SparkPeople Blogs  •  running  •  injury

When Exercise Hurts More Than Helps

By , SparkPeople Blogger
For the past 9 years, I’ve called myself a runner.  It started because I moved to a new town with no access to the workout facilities I’d had before, so running became an easy substitute- no equipment needed.  Running quickly became an important part of my life, both physically and mentally.  There was a period of time when I wouldn’t bother with a run that was any shorter than 6 miles because I didn’t consider it to be much of a workout.  Because of kids and other life circumstances, those days are long gone…..
In the fall of 2010 I experienced my first serious running injury, Achilles tendonitis.  I made the problem worse by continuing to push through pain instead of listening to my body and resting.  I ended up in 6 weeks of physical therapy and had to stop running for a few months.  When the PT told me I couldn’t run, I panicked.  Running was such an important part of my life, and who would I be without it?  How would I relieve stress?  How would I get a good workout? 
My injury actually taught me a number of valuable lessons I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.  The first was that I’m not invincible and I shouldn’t just try to push through pain.  It’s important to take care of your body, and pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.  I tell people that all the time, but just wasn’t willing to listen to my own advice.  The second thing I learned was that I’m not defined by a specific activity.  Although I love running, if I can’t log the miles I used to or can’t run anymore at all, it’s not the end of the world.  There are plenty of other activities I can do and still lead a happy and healthy life. 
I’ve learned this lesson, but I know others who have not.  There is someone in my life who I believe is being hurt more than helped by exercise.  He’s one of those crazy runners, just like me.  He loves it, and it’s a big part of who he is.  I get that.  But he continues to push through pain (his is a permanent problem that rest or doctors can’t fix) instead of listening to his body.  When I try to talk to him about it, I can see the walls of defensiveness going up.  I’m not sure what drives him to continue:  the love of the sport, the fear that he’ll never find another activity that gives him the kind of workout or feeling that running does, or the fear that if he stops running, he’s going to fall off the exercise wagon completely.  He doesn’t want to face the fact that he’s doing his body more harm than good.
So I struggle with what I can do to help him.  I’d love to see him try some other activities that don’t cause him so much pain or at least cut back significantly on the ones that do.  I’d be happy to do them with him.  “Want to go for a bike ride?  Let’s do it!  Could we try running just a few miles instead of training for another half marathon?  Great!”  But in the end I know that I can’t force him to change.  He has to come to that realization and decide for himself.   
I see members on SparkPeople’s Message Boards every day who are injured and want someone to tell them that it’s okay to just push through the pain.  Eventually it will get better, right?  Well, probably not.  You could be doing all kinds of permanent damage to your body by sacrificing rest and recovery for a few hundred calories burned.  Is it really worth the trade-off?  There’s a big difference between being sore because you pushed yourself to work hard, and pain because you’ve got a potential injury that needs to be addressed. 
Have you been one of those people who didn’t want to listen when your body told you something was wrong? Do you have someone in your life that’s doing their body more harm than good?  Do you think it’s a lesson they need to learn for themselves, or is there something you (we) can do to help?

