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  • Writer's pictureJacob Erbes

Having pain after running without having an actual injury? This may be why.

Frustrated that you are in pain after running, but didn’t do anything to cause it? It feels like it just showed up out of nowhere, with no rhyme or reason? A simple analogy that I like to use to help our clients understand how these things may come about is the idea of how you get a callus vs a blister.

Blister Formation: When pressure on the skin exceeds its tolerance over time, the skin breaks down, leading to inflammation and pain—hello, blister! This can happen suddenly (e.g., gardening with unfamiliar tools for 30 minutes) or gradually (e.g., wearing new shoes for hours/days).

The main idea is that the area of skin in question is not prepared for the amount of pressure and friction it is encountering all at one time or it is not able to recover fast enough to keep up with the amount of pressure/friction that is happening over the course of several days to avoid breakdown of the skin.

Callus Formation: Similarly, when pressure on the skin is applied but stops short of causing inflammation, the skin adapts and thickens over time. This same force happening consistently over time forces the body to start to prepare pre-emptively for this to occur. The hardened, thickened layer of skin prepares the area to withstand future friction.

Nobody develops a callus over the course of a couple of days. It takes weeks or months for a real callus to form.

How does this apply to injuries?

Too much stress to an area all at once or over time without adequate recovery? That's a blister (injury) waiting to happen. Consistent, challenging stress to an area with enough recovery to do it again? That's how calluses form — and how all the tissues of our body adapt.

You don’t add muscle, strength, speed, or balance by doing an exercise once. It needs to happen consistently enough, and be challenging enough, to force your body to want to prepare itself for those same stresses before they can even happen.

This is why trying to add weight to the bar, or distance to your run, every single workout will most likely lead to something getting flared up at one point or another. It is your body’s way of telling you that it needs longer to recover before it’s ready to go again.

How to apply this to your exercise routine?

Let’s use getting back into running as an example. You should start with a distance and pace (how fast you are running) that feels very manageable with 2-3 rest days in between. Keep the distance and pace the same until you have done the same run 3-4 times with no issues.

Then you can progress ONE thing. Just one. Distance, or pace. Not both. Pick one. That way you will have an idea of what caused an issue, should one arise. Rinse and repeat for a few weeks.

Once you have been consistently running with no issues and your average monthly mileage has gone well up, now we can start to add more regularly, and get into playing with different types of runs throughout the week (intervals vs long run vs speed runs, etc).

So, the next time you are wondering where your pain after running came from, the first question to ask is:

“Did I do too much, too soon, after too little, for too long?” (Greg Lehman).

Our soft tissues take time to adapt, make sure you give them that!

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