Couch to 5K Aches and Pains: Will they go away eventually?
May 6, 2009 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the beginning stages of the Couch to 5K and wonder if my aches and pains are normal new exercise sorts of things or if I'm hurting myself in a bad way.

I've been doing the Couch to 5K for about 4 weeks now but am still in Week 2 of the program (i.e I'm taking in slow). Lately my right knee, left hip and left ankle are giving me trouble. Not so much when I run (jog) but during the rest of the day. The ankle thing is probably the result of a minor twist about 3 weeks ago. I've had intermittent knee pain for about 2 years though this seems like it's ramping up rather than getting better over time. I've never had hip problems before. I was pretty sedentary prior to starting this program though in good health. I'm 41 and female and have never done much running other than what was required of me in high school. I'm usually running outdoors on sidewalks, mostly flat though some moderate hills.

I sort of expect that when I start a new exercise, there will be some aches and pains as my body adjusts to the new activity but I'm wondering if now, at four weeks in, I should be over that?

I've just started doing exercises to strengthen my quads (seated leg lifts with leg extended) thinking that that might help my knees but is this something I can overcome? I don't want to be causing myself harm doing this!
posted by otherwordlyglow to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How much have you been stretching? Also, what kind of shoes are you wearing?
posted by restless_nomad at 9:25 AM on May 6, 2009

Response by poster: Not stretching a ton. Shoes are Saucony Omni Ultimate 5. They're about 2 years old and only lightly used until now.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:38 AM on May 6, 2009

Sounds pretty normal to me. Sidewalks are absolutely the most painful thing you can run on, and running is one of the most painful sports since it basically involves slamming your entire weight into your legs and feet, over and over again.

Asphalt is a little softer, but if you switched to trail running, it'd probably be much easier on you until you get into better shape. My wife made that switch years ago, and now she's very seriously into competitive trail running, and rarely runs the street.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:39 AM on May 6, 2009

I'm not a doctor and can't say that you're okay to run but a few things that can help you out: Shoes are THE most important thing in running. They can make you hurt or ease any pain you have. Invest in a really really good pair of running shoes. Go to a real athletic shoe store and try on several pairs. Run around the store and see how they feel. Seriously. Second, sidewalks are brutal on joints. If you're close to a trail or a high school with a track try to run there. That can alleviate a lot of pain for you, too. Squats are good for building knee strength but you may end up hurting yourself even more. Ease into squats, too. And of course, like restless_nomad said, stretch! Before and after you run. Best of luck to you!
posted by smeater44 at 9:40 AM on May 6, 2009

You aren't stretching enough. Also, you need to ice the parts of your body that hurt.

If you can, I'd suggest going to a proper running store (not a shoe store/foot locker) and have them do a gait analysis. They'll put you in a shoe that better suits your running style. The right pair of shoes can make a big difference.

Yoga might help as well. I used to have a lot of aches and pains from running that went away when I started doing yoga, simply because it improved my posture and helped correct some imbalances and quirks in my stride.
posted by PFL at 9:59 AM on May 6, 2009

I did Couch to 5K two years ago, invested in good shoes designed for my horrible feet, tried to stretch conscientiously before and after, and still found myself virtually crippled within a few weeks. Switching from the sidewalk to a dedicated running path helped a bit - as did being careful to minimize the jarring in my stride. But the doctor I consulted [who turned out to be Eric Heiden of all people!] gently suggested that even if I waited until I had lost some weight, my lousy mechanics meant that running might not be in the cards for me.

Definitely do not shrug this off. Consult a sawbones. Consider speedwalking.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:07 AM on May 6, 2009

2nd go to a specialty running store. Are you heavier than average? If so, don't be afraid to say, "Hey, I know I'm heavier - what do you have in a sturdy, cushioned shoe?" I'm fit but pretty heavy for a runner, and I like the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 8 and 9.

Knee pain can be SO MANY things. For me, it's always one thing - a tight IT band. Do you have a foam roller? Here's a video of how to massage your IT band with one. It might help and it can't hurt.

