Did I injure myself on my first attempt at C25K?
July 10, 2013 8:54 AM   Subscribe

I started Couch-to-5K on Friday morning, and have been feeling awful since (upper body pain and a headache that I can't seem to kick). Could I have done this to myself, and if so, how do I not do it again?

Last Friday I started the C25K program. My first (ever!) run went well-- it was challenging but seemed sustainable, and I felt pretty great afterwards. I'm 36, female, of decent physical health, just looking for a cardio program that I like. I've never run properly (not even in high school), I've only ever taken brisk walks until this first attempt at the program.

The next morning I woke up with a brutal migraine and a huge knot in my right shoulder (trapezius). Spent the day in bed with my face under a pillow. No appetite. Took some Tylenol with codeine which didn't even touch the pain. I get migraines every so often so I didn't think much of it, though this one was especially persistent.

The following day (Sunday) I was in nearly the same amount of pain, only now it was radiating down my arm and I developed a pain in what seemed to be my right gluteus that radiated down my leg, kind of like sciatica. My right arm was experiencing numbness. Monday wasn't much better-- I took Advil but no relief, especially from the ongoing headache that was similar to the migraine that hadn't yet let up, but had somewhat subsided (pain behind eye, below my upper jaw bone, and in the back of my skull). Light sensitivity was gone, though.

Yesterday (Tuesday) I was able to stay at home so I tried laying in different ways to "stretch" my shoulder muscle. Nothing helped, and I tried taking a Percocet, but that didn't do much either. By late last night I was feeling ever so slightly better, and I had high hopes for today. Unfortunately, I woke up with the same muted-migraine and the knot in my shoulder has now returned with a vengeance. My right thumb, as I type this, is basically numb. There's only one massage therapist in town and she's not available until Friday, so that's looking like my best bet unless this resolves itself sooner.

So my questions are:

1. Could I have done all of this with my first run? I'm wondering if I carried my upper body incorrectly and that the impact of running somehow caused this.
2. If I did do this during the run, is it game over for me or can I learn how to run and not have this happen? I don't have access to any sort of trainer, but perhaps there are videos I can watch?

posted by mireille to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like some of these symptoms could be caused by dehydration. But when is the last time you've had a checkup? One run keeping you out of commission for 4 days sounds kind of serious.

Also, can you explain exactly what your first run consisted of? The programs varie a lot.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:58 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you should talk to a doctor. I am not sure what is going on here but some of these symptoms can be caused by issues with your heart and it's important to rule that out, I think.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:01 AM on July 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah definitely sounds like you need to be drinking a lot of water, then reassess.
posted by janey47 at 9:02 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding dehydration, but could also be something else. It's very, very unlikely that W1D1 of C25k would cause any of these symptoms. Talk to your doctor before you try it again.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:02 AM on July 10, 2013

Response by poster: I used the RunDouble app - the first run was 5 minute brisk warmup followed by alternating 90 seconds running / 2 minutes walking, ending with 5 minute cooldown.

I assumed it was lack of coordination/experience on my part but it sounds like it might be doctor time. That's troubling, but it hadn't occurred to me and I appreciate the advice.
posted by mireille at 9:04 AM on July 10, 2013

I've strained, pulled, sprained, and seriously injured various joints; I have arthritis in one of my knees and scoliosis and flat feet and and and...so I'm not some superfit athletic type who never has problems. Even if you did have horrible form, the level of pain you describe sounds really extreme to me. Specifically, pain that isn't helped by percocet is really extreme considering that you didn't notice an injury at the time.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:06 AM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

The persistence of pain would worry me. Doctor should look for cause - also cure since heavy duty pain killers have not helped you.
posted by Cranberry at 9:07 AM on July 10, 2013

Just saw your follow-up. Good luck with the doctor. You did a great job of describing the pain here so I'd maybe even take this with you so you can tell them the specifics of the pain. It is probably nothing but when you get it checked out you'll feel a lot better about continuing to run!
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:08 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll join the chorus of folks saying see your doc.

I'm a C25K veteran a couple of times over, starting from pretty bad to moderate fitness. It's hard for me to imagine that the very mild effort from the first week's runs would manifest so violently, especially in the upper body, unless there was something else going on.

Hang in there. You sound miserable. I hope your'e OK!
posted by Sublimity at 9:09 AM on July 10, 2013

You have no history of hard physical exercise. You should be prepared to feel like utter crap over the first couple of weeks as your body adjusts to the unaccustomed exertion. That said, the pain you should expect is more musculoskeletal whereas this sounds like something else altogether. So do go see your doctor about it, and stick with the exercise. It will become easier as you go.
posted by killdevil at 9:17 AM on July 10, 2013

The headache: likely to be dehydration.

The pains: we can't tell from here. I can tell you that when I did the equivalent of C25K a few years back the first few runs really hurt. Muscles ached, I got horrible pains in my legs (from what turned out to be poorly fitted shoes) and generally didn't feel much like running again.

First up: got see a doctor. Regardless of whether you are otherwise fit, if you're experiencing severe pain from moderate exercise it's a good idea.