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GETULLY 4/5/2018
I'm taking off most of this week because I did my leg in at a fiber spinning conference last week. Between spinning classes and being on my feet in vendor hall assisting in a booth I am sore. Report
I wonder, how is the person you mentioned? Is he still running? Great blog! Report
BONDMANUS2002 1/2/2018
Absolutely great Report
SUZENNA 11/28/2017
Thank you Report
DMEYER4 9/18/2017
thank you Report
NANROCKS 9/7/2017
Thank you for sharing your issues and ideas on things to do when your body won't let you do the physical things you love. Keep moving forward. Report
I started running at age 54, and kept getting injured. I have a wonderful physical therapist, a runner, who said to me that people usually stop running at my age, rather than start - that it was a bad time to start running. The reason he gave was that our connective tissue changes form as we age. It changes from elastin to collagen,(I think that was what it was). In any event, the form of connective tissue no longer stretches - it breaks. Report
Learning to deal with injuries seems to also be a part of this new life journey! I have stress fractures in my foot - an overuse injury. When I first injured my foot, I couldn't even pick up my toes to take a step. It continues to bother me with overuse so it forces me to take a rest from walking - I'll never run again either. It makes me try other activities like bike riding, rowing, water that's a good thing. So my injury limits me on one hand, but on the other it forces me to change up my exercise program. Report
I am also now nursing a bout of Achilles tendonitis. Not fun, but I am able to run 3-5 miles. I just need to remember to heat before running and rolling, icing after rolling and running or walking. Report
I currently have a bandage on my foot because I got an injury from running/working out too intensely. I was definitely being stubborn because I wanted to get my minutes in and exercise. Instead of listening to my body as it's mentioned here, I thought I'd be okay and maybe even feel a little better. So there I have it - what was mild discomfort turned into excruciating pain, I have been limping for 2 days. I am feeling a little better because I'm taking care of it now, but it shouldn't have gotten to this point. I learned, always listen to your body. Report
Its really hard, when you have a passion for something, to take a break from it.
I'm now working through an arm issue created by the sport I love, tennis.
However taking a break has helped me not only to rest and heal, but also to find other sources
For exercise. Variety can be fun. Especially if there's no pain! Report
Sometimes it's hard to tell which type of pain it is. I have pain every day from fibromyalgia & arthritis. I recently began to have pain in my feet, which was new. I let it go to see if it would go away. It turns out I have a large bone spur in my left foot.! I also have arthritis in both feet. Report
I started a push-up schedule and had increased to 5 sets of 40 reps. Was working toward 50 per set. My wrist started hurting and I believed that it could be the start of tendinitis. Since I have read other articles on SP about stopping for pain, listen to your body, I backed off. fewer sets and fewer reps. More rest days too. If that doesn't help i will quit for a while. Thanks for reminding me to listen to my body before things get out of hand. Report
I was really pleased to read this blog because I have just started doing the 10 minute exercises last week and as result had developed a pain in my right foot. Thank God the pain has actually died down now and I didn't do any cardio exercise this week as I didn't want to make it worse. I will definitely go and see my doctor now and make sure I work out safely. Report
Every time i start an exercise program i end up hurting myself. It doesn't take much when you are out of shape.Being overweight and having weight related injuries is a common event. I try very hard to go slow. Its no fun to get derailed from your exercise program and can set you back, way back, so now its half a block walk, light water exercise and slowly building myself up to bike riding and more. Once you have experienced an injury, you have learned a hugh lesson. Easy does it!!, but do it!! Report
I was experiencing pain in my right elbow and a friend determined it was probably tendonitis and suggested that I spend 2 weeks giving it a rest and icing it for 20 minutes each day. I LOVE strength training and the thought of not lifting weights made me panic. He calmly said, it's either 2 weeks with ice, or months in PE, your choice. I listened, I followed instructions and I've carefully moved back to my heavier weights once I was done with the icing. I listen to my body and take it easy on certain exercises and while I do challenge myself with heavier sets, I try to be sensible. I really value his advice and it has allowed me to continue to take part in the activities that I enjoy. Report
I struggle with resting an injury, too. I fear I'll get flabby or lose muscle tone, so I ignore the pain, take meds and move on. It's not severe yet, and I'm doing a new routine this next month which I hope will help. Report
I have fibromyalgia. My doc says only walking, yoga, and gentle water exercises. I thought I'd be ok walking 30 minutes every day, but no. I didn't listen to my body and I had a flare-up of pain and fatigue that lasted days. I had to rest for a week before being able to walk again. I now only walk 20 minutes 3x/week and my body appreciates being cared for in a healthy way now. Report
Very valuable insight! I need to hear those words of caution. It has been my pattern to exercise, pushing through till I break something. Swimming has brought about two rotator cuff surgeries over the last two years. Exercise when done with common sense and attention is wonderful. It feels so good. Report
I guess there are 3 kinds of people, those who do not run, those who run, and those who have be injuried and realize how important the mind and body connection is and how important it is we listen Report
Great article! I am SLOWLY getting back into running after an IT band injury. As a life-long runner I thought I would be able to bounce right back into training after over a year off. I learned when I was young and running cross country in high school, I pushed through my pain and ran a half marathon even though I was already injured. After months of PT I am finally able to run again, but my training has been slow. I've built up my time between running and walking. I've had to re-train myself to say that it is okay to walk, especially if I want to run for years to come. Lately I've been wanting to increase the frequency of my runs, but I still experience pain. I'm happy I read this because I think now I will focus on more cross-training rather than pushing myself to run. Again, I am needing to train my mind that in order to run well, I don't have to run everyday. Thanks for this article. Report
I think a person has to realize when they are "over the hill" ... at age 57, I realize this. I had started regularly practicing yoga (mostly vinyasa) nearly 5 years ago, and just a few short months ago I felt I had been well on my way to intermediate level. But a few mild injuries later, I am convinced I have to pull back. I just go at it longer, in exchange (a lot of it is spiritual, and not moving all so much, so I CAN).