Also, don't think ice is just for serious athletes or serious injuries. Whenever my knee is feeling even just a tiny bit inflammed, I slap an ice pack in a dishtowel and wrap it around my knee with an Ace bandage. 15 minutes is fine.

I don't do any traditional stretches. Some squats and lunges before running. Squats, wide squats, divebomber pushups, downward dog and wall sit after running.
posted by peep at 10:11 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I will look into better, professionally fit, shoes. As for stretches: Before and after? What kind?
I run on sidewalks since that's what's right outside my door and I'm trying to eliminate as many obstacles to exercise as I can but I can see how that may be making things worse. I guess I worry about trail running and not having a super stable surface. I'm always worried about tripping and falling!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:16 AM on May 6, 2009

Response by poster: Oh and as for my weight, I'm probably about 10-15 lbs above ideal. I'm still working on post-partum weight.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:18 AM on May 6, 2009

I had knee problems while running for awhile and was unable to attribute what exactly caused the pain. Usually, my right knee would feel very stiff during running causing much discomfort during a long run. I saw a doctor about this and he mentioned it could be one of two things (in my case).

* Excess weight - I was overweight at the time and putting more pressure on my knee than lighter runners.
* Previous ankle problems - I had sprained my right ankle many times playing football when I was younger and the stiffness in my knee could be caused by overcompensation for a weaker ankle.

I wore a wrap knee brace and that helped a lot. Eventually, the pain went away entirely as I lost weight, but this could also be contributed to the strengthening of my legs overall since I had been running for over a year at that point.
posted by seppyk at 10:48 AM on May 6, 2009

Aches and pains can mean a lot of different things. It may simply be the fatigue of using muscles in a way they're not used to. If that's the case, taking it slow may be your remedy. Fatigue heals, and proper training can help you avoid or minimize those pains. (And, truth be told, once you build some experience, you'll be able to tell "good" pain from bad much of the time.)

If you've injured connective tissue or bone, that's going to be a more serious issue.

Either way, you should see a doctor, because you're beginning an exercise program.

Best of luck to you!
posted by mikewas at 10:52 AM on May 6, 2009

I've just started doing exercises to strengthen my quads (seated leg lifts with leg extended) thinking that that might help my knees

Strengthening your quads without working your hamstrings isn't going to help your knees. The best way to strengthen both is to do barbell squats.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:08 AM on May 6, 2009

Please note that the most recent research around stretching prior to exercise is indicating its not effective and can in fact be damaging. This is contrary to popular wisdom so YMMV. Many of the organizations I'm in now stretch after a warmup period. Stretching is good for flexibility but likely not going to prevent injury (also note the difference in the article about static vs. dynamic stretching)

Make sure you are adequately warming up. (slow walk, building into a run) and cooling down properly. The right shoes are also essential. You may also want to consult a run coach, I did a 2 hour session with an experienced coach who video'd my stride and we worked out a few kinks and its been a wonder. It was only about $85 for the one session.

Honestly your pains sound about normal for someone just getting into running - particularly if you've not been very active. Dull post workout pains can be normal - if you're okay when running you may be okay. These pains should usually subside after a day of rest, and usually occur the day after exercise, usually an aspirin or ibuprofen will help.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:12 AM on May 6, 2009

Oh yeah and to reiterate what ludwig_van said, you don't want to spot train individual muscles, what you're doing can in fact do damage to your knees because you're only training one side of the leg, most muscles work in pairs, biceps/tris, hamstrings/quads etc. You should train the whole body part (I break my body up into legs, arms, chest, back/shoulder and hit the whole part)
posted by bitdamaged at 11:22 AM on May 6, 2009

I too have knee pain when I run (just started, a bit overweight, totally jacked up joints, run on sidewalk) and my PT gave me leg lifts to strengthen my quads and VMOs and thereby protect the knee. I started rehabbing my left knee before my right one, due to a pulled hamstring, and it definitely is stronger and hurts less.

I know a tight IT band contributes, because it gets better when I stretch: the foam roller is great, but be warned, it'll be painful when you start. Just put as much pressure on it as you can and be sure to roll from hip to knee, all the way.

