Tip for Dealing with a Niggle or Pain while Running

During my July Core Action online training camp some of the runners tried my tip for dealing with problems mid-run and told me they loved it. So I’m sharing it with you today.

Every runner experiences a midrun niggle or discomfort–or even a manageable pain–on occasion. You’ll find my guidelines on when to keep running here. Those are key because you’ll need to make the right decision on whether to keep running or stop and walk home.

If it’s a situation where you can continue running, here’s how to make it manageable:

Imagine you have the exact same problem on the other side of your body instead.

Don’t DO anything, don’t try to make it happen (for heaven’s sake!), but just imagine the sensation as fully as you can. Imagine you’re feeling the actual niggle or discomfort, as well as everything about how you’re moving as a consequence.

As you continue to run while imagining this, you’ll usually feel your movement alter and your discomfort begin to fade. It might disappear altogether or it might simply decrease, but in any case you’ll be a bit more comfortable on your way home.

I do this if my left heel is bothering me, which it does on occasion if an old dance injury to my left big toe acts up and limits my mobility.  When this happens I imagine the feeling is on the outside of my right foot instead, and I also imagine the slightly asymmetrical movement of my pelvis is switched over and the mild sensation of a twist around my lower ribs is on the other side. By the time I’ve worked my way through all of that my left heel has stopped hurting and I’m running more easily overall.

You might be thinking, “why not just imagine the discomfort going away instead?” Surely it would make more sense. But that would be just a wish, and unlikely to work.

The pain is connected to a pattern of movement, and you need to change the underlying pattern of movement to make it go away. If you knew how to adjust the movement you would be doing it spontaneously and wouldn’t have the problem to begin with. One of my favorite quotes—I’ve been saying it so long I can’t remember where I first heard it!—is this:

“Well, Ma’am, I don’t have a solution, but I sure do respect the problem.”

At first glance it’s funny, but in fact respecting the problem is the necessary starting point for any real solution in any situation.

It’s very hard to figure out what to fix, but it is somewhat easier to feel at least a portion of the problem. Imagining that on the other side provokes your brain to change how you move and to some extent correct the asymmetry. It also harnesses the vastly superior power of your subconscious mind, since imagining the things you can feel means you also include a number of connected things you can’t feel.

The additional benefit is that you learn a little about the way your movement is causing the discomfort and this can form the basis of a learning experience to help you prevent having this problem again in the future.

Now it’s important to remember this is just a temporary coping strategy. If you have a niggle or pain during a run, you need to take steps postrun to help prevent a recurrence on your next run and the eventual appearance of an actual injury. Again, read the blog post I linked to above for more on that.

Give it a try and let me know how it worked for you!

Next week I’ll post another video clip from my session in a motion capture lab– my plan to do it this week was derailed by a cycling accident and a day spent getting my 5th metatarsal fracture diagnosed and dealt with. Now I’m on holiday with my family where I can sit in a chair, be taken care of, and not really be able to do anything other than read, sleep, sunbathe, and edit videos.

5 thoughts on “Tip for Dealing with a Niggle or Pain while Running”

  1. Interesting post. Will try it next time i feel some pain as i run. Hope you get well soon from your foot injury!!

  2. I have tried this since I read this blog post – & it totally works! In fact, it works almost immediately. I have told a few of my runner friends about it & they report the same immediate success. Thanks for such an easy & practical tip!


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