Should I See the Doctor or Go For a Run?

Knowing when pain goes from “OK” to “definitely not OK” can be hard. This five-part guide makes it easier.

It can be tough to determine which pains to run through and which pains demand surrender. Bruce Wilk, a physical therapist, coach, and owner of The Runner’s High specialty shop, has developed a five-point checklist that you can use to determine whether you should run, walk, rest, or rush to a doctor.

Stages one to three encompass the normal discomforts that go along with pushing your body further and faster than it’s gone before. Take two to three days off of working out, ice five times a day, and use compression and elevation.

But if you see a red flag, or you reach stage four or five, stop working out and seek professional help ASAP. See a sports-medicine specialist or orthopedist, preferably someone who has experience working with runners. A local running club or store may be able to recommend someone.


Stage One

An unfamiliar and disconcerting pain while running. “It hurts when I run; it stops hurting when I’m done.”
Red flag: It forces you to alter your stride.

Stage Two

An unfamiliar or disconcerting pain at rest. “It may or may not hurt when I run, but it aches when I’m done.”
Red flag: The pain interferes with your rest.

Stage Three

Pain during normal daily activities. “It hurts when I walk or climb the stairs, or when I’m sitting at my desk after I run.”
Red flag: The pain forces you to avoid the stairs, walk barefoot, or alter any other normal daily activities.

Stage Four/Red flag

Pain that makes you take medication, including shots or prescription or over-the-counter meds. “It hurt, but once I took the ibuprofen (or got a cortisone shot), it went away.”

Stage Five/Red flag

Pain that stops you from running or even walking. “It hurts when I walk, sit, lie down, or stand…not to mention running!”

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