In general, four weeks isn't that much time, all considered. I am into week six and still get pain, but less pain with more running means things are picking up. Get your shoes checked, ice, roll on the roller, do some leg lifts (front, side, side with bent knee) and you will be likely be fine.
posted by dame at 11:23 AM on May 6, 2009

Mr. txvt, who had been running his whole life, kept running when his knee hurt, thinking he would work through it. Three surgeries later his running days were over, and he misses it every day. I wish he could still run, too, he was my jogging buddy even if he did hop backwards on one foot sometimes to tease me for being so slow.

When I started jogging again after a long break, I kept his experience in mind. I walk/bike for a week whenever my knees act up. It works for me and I'm still able to progress in my workouts but it takes longer - it took about a year to build up to being able to jog continuously for 50-60 minutes.

For a non-athlete, there isn't a downside to temporarily slowing/changing your workout if something hurts. There can be a huge downside to working through the pain.

Also, seconding peep about ice. Ice and alternate workouts are your friends.
posted by txvtchick at 12:03 PM on May 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Well, if shes on couch-to-5K its only 3 days a week and ramps up really slow.

I ran for quite awhile after I got fitted at a running shoe store for excessive pronation but still ended up with some knee and sciatic pain. I needed strength training to strengthen some supporting muscles and I needed to change how I ran. I used to run by landing on my heel. I adjusted my stride to be shorter and land on my mid-foot with a slightly forward lean (ala Chi-running or Pose) and I'll be dammed if I didnt drop an entire minute from my time immediately.

When you land on your heel you get a ton of stress/shock and you are actually pushing against your forward momentum.

I haven't had an injury since and I haven't needed excessive shoes. There is some evidence that the less shoe you have the better. Boing Boing talked about this the other day:

Long story short - might not be a bad idea to get a running coach to look at your stride and help you improve it.

And ditto on going to a trail surface instead of the sidewalk. It's more relaxing to boot.
posted by jopreacher at 1:19 PM on May 6, 2009

Response by poster: yes, it's three days a week and I'm doing it twice as slow (I'm doing each week of the program for two weeks rather than one).
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:50 PM on May 6, 2009

IANAD, but I've never been to one who advised, "skip one day then get back into it" for an injury. Whether it's three days a week or seven, if you are having joint pain you might want to find an alternate activity until the problem is resolved (through a doc visit, better shoes, stride evaluation, etc).

Be patient - it takes a lot longer to get back in shape in your 40s than you think it will. Don't ignore these sports injury warning signs.
posted by txvtchick at 2:38 PM on May 6, 2009

You may find this helpful.
posted by OrangeDrink at 2:52 PM on May 6, 2009

or even this
posted by madeinitaly at 3:36 PM on May 6, 2009

Recently I read a few articles stating that modern running shoes cause injury. They suggest barefoot running or running with very thin soled shoes like these.

!!!Here is a shorter version of what I'd read regarding the above.

I've also read that stretching before running causes injury. You may want to do some research into it. I believe the idea was that it weakens the muscles which in tern either opens you up to injury due to the stretching itself or the weakness that is a result.

Regardless, running on a football/soccer field or something similar instead of concrete, asphalt etc, will probably help tremendously.
posted by mhuckaba at 4:21 PM on May 6, 2009

I'm not a runner, or a doctor, but I just thought I'd chime in to second mhuckaba - I could never run for more than a sprint distance without getting sick and collapsing, and this was when I was in excellent shape otherwise in high school even.
And then I tried barefoot running. And seriously, it was like magic - no pain, no jarring, no barfing, just motion. Try it out on a treadmill, or with some aquasox or something - you'll know within minutes if it works for you. I got my mom onto it too. Now I'm too lazy to actually *run*, but it feels good to know that I could if I wanted to after years of thinking I was defective.
posted by dust.wind.dude at 4:32 PM on May 6, 2009

Get yourself a foam roller (PDF) and make friends with it. Visit the foam roller every single day. New runners often suffer from IT band ouchies in the knee. The foam roller will help a lot. (You can pick up a roller at most sporting scores or Target.)

