techniques in Rehab and as you said trust in the ability for your body to work it out. Which is exactly what you did by shortening your stride. What does shortening your stride do, it lessons the rotation through your body. If you run with correct mechanics you abide by the natural design of your elastic sensory lever system designed to not get injured in the first place.
    The message to take home is learn how to run with good form first before before using performance techniques to allow the body to recover faster. Although if you run with good form this aids recover anyway.
    Good luck.

    1. Thanks, Rollo. Running forms and strides come in all shapes and sizes. The best rule for most runners who don’t happen to have an exercise physiology lab in their garage and a couple of biomechanical kinesiologists living in the hood is to:
      1. Run with bilateral symmetry. In other words, to do the same on one side of their body as they do on the other.
      2. Relax muscles that aren’t helping you get down the road. Tight fists, a clenched jaw and crazy arm motions aren’t helping you run so make those body parts chill while you run.

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