Assuming you get the OK from your doc: get a proper running shoe fitting from a proper running shop. When you do that, the fitter will probably be able to give you tips on running technique.

You'd probably also find it easier, if possible, to train on a treadmill initially. It's gentler on the body and you can monitor your pace and progression more easily.

Also: remember to stretch after your run. A good 10 minutes of stretching. It's easy for people who've been running a wee bit to forget how taxing it is is you're unused to it.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:17 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think you guys might be right about the dehydration part- I was quite thirsty about halfway through. I agree that it doesn't explain the kind of extreme and prolonged reaction, though. Just made an appointment with the doctor for tomorrow morning and will report back for future readers!
posted by mireille at 9:27 AM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Glad you made an appointment! As for the shoulder pain, do you have a proper sports bra? If not, that can cause serious upper back & shoulder problems. Thin straps (especially if using two bras - don't do that!) & the weight of a large bust can cause major digging in and pulling on the shoulders.
posted by peep at 9:38 AM on July 10, 2013

Regarding dehydration, you need to consider your fluid intake over several days, from the day before your run to now.

I don't know how long your total workout was, but it's unlikely that you'd become dehydrated enough to cause these symptoms half-way through if you were otherwise well-hydrated. If dehydration is the/a culprit, it means you need to drink more water all the time, not just when you're working out.

Drinking lots of water is always good, but when you're starting an exercise routine it's especially important to make sure you drink more the day of and the day prior to your workouts.
posted by jshort at 9:52 AM on July 10, 2013

The following day (Sunday) I was in nearly the same amount of pain, only now it was radiating down my arm

FWIW, about four weeks into the C25K I developed a pinched nerve in my neck that affected my left arm. I'm currently dealing with severe pain down one side, from my neck to my fingers. The pain moves around and comes and goes. Percocets did not help at all. Just wanted to throw this out there.

In conclusion, go see your doc.
posted by bondcliff at 10:22 AM on July 10, 2013

All the things you are describing are things that have happened to me due to neck arthritis/injury.
posted by elizardbits at 10:36 AM on July 10, 2013

Maybe this is an aside, or it may be part of the problem. For C25K from scratch, I'd recommend you are wearing good new-ish running shoes, especially if you are not used to that amount of walking/running before. Bad, old flatted-out running shoes can mess with any part of your anatomy. The shoes don't have to be expensive, just be sure they are supportive and have good spring. Best of luck to you.
posted by coevals at 10:40 AM on July 10, 2013

Some of the symptoms you describe (numbness, something feeling "like sciatica") sound like nerve pain. NSAIDs like Advil and narcotics like Percocet (which contains Tylenol and a narcotic) often do diddly-squat for nerve pain. The pain you are describing does not sound like joint pain, which should be helped by NSAIDs and narcotics. That the pain isn't alleviated by the Percocets isn't surprising at all if it is in fact nerve pain. I can't speak to the headaches.

Since you're experiencing atypical pain and have had symptoms for several days, I'm so glad you decided to see your doctor about this. Are you seeing your GP? If she or he doesn't have any solutions, consider asking for a referral for a specialist or perhaps a physical therapist.
posted by pecanpies at 10:58 AM on July 10, 2013

Response by poster: Wow, so... just two weeks ago I had a pinched nerve in my other shoulder, brought on by holding my neck kind of funny for a long period-- it kicked in on the 11th hour of a 12 hour drive. Hadn't considered it to be related because it resolved itself a week later, but now I realize I should tell the doctor about that too.

As for the shoes-- they're proper running shoes but about 5 years old. And I wore a regular bra. I wasn't wanting to invest the money in running if it turned out I didn't like it, but those two things might have worked against me too. Also-- people wear two bras? So strange.

So yeah, I'll ask the doctor about possible underlying causes that might have had an impact on both sides of my neck. I'm seeing a GP (the doctors are flown in for 6-week shifts up here so it's impossible to see any one of them regularly), and any referrals to a PT/specialist will require a 5 hour drive south, so let's hope it's something simple! Grateful to live in Canada, either way.
posted by mireille at 11:04 AM on July 10, 2013

I get migraines and I had a very similar experience to yours caused by dehydration after intense exercise. For two days after I had photophobia, nausea, a pounding unicameral headache and pain and stiffness in my neck. I had some oxycodone left over from a broken rib that didn't help at all. I let the problem fester for two days and by the end I was in the hospital getting fluids and sumatriptan by IV, which ended it in an hour.

I do worry about the sensations in your limbs though, you should definitely have someone more qualified than the Hivemind rule out cardiac trouble or something else more serious than a migraine.

