You don't have to be a runner for long to discover that inflammation is part and parcel of your favorite form of fitness. Inflammation is a natural healing response, and when you put the kind of stress on your body that running demands, it should come as no surprise that inflammation results.
When your muscles ache, your joints protest, and your body lets you know it's unhappy, you're experiencing a totally normal and natural response to the rigors of running. Of course, intense pain is more likely a sign that you've done some serious damage and injured yourself, but the inflammatory response will occur in this situation, as well.
The level of discomfort or pain will help you to determine whether you're injured or just achy, but it hardly matters - inflammation can stop you from practicing the activity you love. How can you prevent inflammation from holding you back and derailing your running progress? Here are a few things you need to know.
The first thing you need to understand is that inflammation is your body's way of informing you that you've done some damage. Our bodies have an incredible capacity to perform on demand, but they have limits, and they're designed to let you know when you reach and exceed those limits.
This is what inflammation and pain are: signals that you're pushing your body too hard. Can you continue - push through the pain? Yes, but you risk further harm by doing so. You might think you're taking control of your body, but all you're doing is ignoring warning signs.
If you were driving on a narrow lane with a sharp drop-off on one side and you saw a warning sign for icy road conditions ahead, would you speed up and push through? No! You'd slow down to avoid an accident that could cause a lot of damage.
Taking the same tack with your running routine is advisable. When you're dealing with inflammation, listen to what your body is telling you and proceed accordingly to avoid an even bigger setback.
Every runner knows the sweet relief of a couple tabs of Advil or Aleve. These anti-inflammatory medications reduce swelling and alleviate pain, allowing you to get back to running. This could end up being a major mistake for a couple of reasons.
Believe it or not, inflammation is beneficial to your body, and especially where muscle is concerned. When tissue becomes inflamed, specialized cells are released to address damaged muscle. This, in turn, signals the body to create new muscle fibers that are stronger than before. In other words, allowing for inflammation gives your muscles the opportunity to improve.
When you halt the inflammatory response with medication, you not only forego stronger muscle tissue, but you also derail the healing process, which could lead to further damage, such as a serious injury. In other words, you're not doing yourself any favors by relying on anti-inflammatories.
If pain and inflammation are interrupting sleep and the natural healing process, consider taking aspirin. Unlike Advil or Aleve (both NSAIDs), aspirin merely relieves pain. Since it is not an anti-inflammatory, your body can continue to heal even as you reduce pain symptoms.
This might sound strange, but runners need to make pain part of their routine. The best way to keep inflammation from slowing you down is to allow it to run its course, and plan for downtime to accommodate.
Pretty much every runner is aware of the need for rest days, but when you're on a roll you might not be inclined to slow down. This is a mistake. Athletes need to be in touch with their bodies to ensure the best performance.
Think of your body as a machine. If your car runs low on gas, you fill the tank, just as you fuel up with a balanced diet before you run. When your car blows a tire, you don't run on a flat - you take it to the shop for a patch or a new tire. When the spark plugs are fouled, you clean or replace them.
You need to provide the same care to your body if you want it to run like a well-oiled machine. Adding rest days to your running schedule allows your body to work through pain and inflammation, becoming better, faster, and stronger as a result.