It sounds like normal aches and pains of starting a running program. If the pains seems to be getting worse, then you need to re-evaluate.
posted by 26.2 at 10:09 PM on May 6, 2009

Response by poster: Follow-up: I'm in Week 7 of the program now (taking it slow). I bought $100 shoes that were recommended to me at the running store after a gait analysis. I then bought $40 insoles on the advice of a physical therapist. I've seen my regular doctor once, she referred me to physical therapy where I'm continuing to go for a total of 5 sessions. They are giving me some exercises and stretches to do after deciding that my hip pain has something to do with a muscle imbalance. They did an assessment of all the muscles in my legs and tested my range of motion and that seems to be their best guess. So I'm doing those things regularly including stretching before and after running. I don't run on sidewalks anymore and most often am not on the street either but usually run on the soccer fields by my house or on a multi-purpose trail nearby. I've tried icing my hip after running but last time I must have left the ice pack on too long as I ended up with a slight ice burn.

I still have pain. It's not getting much worse or much better which I guess is good considering that my running program has ramped up since I started. But I do wish I could find a solution to this. If I make to the end of the program and haven't had much improvement, I'll consider hiring a running coach for a session to see if that can help things out.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:37 PM on July 15, 2009

Bummer. I'm going through the same thing.

I started running a couple of years ago and found that I was having problems with my left foot/ankle. I had started out with a pair of Ecco walking shoes and they felt comfortable and I enjoyed running or the first time in my life. One day, whle pushing my distance from 5K to 7K, I felt a burning along the outside of my foot and had to stop. I'd never felt any discomfort until that moment. It seemed to be my peroneus brevis tendon and it side-lined me for a couple of months. I tried switching shoes for Ecco running shoes with higher arches to counteract my flat feet and it was better, but I hated the feeling of running in what felt like high heels. The soles of my feet felt hard and puffy when I got up in the morning. I tried switching to flat-soled New Balance shoes and that's where my PF knee trouble started. I was trying to add weights to my exercise routine and was doing some light dumb bell squats and really blew it out. Funny that my right foot/leg has been fine. I've always really tried to be conscious of my running form (I developed a funny gait after some ankle sprains and ingrown toenail removals when I was a teen) but don't find much relief.

So now I don't know what to do besides the quad strengthening exercises and otherwise resting the knee. Please follow up if you get some positive results.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:03 AM on July 29, 2009

Response by poster: Update two: Well two weeks ago, I was on my longest run ever (25 minutes!) and at about the 20 minute mark, my hip started to hurt but I kept going and finished. Within an hour I could barely walk. Went to physical therapy and he suggested I stop running all together until I fully healed and gave me additional exercises to do in hopes of building up my strength. I'm getting better but still have some pain in my left hip. I kinda feel like running won't ever be comfortable for me and I'm pretty disappointed about that. I'm getting an elliptical trainer and will probably start using that instead.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:44 PM on July 29, 2009

Just want to say that, even if running is not working out for you, I think it's great that you have been exercising for four months now, through setbacks and all. That is a big accomplishment and you should be proud of it. Mark it down on a calendar, just to look at it.
posted by txvtchick at 12:30 PM on July 31, 2009

Just in case you're still checking this thread, I've had a much improved knee condition so I thought I'd give a bit of follow up to my previous answer. I followed some instructions quoted from Starting Strength, for doing proper squats and have found it has really helped. I'm doing deeper, slower squats with my toes pointed outwards. When running, I noticed I was landing with the problem foot not quite under my centre of gravity (too much out to the side). I try to land more or less flat on it with it centred under me and my toe a tiny bit turned out. The pain has pretty much gone away.

This might only work for me and no one else but maybe it'll help.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:06 AM on September 10, 2009

Response by poster: Still not running. I got an x-ray that showed some calcification in the hip but the orthopedist didn't think there was really anything structural to be worried about. This was followed by a blood test where the CRP value was really high, suggesting a lot of inflammation. Next up is my doctor's recommendation that I see a rheumatologist. This is an unending merry-go-round. The hip still hurts but has calmed down into a dull ache most of the time. I stopped doing PT because I didn't think it was helping and wanted to let my hip completely rest for a while. No idea if I'll ever get back to it.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:56 AM on September 10, 2009

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