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Should You Go Running When Sore?

Whether you’re trying to maintain a streak or wondering if you can skip today because it hurts, you might want to know if you should go running when you’re sore.

Not only will we answer this question, but we’ll also discuss how to manage feeling sore after a run.

Knowing when to push yourself to see improvements and when to back off to allow for recovery is key to getting the most out of runs and workouts. This can sometimes be an art to develop, so we’re here to help.

Why Does Running Make Me Sore?

Research has found that no, you’re not the only one who feels sore after running. In fact, there’s a term for this soreness and discomfort: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS or short.

Any athlete—beginner or elite—can experience DOMS, and it’s most common when you’re returning to activity. That may be after an injury, at the beginning of a season, or when you introduce a new type of activity. In other words, it’s especially common when you haven’t been running for a while (or not as hard).

DOMS likely occurs due to a variety of factors. In general, you gain from workouts when your exertion slightly tears your muscles. Your body rebuilds these micro-tears, and you get stronger. What happens with DOMS is your muscles tear more than usual, leading to inflammation and soreness.

What Should I Do If My Legs Hurt After Running?

In order to determine if you should go running when you’re sore, you first have to figure out if it’s soreness or acute pain. If your legs are just sore, then you’re okay to run. But if it’s pain, then you need to stop running and perhaps also see a doctor.

Soreness is most common after a hard workout or race, and you don’t even have to worry if you’re sore for a couple of days. When you’re sore for more than three days or your pain levels are above a 2/10 on the pain scale, then it’s pain, not soreness.

You don’t want to run through pain, because it won’t make you a stronger runner. Instead, something that was originally a minor injury will become a major one, and you could be sidelined for weeks.

Even if you are able to push through the pain, you might develop an asymmetrical running form. Your body with overcompensate for what feels uncomfortable, and rely more on the side of your body that doesn’t hurt.

What are Some Tips to Help With Sore Muscles?

You’ll need to see a medical professional like a physical therapist for pain that doesn’t go away. But you can treat soreness at home as long as it doesn’t last more than three days.

Ice the Muscles

You might shudder at the thought of jumping into an ice bath at the end of a run. Even icing your feet or calves isn’t all that pleasant. But it’s actually really good for your muscles. The temperature should be around 55-60 Fahrenheit. In other words, the ice should melt, but it should take about 3-5 minutes to do so.

If you can stand the first minute, you’ll be able to stand the ice bath the rest of the time. You’ll be able to relax because the water will start to seem more temperate. But make sure that you don’t kick your legs, because then it will get cold again.

You should ice your feet or take an ice bath for 10-15 minutes. It seems like a long time, but with practice, you’ll get used to it. Icing your muscles is important, because water pressure will help to remove waste products as well as decrease inflammation in your legs.

Stretch After Hard Workouts

Stretching is one of the best things you can do to stay limber and make sure that your muscles are primed for your workouts. After you complete a hard workout (or really any workout), stretching will allow your muscles to relax and heal.

Target your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip rotators, and your trunk/spinal region. These are the areas that get tight and are prone to soreness. Ideally, you’ve also taken the time to cool down after your run as well.

You might even want to try yoga, but don’t overdo it. This isn’t the time for a long, in-depth yoga session. Instead, think about something you might do before you go to sleep. This will help you relax and may assist in reducing DOMS.

Refuel with Carbs and Protein

Just like a car uses up gas, your body uses up fuel when you run, so you’ll need to refuel pretty shortly after you run. The ideal ratio is 4/3-to-1 of carbs to protein. You can try nutrition bars, but make sure that they aren’t loaded with sugar.

Another option is drinking chocolate milk. You get to feel like a kid again, and it has a great mixture of protein, carbs, and B-vitamins—the perfect recovery drink. You can also make your own combos, like a bagel with peanut butter or a banana and yogurt.

The key is making sure that you’re getting more carbs than protein and doing it within the first 30 minutes of finishing a workout. Your muscles will be most ready to replenish their glycogen supplies then, which will help to minimize muscle soreness.

Massage Muscles

Giving your muscles a massage might seem luxurious, but it’s one of the best things you can do for them. One study found that just 20 minutes of foam rolling immediately after you exercise shows a marked decrease in DOMS.

You definitely can go to a professional, but you don’t need to. Instead, you can get your significant other or a close friend to massage your legs with their hands. Or, do it yourself with a massage tool like a foam roller or massage gun.

Keep Moving

It seems counterintuitive, but one of the best things you can do to help with soreness is to walk or stay active. This will allow your muscles to stay loose and not tighten up. Even if you don’t feel like you should go for a run, a short walk can do you a world of good.

If you go for a short jog or walk around and things aren’t starting to loosen up and feel better, then you may be dealing with acute pain and not DOMS. Although you might feel sore during the first mile or so of a jog, it shouldn’t last if you’re really dealing with DOMS.

Final Thoughts

In the end, you’re probably good to go running if you’re sore, because you’re likely suffering from DOMS. However, if you’re experiencing pain, that’s a completely different story, and you’ll want to stay home.

Make sure that you incorporate some of these tips into your running routine. Stretch or take an ice bath, because they will help quite a bit with keeping DOMS at bay. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner