Managing Chronic Pain By Running — How Training for the 2024 Key West Half Marathon Presents a Fulfilling Option
By: Sara Zipf
An estimated 20.9% of U.S. adults experienced chronic pain during 2021, highlights the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For those who are looking for new ways to manage the pain, starting to run and even train for the Key West Half Marathon can be a fulfilling endeavor that may actually help the pain, too. From understanding how chronic pain is addressed to how exercise can be beneficial, here’s what you should keep in mind — including how you can safely and effectively jump in.
Addressing the underlying causes of chronic pain
Chronic pain, according to Healthline, is described as pain that lasts at least 12 weeks. “The pain may feel sharp or dull, causing a burning or aching sensation in the affected areas. It may be steady or intermittent, coming and going without any apparent reason.” Healthline goes on to note that some of the most common types of chronic pain can include lower back pain, arthritis pain, or neurogenic pain, to name just a few. It’s explained that chronic pain is usually caused by an initial injury (like a pulled muscle), however, it can also result from an underlying health condition, such as fibromyalgia.
If your job is largely desk-bound, chronic pain can also arise from a variety of issues. Poor posture when sitting at the desk, standing for long periods, sitting in the same position for extended periods of time, and repetitive strain injuries can all result in chronic pain. While simply standing up, walking around, and stretching can alleviate tension and minor pain, chronic pain may need to be professionally addressed when it’s prolonged. While chronic pain is treated differently depending on a variety of factors (such as the underlying cause, severity, and frequency), medical treatments and lifestyle remedies — or a combination — may be used. For instance, remedial massage and supportive aids and garments may present as a couple of options for someone experiencing chronic pain at work.
How running can help
A Utah State University post points out that physical activity can lower the risk for developing chronic pain and assist in managing chronic pain that already exists. “Physical activity reduces chronic pain by building muscle strength and flexibility, reducing fatigue, reducing pain sensitivity, and reducing inflammation,” notes the article, which goes on to mention that research suggests that exercise may also be effective in reducing pain for conditions that are difficult to treat (such as fibromyalgia). Additional research-backed benefits of physical pain are also highlighted, and are noted to include improving sleep, reducing pain sensitivity, inflammation, and depression and anxiety.
For those who experience back pain, running can be ‘extremely beneficial,’ states one HealthCentral article, which goes on to cite a 2014 study that suggests that aerobic exercise can be considered a form of effective treatment for low back pain. For those who experience mechanical back pain (back pain when you have a structurally normal spine), Earl Kilbride, M.D., a board certified, fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon with Texas Orthopedics in Austin, says “Often, sufferers of this have a weak core, front and back. Running can help strengthen the core.” The HealthCentral post goes on to mention the value that running can have by increasing endorphins, which Dr. Kilbride points out is “good for the brain and mood,” which “decreases overall pain.”
For those who wish to run in order to help manage chronic pain, it’s essential to first talk to a medical professional and get clearance to ensure that running — particularly training for the Key West Half Marathon in 2024 — is safe for you. For example, one Medium article points out that if you experience pain that originates from osteoarthritis-like conditions (such as hip or knee pain), then long-term, weight-bearing exercises like running may not be right for you. By discussing the matter with a medical professional first, you can determine what your limitations are and what is safe for you, thus allowing you to train more effectively.
Effective training while navigating chronic pain
In addition to speaking with a medical professional regarding what you can and cannot do when training for a marathon, it’s important to keep in mind that there are several considerations to keep in mind in order to avoid pain and even injury. The National Spine Health Foundation, for instance, points out that the repetitive motion of high-impact activities like running “can put tremendous strain on joints and muscles throughout the body, including those in the spine,” which can cause discomfort and put one at risk for serious injuries. It’s further noted that small considerations, such as investing in quality footwear made for running, running with good form, and maintaining a healthy diet can all make a difference.
A post from The Runner Doc recommends starting slow when planning to start running with chronic pain. “Starting slow is key. In fact, before you start running, start going out for 10-minute walks. These walks don’t even have to be outside, just walk around your house for 10 minutes.” The post goes on to note that if you’re unsure that you are doing too much, following the two-hour rule can help: “if your pain is worse two hours after you finished exercising than it was before you started, this is a sign that you overdid it and should reduce the intensity or duration of your next session.” For new runners who would like to get started with plenty of guidance, opting to work with a trainer (who has experience working with those who have chronic pain, if possible), can be a great place to start. Not only will this ensure that you’re going about training in a structured, effective way, but it can be a fantastic way to ensure you’re not pushing yourself too far while still meeting your goals.
Living with chronic pain can be challenging, though understanding your options for managing it effectively can help. For some, starting to run and train for a marathon can be a great way to get involved in a new hobby while managing the pain — though there are several considerations to take in order to do so safely.