If I still had access to a pool, I probably would have found something similar with lap swimming ... I am 100% positive doing flip turns would have really hurt my neck by now ... Good thing I think I could still try to do them, otherwise I would have no motivation to do my grueling pilates routine (incorporated into my yoga practice). But between you and me, having toned abs is nice; doing wheelie-equivalents with them is out of the question anymore. Report
This really got me to thinking. I have a daughter that is a cheerleader and plays golf in the spring. She has been constantly complaining about her ankle and now her knee. I keep telling her that when I take her she will probably have to not cheer for awhile. Your article got me to thinking that it would probably also side line golf as well. I'll make that appointment for her asap- what was I thinking?!?!?!? Thanks for the article, I needed that. Report
This is something I have been debating with myself about. I have been running off and on for a few years and am now in week 2 of C25K...again. I am a runner who suffers with arthritis and fibromyalgia. However, when I run my symptoms usually vanish. Three weeks ago I started having this pain in my left knee. It is on the side toward the back. It doesn't hurt when I run, but often hurts afterwards and sometimes when I do workouts where there is slight twisting of the knees (like Tae-bo or the Biggest Loser workouts). Sometimes I wonder if maybe I should stop doing any kind of workout and give myself some rest (I did rest for 3 days right after I noticed the injury), but my knee functions fine and the pain is minimal, usually I don't even have to take anything for it. So the debate rages on... I think that I will just continue to listen to my body and if it continues or gets worse I will take a break. I am really hoping it heals up without me having to stop though. I love working out and running in particular. I don't wanna stop. :) Report
Thanks Jen! As one of the leaders of the Rookie Runners, I give this advise all the time. Now I will also have a link to your blog to share.

And yes, although I give this advice all the time, when I was training to do a half marathon with a Spark friend, I too pushed past the pain, not wanting to quit training. And ended up not going to that race to meet her, and having PT and a whole host of other treatments I did not want. A very important lesson learned here! Report
Wish I had read this over a year ago. I am scheduled for an MRI tomorrow because of a knee injury. It took me that long to get smart about it.
I am happy to say that I have finally reeducated myself of many other ways to workout. Its not the same burn, but as my friend told me. Do I want to rest up now and be able to walk in the long run or do I want to keep pushing myself and end up needing a cane (or worse) for the rest of my life...
well if you put it like that... Report
I just don't understand the obsession with running. Sure, I used to run when I was in my 20s for 30 minutes most mornings, but if I was ever injured, I stopped immediately. Walking is so much healthier and less stressful on the body, especially for someone like me who produces too much adrenaline and cortisol on a regular basis anyway. Running just makes it worse. Walking and weight lifting are the only things that work for me as I don't have access to a pool. I recently stubbed my little toe on a friend's Victorian couch. Luckily, it didn't break, but the bruise was spectacular as was the pain. No shoes at all for a few days and back to using a cane. It was two weeks before I could start back slowly on the treadmill, but so what? I didn't eat myself into oblivion and I kept up with my household tasks and volunteering after the first couple of days. Now I can wear my trainers again and am back at it. I didn't buy into the "no pain, no gain" garbage when I was young. Not about to start now. Thanks for the extremely sensible article. Report
This is a must read for every runner who wants to push through the Coach Lee asked me when I suffered a minor injury, "Do you want to be a life-long runner or a once-in-a-lifetime runner?" This blog is a keeper! THANKS Jen for sharing! Report
I trained for a marathon in 2010 and messed up my IT-bands in the 20-mile training run two months before the race. I had the good sense to limp home that day and discovered quickly that I couldn't keep pushing my legs until this healed. But I didn't want to give up on the marathon, so I trained in the pool and on bikes, and a week out I ran 6 (flat) miles and came home with femur pain. At that point I should have cried "uncle", but I'm stubborn. I "ran" the marathon and then couldn't run even as far as the mailbox (short driveway, too!) for the next three months. I have definitely learned my lesson -- but it took a pretty serious beating to get it into me! Report
Oh goodness! I overdid step aerobics last week and overdid my knees. One of them has been "talking" to me ever since. I've taken 2 extra rest days (and I'm dieing to get back to running). Wake up call ---- I need to give it some more rest until it is back to normal! I'll have to find workouts that don't bother it so much. Thanks for this timely article! Report
Oh, this blog speaks to me, but I've reformed. I ran and ran and then I went to boot camp and pushed myself past my limits. It took about 9 months of being semi-retired from the sport I love so much--running. But lots of good came out of it. I'm finally listening to my body and pulling back when I need to. I entered my first sprint triathlon. I never would have practiced swimming had I not had the injury. I hiked and biked and just relaxed. Some days I did nothing! The time off from training refreshed me both physically and mentally. I had not realized how much stress I was under to always be training for something. Report
I hate pain, I am confident I won't "push through it" if I am hurt! With sayings like "no pain no gain" and "pain is just weakness leaving the body" it would be easy to see how a person
could think that they were not harming themselves. Just have to listen to your body and know that if you have pushed too far and got an injury, better rest up and heal your body. Report
I have had two occasions in my life where I kept exercising through the pain. One while doing aerobics at home, and one while cross-country skiing 6 miles from civilization. Each time, it took a LOOOOOONG time to recover (I actually had to have surgery on my knee after the cross-country accident). What could have been a few days off rest turned into a marathon of physical therapy. It took me two times, but now I listen to my body and QUIT if I experience pain. Report
I completely understand the fear of stopping. Last year I experienced first-hand how an injury can derail a whole exercise routine. I did stop, despite my fears of "falling off the exercise wagon". I rested and took it easy on myself, but I never completely healed, and I never found a suitable substitute. My fears came true--I stopped working out altogether for about 6 months. Depressed and defeated, all my healthy habits fell to the wayside. Recently, I have started exercising more regularly again, but I am still not as active as I was before the injury, and have to modify my exercise to deal with it. It is still really frustrating, and I struggle to do the best with what I have, but that's really all one can do. I am determined to keep monitoring what I eat and to get active as often as I can within my limitations. Report
Oh so learned that over the past year. I had what I thought was a bone spur on my heal. Ok I can work through that right? Well...... turns out I didn't have 1 bone spur I had 4. The largest of which cut through my achilles tendon, severing it!