If it does end up being just a migraine though, take hope that you will probably learn how to avoid triggering them. I always pay close attention not only to fluids, but also electrolytes when I exercise. Sports drinks are bullshit, but I find I need to make sure I'm properly hydrated and also eating something. Small amounts of salty snacks and plain water is what I prefer. For me, caffeine really helps, for others, not so much, but worth investigating if you don't already know. I get caffeine withdrawal headaches now, say if it gets to the mid-afternoon and I haven't had any coffee, but those are less severe and pretty easy to treat pretty much anywhere you go. I'm at the point now where I've stopped filling my prescriptions for various triptans, not to mention the tramadol (which was always useless).
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:21 AM on July 10, 2013

5 year old running shoes are likely not proper running shoes anymore, if you've worn them with any frequency in that time. Support and cushioning materials break down with use, even if the tread still looks OK.
posted by zippy at 11:37 AM on July 10, 2013

As for the shoes-- they're proper running shoes but about 5 years old

HUGE no-no. Running shoes go"bad" after 3-4 months, depending on your mileage.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:44 AM on July 10, 2013

And I wore a regular bra. I wasn't wanting to invest the money in running if it turned out I didn't like it

Ack, you need a proper running bra! Unless you have itty bitty little ones, your boobs will exert an awful lot of force on your neck, shoulders, and back while you're running. A running bra limits the amount of movement (and therefore the inertia generated by wayward boobs) and distributes the force more evenly across your shoulders and back. A regular bra doesn't do squat in this regard.
posted by keep it under cover at 11:58 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your gear (shoes, bra) may be part of what's going on, but I think gear is a huge YMMV issue. By all means check with your doc and see what his/her sense is.

In my case I need ridiculously supportive shoes because of flat feet and a history of plantar fasciitis, but other people get by just fine with those barefoot shoes thing. OTOH, I have ginormous hooters and I find that an everyday underwire bra does fine, but other people need more tight support. YMMV!
posted by Sublimity at 12:12 PM on July 10, 2013

If you have never done any sort of running before and if you have very old run shoes and if you have a history of nerve issues in your neck and if you have a history of migraine, this could account for everything you've described above. But man, this sounds like a lot of pain after just one walk/jog.

It sounds like you may have some sort of postural issue that could be causing your neck to lock up. Is there a chiropractor you can see right away? Also, get to a running store and have them check your gait and buy the shoes they recommend. And a proper exercise bra should be something every woman should have in her closet.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:24 PM on July 10, 2013

As for the shoes-- they're proper running shoes but about 5 years old.

It's not the age, it's the wear on them. They don't go bad just sitting in your closet, so if you haven't been doing a lot of walking or running in them, they should be fine. I'm sure there's some rule of thumb that I don't know about how often you should get new running shoes, but as one data point my running shoes have lasted at least 600 or 700 miles just fine.

And I wore a regular bra. I wasn't wanting to invest the money in running if it turned out I didn't like it, but those two things might have worked against me too. Also-- people wear two bras? So strange.

Again, this is just a data point from one person so it might be different for you, but I've logged thousands of running miles in my life and I have never worn a sports bra (I got one when I was like 15 and wore it like twice before I gave up on it). I can't stand them. If they're tight enough to hold everything down enough, then I feel like my breathing is so restricted that it has a huge effect on my performance. If they're loose enough that I can breathe as much as I want to, then they're doing absolutely nothing to keep my boobs under control. I have worn a variety of different things but currently I wear a bathing suit top that I can tie in the back so I can control how tight it is. Yes I do. My boobs range from B to C, right now more of a B. But no matter what your size is you might find that a regular bra really is best for you, or just a sports bra, or two bras, or something you come up with yourself. There's no "right" way.
posted by cairdeas at 12:42 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Glad you're seeing a doctor!

Just wanted to chime in that I think it's unlikely that W1D1 of C25K has caused all the issues you mentioned, as I've done a few weeks of the program myself (though haven't finished). Though I found I underestimated the dehydration/staying hydrated portion of it, personally, so making sure you're staying hydrated is important both before AND after your run. Generally, by the time you "feel thirsty", you're already getting dehydrated, if I'm not mistaken. (You should check with the doctor on this, though.)

I also wanted to say that proper running shoes, as in newer ones as opposed to 5-year-old ones, are key. I started having some pain behind my knee after the first week of C25K which evaporated as soon as I swapped shoes to something newer.

Good luck at the doctor's tomorrow, hope everything gets resolved for you. :)
posted by juliebug at 7:17 PM on July 10, 2013

Response by poster: Okay, update. Saw the doctor this morning. The bad news is that it's just going to take some time to get better and there aren't any pills to take to make it feel better in the meantime, just heat and stretching. Even today I still feel like I've been in a car accident. The good news is that I'll live and it's not serious.

Turns out that it's just major knots in numerous muscles in my back that are putting pressure on my spine and therefore my nerves (hence the numbness). He figures that once I'm feeling better I should start a couple steps back from C25K, that I should begin with short brisk walks and work back up slowly to Day 1 of the program.

Interestingly, he also figures that part of the reason that I had this reaction was that I'm on a lengthy list of psychiatric medications and have been for some time. He thinks that they've affected the way my body handles stressors (which seems right) and so it's necessary for me to start with something lighter with the goal of getting into the interval program in a couple of months. That makes me feel kind of bad about myself (cart me off to the glue factory!) but sitting around didn't make me feel good either and I have to start somewhere!

Anyhow, I'm really glad I went and I'm glad you all suggested it. I'll look into some better gear, too, next time I get to the city.

posted by mireille at 1:24 PM on July 11, 2013

« Older BreakupFilter: What if Miko's advice will come...   |   How do I say "no" to Landmark (and get them to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.