Updated: May 21, 2020
Some of the best advice you might ever receive is, "PUSH THROUGH THE PAIN!"
Some of the worst advice you might ever receive is, "PUSH THROUGH THE PAIN!"
Both of the above statements can be true at different times. Unfortunately, in grueling sports and challenging physical endeavors, people have really botched the "Push through the pain" aspect of athletics. My goal with this article is to CHALLENGE you to do the hard thing and make the wise choice.
Pushing through pain is a great way to challenge yourself, break through your limits, and build confidence! However, pushing through injury is almost always a very foolish thing to do. There are rare circumstances with professional athletes in big events who have a singular opportunity to succeed, where it may be worth pushing through an injury. However, those athletes have renowned physical therapists and doctors advising them on the risks of their choices. For everyone else (99% of athletes) whose paycheck doesn't depend on their athletic performance, it's a bad idea to push through injuries.
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Injuries will come up. I've never heard of any athlete that has trained for any real amount of time without SOME type of injury popping up. Every training session and every race carries some risk of injury with it. If you've trained properly, and you've developed the right skills, the chances of injuries are dramatically mitigated, but there is always a chance no matter what.
With that being said, it's time for everyone to stop training through injuries. More specifically, it's time for everyone to stop training injured body parts. People generally learn very well through examples, so I've provided several below:
If you have shoulder pain that occurs from overhead presses, you need to A) Stop doing overhead presses and B) Talk to a professional who can figure out what's going on with your shoulder.
You feel pain in the area around (and you think potentially in) your Achilles Tendon. It always gets really bad while you're running. You keep running hoping that it'll take care of itself. However, you don't stop to consider that an already-painful, potentially injured tendon can't possibly heal when it's constantly being put under hundreds, or even thousands, of repetitions of movement that place stress on it. You need to A) Stop doing the thing that is causing the pain (in this case, running), and B) Go speak with a professional who can help you figure out what's wrong.
You were doing a heavy lift and your low back felt something weird happen. Now you have low back pain and stiffness. You should absolutely not go back to picking up heavy things. You need to either wait longer to see if recovery will happen with more rest, or you need to go speak with a professional who can help you (ideally both).
"If I don't keep running, I'll lose some of my fitness and I will be that much further from my goal of running my first Marathon." This person is right..ish. If they stop running now and take the time to recover, it could set them back several weeks, or even several months. However, if they keep running and cause greater damage, it will set them back far more than a few months. In the end, this person will lose training time and reach fewer goals because they are constantly fighting an injury (and all the injuries that might accompany that injury).
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE - While it can be tempting to ask people on social media about injuries you think you might have, it is a TERRIBLE idea to take the advice of someone on social media regarding injuries, especially considering that 99.9% of them aren't PTs or Doctors, and that the internet is packed with trash information. Go see a professional. I have clients ask me about past injuries and random pains all the time. I ask them some questions to get an idea for what MIGHT be going on, and then I tell them the best thing they can do is go have it looked at by a professional. I'm not a Physical Therapist. I'm not a Doctor. While I know a lot about biomechanics and the musculoskeletal system, injuries and rehabilitation aren't my professional expertise. My client needs to go to a professional, and I wouldn't be much of a professional if I didn't recommend them to do so. By the same token, none of you non-professionals have any business telling potentially-injured athletes what they should or shouldn't be doing in regards to their injury. You could be setting them up for some real damage by giving incorrect information or bad advice...even if you mean well. - END OF SIDE NOTE
By this point, some of you are likely enraged and writing off everything I've said. You think you can push through the pain. You aren't a wimp! You never give up! You never stop! You want to challenge yourself and that means not letting pain stop you!
Well, I have news for you. You can, and you should, give up on a heavy lift, or on running, or on overhead pressing. You should give those things up as long as you need to in order to properly heal. If you don't, the injury won't heal. You'll either keep lifting the same weights, or you'll regress as your injury becomes worse. You'll even likely cause imbalances that lead to further injuries as you keep pushing and creating more damage.
The wise thing to do is to take the necessary time and treatment to recover. In the meantime, there are other things you can do! There are still ways to challenge yourself! Train a weakness that doesn't have anything to do with your injury. Maybe you have an Achilles injury but your Physical Therapist has cleared you for Rowing. Row your tail off! You hate rowing? Suck it up. This is how you challenge yourself while you can't run! You can't overhead press because you jacked up your shoulder? Fine. Challenge yourself with the exercises your PT gives you to help recover so you're less injury prone when you're cleared to go back to the exercise.
In today's world of fitness, people have lost what it means to be an athlete. Being an athlete isn't about lifting the most weight, running the fastest or furthest, or proving you can push through injuries. Being an athlete is a constant journey of trying to improve yourself in every way you possibly can to accomplish whatever goals and tasks you decide to take on. You can't improve something by damaging it more.
Stop training injured muscles/joints/tendons/ligaments until you've been cleared by a Professional.
Train smart, train safe, recover well, and go conquer all your obstacles!
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Joel Hayes (Coach & Article Author)
Luke Hayes (Coach)