Now surgery, therapthy and almost a year later I can START to jog slowing! Don't work through the pain, it s not worth it!
I was bound and determined to become a "runner". I tried using the C25K program and ended up blowing out one of my knees. I was SO upset that the injury sidelined me that I just chucked the whole thing in and left Spark...for a whole year. I gained back all I had lost and a few pounds to boot. I joined again late last fall. Determined as ever to "run" I started again.....every step I took I could feel the strain on that knee. Back to the Ortho Doc who told me that I needed to accept the fact that I will NEVER be able to run...EVER. That was hard to take, but I finally had to agree to that and get smart about my exercise routine. Lesson learned the hard way. Today I can do Step Aerobics for 60 minutes at a time 3x a week and a lower impact walking program mixed with strength training for an additional 60 minutes 3x a week. You need to know your bodies limitations and acknowledge them or you'll end up doing a great deal of damage to your body. Listen to will tell you when it's had enough! Report
I know all to well about pushing through the pain. I fell in love with running in high school, and was an avid runner til 32. At this point I finally went to the doctor due to my run times decreasing, while hip pain and leg pain was increasing. After acknowledging I'd been fighting my body and pain for years, I was told that I needed a hip replacement due to severe osteoarthritis! This was a huge shock to my life and an end to my love affair with running. Although I have found other ways to exercise, my new hip is a constant reminder to stop when you feel pain. Report
Wow...I guess we all need to listen to our body and take care of ourselves Report
I do tend to push to a certain point, but I also pay pretty close attention to the nuances of pains and aches and research things if it doesn't ease up quickly. DOMS, for example, may have me hobbling for days, but moving around, stretching and time are all it takes to recover. Tendonitis or a calf sprain, on the other hand, take full-on attention and care to avoid worse or lasting injury.

I had to stop walking mid-January due to a foot issue I'd been experiencing since mid-December. I'd eased up by January, it felt better, then I pushed without thinking. When it started hurting again and more, I dove into reading up on foot issues - and discovered a key one is plantar fasciitis, which for many is chronic and takes such extremes as surgery and steroid shots. I've since been limiting my walking, doing stretches and exercises, icing it, elevating it. It's greatly improved to where normal walking is mostly fine, but I'm in no hurry to re-injure - preferring to keep my substitutes for now (recumbent bike and elliptical).

I can't imagine losing my ability to walk comfortably for the next 40 years of my life just to walk more today.

I don't think I personally know anyone who is physically harming themselves with exercise. I do know people who harm themselves in other ways, whether it's odd diet extremes or two jobs and some 36 hours of working with breaks, lunch, and travel, but no sleep.

