What causes running pain and why it’s a sign ‘you’re doing it right’

I don’t think anybody has ever claimed that running is a 100% wonderful experience. Even the most avid runners still have to get past the painful parts of that morning jogging session.

However, there’s a common misconception that some people just aren’t made to run. With the exception of those with certain chronic medical problems, of course, most human bodies actually can handle a regular running workout routine.

The question isn’t one of physical limitations; according to science, it really boils down to the willingness to overcome the completely normal, healthy dose of pain that everyone’s body must endure while in a prolonged state of exercise. These running pains are a fairly good indication that you’re doing it right.

“Well, I Hope You’re Having Fun, Because I’m Not.” – Sincerely, Your Body


Image: NetFlix

Your body will usually grow accustomed to the self-inflicted tough love within the first few minutes of your morning jog. Here are just a few bodily complaints that we experience, and a scientific explanation about why they happen:

The Itch – Ever wonder why you start itching, like you just jumped into a pile of fiberglass insulation, not long after those first few steps? Well, if you haven’t done much running lately, then your heart is working overtime to get the blood flowing to meet the oxygen demand you’re now placing on your body. Once those capillaries on the surface of your skin begin to swell with blood, it interacts with your skin’s nerve endings, which makes you think that you’re allergic to exercise. But have no fear, it’s just your body telling you that you haven’t cracked the whip in a while.

Side Stitch – It’s like someone took a ball peen hammer to your innards, causing you to wonder if your soul is attempting to escape through your gut. Most of us have been there, wishing our sophomore gym class weren’t as cruel of a period. However, in those days, they believed that ye olde ‘side stitch’ had to do with a general lack of electrolytes -but this idea hasn’t held fast. Nowadays, the most prevailing hypothesis has more to do with how hard your diaphragm (your breathing muscle) is working, and how much it isn’t enjoying this workout.

CO2 Overload – If you haven’t hit the track in a while, then uncontrollable gasping is likely going to be on your body’s list of things to put you through after completing that first lap. While you might be thinking that oxygen is in short supply, this isn’t exactly the case. In fact, there’s plenty of oxygen in your body; it’s the fact that you’re unable to get enough carbon-dioxide out of your body that makes you feel the need to hyperventilate.

The Lactic Burn – Feeling the burn? Believe it or not, you’re actually getting burned by acid. Lactic acid, that is. This is how your brain is able to tell how hard your muscles are working, and on a more basic level, it helps you stop them from working before you do any real damage to your body. However, the burn is also an indication that you’ve embarked on a productive workout, and it tends to lessen after a few minutes into your run.

Gas – Your guts are about to gurgle, because running is great for digestion. Because your insides are juggling around the eggs and bacon you had this morning, this will naturally release gasses that would otherwise have been trapped in your digestive system for a bit longer. The good news is that you’re getting it all out now, but the bad part is that you could undergo a little temporary cramping from gas. Either way, it’s not pleasant, especially for those downwind of you.

Running Pain vs. Drug Withdrawal Pain


Credit: Run Now

Obviously, running is going to put your body through rigors that would probably not be described as ‘a bed of roses.’ In fact, running pains curiously resembles those of another: symptoms of drug withdrawal. Here are just a few.

  • Sweating
  • Racing heart
  • Palpitations
  • Muscle tension
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tremor
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

Sounds about right! But the interesting part is when running and drug addiction collide. In fact, it’s quickly becoming one of the best ways to handle drug withdrawal symptoms for a few interesting reasons. For instance:

  • According to a study, published in June 2008, researchers found that exercise actually reduces the “positive-reinforcing effects of cocaine.”
  • Major drug rehabilitation centers are currently using exercise programs for the purpose of detoxification, withdrawal symptom management, and perceptions of self-worth improvement in patients with astounding success.
  • It’s become one of the best ways to overcome the negative social and psychological effects of rehabilitation. Running is even being used as a prime self-motivating factor for staying clean.

Why Running Is a (Healthy) Drug

There are several reasons why the practice of running is becoming more prevalent for dealing with drug addiction, and much of it could have to do with the nature of this rigorous type of exercise.

Not only do the pains of running seem to mimic or even cover over drug addiction withdrawal symptoms, but in the process, the patient is experiencing an active state of progress. Withdrawal is an excruciating process, but if that process can be replaced by ‘excruciating progress,’ then that would offer a completely different mindset to approaching the challenge.

In addition, the endorphins that flood the brain at the end of a jog provide the euphoria that recovering addicts crave – and this feeling is even strong enough to treat chronic depression. Addicts often turn to drugs, because it offers a counterfeit sense of pleasure that is often felt after some accomplishment. Perhaps that’s the reason why drug and alcohol addiction centers are finding that running is their most painful, yet powerful cure: because their patients really are accomplishing something, and feeling a resulting sense of euphoria that’s undeniably well-deserved.

One thought on “What causes running pain and why it’s a sign ‘you’re doing it right’

  1. Pingback: Jonathan Lemon's Unrealistic Running Quest, 5/17/17 - Lemon's Logic

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