I think we can try to gently warn of the dangers, but if someone won't listen to us once (or to their doctor), they aren't going to hear it because we start nagging them about it more. Heart-breaking as it is, other than what you mentioned (trying to lead them toward other activities as well), we can't do much more for them. Report
I have been there. I am still learning though -- "I can't Quite but can take a break..." Report
Good reminder message. We don't have to sprint to the finish line. It's more important to just finish injury-free. Report
I am recovering from a lengthy illness and am determined to lose about 80lbs and become a healthy person again. I took time after my surgery to heal, then began to attend a water aerobics class. The teacher was young and pushed the class to extremes. Eventually I injured my leg. I can't afford to track down exactly what happened with my leg, because my health insurance is horribly expensive, then doesn't cover anythiing until I spend $4800 each year - so I have only gotten a partial diagnosis. I think I have pulled a muscle in the back of my leg. I decided to begin lap swimming, which doesn't hurt my leg. I started out doing 5 laps - one lap being down and back - and now I'm up to 38 laps each session. The injury has continued to hurt for the past 6 months, so now I've decided I've got to be really proactive with my leg. I'm massaging it daily, heating and icing it and swimming. By the way, I read that most people with a bad knee, ankle or foot have injured themselves in exercise classes. If I had it to do all over again I would have been lap swimming all along. Report
I use common sense. It seems to be in short supply these days. Report
I think that endorphins, the calorie-burning benefits of exercise, the desire to "keep up with the Sparks" and the newly discovered (or rediscovered) feeling of athleticism lead a number of us astray.

Exercise feels great afterward (and sometimes during) - those endorphins and that sense of accomplishment are extremely potent drivers. Some of us also read about the interesting and sometimes extraordinary achievements of Sparkers (went from 300 to 200 pounds and ran a marathon 6 months after starting C25K) and feel that we should be able to do the same thing, at the same pace. Also, our cardiovascular and respiratory systems often get stronger faster than our bones, muscles, joints and ligaments, so sometimes our hearts are ready to do something that our joints aren't ready for. And many of us love the idea that if we just exercise (a lot) more, we can eat (a lot) more.

That's a recipe for injury, and I have baked this one too many times to mention. I'm still learning. One of the over-arching principles I try to follow is this:

"Exercise today in a way that means you'll still be exercising next year." In other words, don't push yourself past your physical or mental limits, or you'll burn out or break down.

One thing that has helped me follow this approach is to NOT use exercise as an excuse to eat more. Unless I'm training for an endurance race, I only aim to burn about 1200-1500 calories a week through exercise and, therefore, I've accepted the fact that my daily calorie intake (in maintenance) is going to be around 1400-1800 calories. I've become accustomed to (and satisfied with) eating within this calorie range, and so I'm not tempted to exercise more so that I can eat more. Report
No matter what the circumstances, it's always difficult when you want to help a friend that simply does not want anyone's assistance. Perhaps you can find a way around your pal's defenses by approaching the subject by telling him you're worried for him? Or perhaps invite him to try another sport or activity with you. Then he won't be out there on his own trying to find something new. In the end, though, there is only so much you can do for another person, and sometimes our only option is to just wait it out and hope for the best. Report
Yes, Jen, I've been there and done that. My achilles tendonitis basically sidelined me for the better part of 18 months. Now, I'm learning to embrace cross-training, even yoga. But I'm thrilled that I can still get our there and run, even if I'm not as fast as I used to be.

I love all your articles. Keep up the good work! Report
God Yes!!! I suffer with REALLY severe Osteoarthritis, Fibormialgia, and a host of other health issues. I'm only in my early 50's, and at 49 had to have a knee replaced and the other one is well on it's way for a replacement. I dread that...I have many days that I'm just not able to do th gym thing...when I go I get on the treadmill and do an hour with a small incline, and can easily burn of 400 calories...I try to do strength training every other day. But at this point, I am too sore to go and do anything....with the disease I have, we have "flare-ups" and they can last for weeks. I'm in the midst of one now. I feel guilty and out of sorts by not going and watching my fitness score be zero. However I am eating right and ever so slowly the c=scale goes down. but not like it is when I am training. It's frustrating as Hell. I totally understated what you must be feeling, Bless your heart. Report
I went through it many years ago and it caused more than a couple of year's of rehabilitation. I went on a a run without stretching and pushed through the pain. As I start on a new fitness regiment that is always in the back of my mind when exercising. I now know the difference between mental and physical discomfort. Report
My problem is I don't know the difference between working through the pain, and an injury. I have lost 50 lbs in the last few months, and still have over 50 to go. I ended up burning myself out working out 6 or 7 days a week, and then totally stopped for the last month. I am just getting back into it, but again, are my hips, knees, and shoulder truly injured, or am I just being a baby and need to work through the pain? Because I'm so competitive with myself, and want to hit my goals I set, I'll just keep working through it. Report
I'm going through this right now. I've been consistently working out for about 90 days and refused to take breaks. I felt like if I did I would fail and not be consistent. I felt like I would easily give up. I'm realizing that I was overtraining and doing more harm then good. Now I'm on a 3-5 day break, but I will definitely stick with my calories so I don't feel fat during this break. Report
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