If You’re a Runner and it Hurts, See a Doctor

Maybe it is because I am studying to achieve my RRCA Coaching Certification or because of my personal experiencing coaching sometimes less experienced runners, that it becomes a very big (not to mention personal) issue when I see others not only giving bad advice, but actually discouraging individuals who may be injured from seeing a medical professional. This is a huge concern and major problem in my opinion. If you’re a runner and it hurts, see a doctor.

see a doctor graphic

As you may know, I’ve been having trouble sleeping. I know I shouldn’t (because then it makes it nearly impossible to fall back to sleep), but I tend to get online when I am awake at night and write, check email or work on this blog. In the early hours of Saturday, I woke up to a Facebook message from a friend asking me to check out a post in a popular running forum. His concern was that one of the people looking for advice may have been experiencing a blood clot.

I immediately found it (Please note, names have been concealed to protect the not-so-innocent). My main concern is highlighted in red (and no, it is not the glaring typo, because I make those too).

Forum concern don't see a doc original edited

If it hurts, see a doctor.

It says, “don’t see a doctor, they might just advise you not run at all.” And there are Likes after it. I think something in my brain exploded. And, even though I was furious and it would have been easy to tag this one particular person in regards to what I see as a grave error, I responded with a link to Could You Have a Blood Clot? and advised that Jennifer please see a doctor just to be sure, especially if she was continually experiencing intense pain.

WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD YOU ADVISE SOMEONE NOT TO SEE A DOCTOR? Because you might not be able to run. Because you might have to take a break. Because you might hear what you don’t want to hear. Because it very well could impact your training. Because the months and months you spent training could have to take a back burner to a bigger flame. Because no one, not even myself, thinks it could happen to them.

I understand. Really, I do.

BUT IT IS NOT WORTH IT. No race, no training schedule, no event is worth what I went through. Jennifer describes “experiencing intense pain in [her] calf. [That had been] hurting since [her] last run on Wednesday which was 6 miles.” This post was three days later.

I ran two miles on a Saturday and by Sunday night I was in the hospital with blood clots in my leg and lung that nearly claimed my life. I had intense calf pain. I was convinced it was a muscle pull due to an extended break or laziness or anything else. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In 25% of the people who experience a pulmonary embolism (or blood clot in the lung), the first symptom is sudden death. A pulmonary embolism comes from a blood clot, most often in your calf. This is serious, people. And I am outraged.

Sure, Jennifer could be experiencing muscle soreness. She could have pulled or torn a muscle. Her body could be fatigued or dehydrated.

Or it could be a blood clot.

I realize I don’t know any other thing about Jennifer’s training or injuries or well, anything. But just what if. Even if it’s not a blood clot, even if it’s nothing, I will always, always recommend my runners, my friends, my family; my acquaintances get it checked out. Listen to your body. It won’t lie to you. It tells you when something is wrong, sometimes gravely and sometimes not. Take the time to find out. You can always decide not to do what the doctor recommends if you believe your training is more important. You can’t just bounce back from a blood clot or something worse.

I don’t know what happened in Jennifer’s case. Maybe her doctor would have encouraged her to rest, not to run or to walk it off. Maybe her doctor would have ordered an imaging scan to rule out clots. Maybe her doctor would have determined it was nothing. Maybe her pain is gone now. Maybe none of this would even make a difference. Who knows? I do know most people wrongly assume athletes or runners or active people do not suffer from blood clots. And that simply is not true. 

I do know many, many posts in this forum centered around injuries and please don’t misunderstand me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with engaging in a forum or website to find out about potential injuries, but always, always follow up with a trained medical professional. It could save your life.

What about you? What do you think about the advice given in this case? Do you tend to seek professional medical advice or shrug it off if you can until the pain is unbearable (we’ve all been there)? Do you see bad advice being given in running forums, especially pertaining to medical issues? Does this type of advice make you angry like it does me?

Until the next mile marker,


  1. Hi Sara!
    I agree that comment was troubling, but I do think that sometimes you should wait before going to see a doctor. Most doctors are not used to treating athletes. They simply tell people “Rest until it’s better.” Is that really the best advice for an athlete? No.

    Here’s why: injuries are either acute or chronic (from overuse, improper form, or bad training). If there is an acute injury, rest from that activity is the best thing to do. BUT the athlete should cross train, do some PT (even if its at home) and work on their overall fitness instead of sport specific. Then the injury will heal and the athlete can return to sport.

    If the injury is chronic, the same things should be followed for the acute injury AND once tolerated, some sport specific training should be incorporated to fix the biomechanical issue that led to the injury in the first place. Is the athlete in the proper footwear (or are they too worn out?! – I would say that 80% of my athletes injuries are caused by the wrong shoes. I have one that wouldn’t listen to me about vibrams and is now in month 4 of a stress fracture that won’t heal. She’s also not listening to me about getting in the pool and doing some deep water running, but that’s another issue!)

    I coach swimmers, springboard divers, and runners of all ages (from 3-55) and here’s my advice:
    – for kids: “does it hurt so much that you can’t keep going or did you just want me to know about it?” most of the time they just wanted me to know and then I watch to see if they are doing something that might cause pain. Usually it was that they hurt themselves outside of sport and are just sore.
    – for adults: “does it interfere with normal function and/or bother you when you’re not moving?” if so – go to the doc (I recommend skipping urgent care and if you can your primary – unless they are versed in sports med – and going straight to a specialist) if not
    -follow the rule of 5. If it hurts the same (or worse) after 5 days of treating at home with RICESSS (rest, ice, compression, elevation, stretching, support, soaks) go to the doctor.

    Above all, you should follow your gut. If you think you need the doctor, go. But if it’s just annoying, take a break from your sport and work on general strength for a few days to rest the injury.

    I say all of this as both a coach and athlete with a connective tissue disorder that causes multiple dislocations on a daily (yes, I said DAILY, I actually woke up with my right shoulder out of socket) basis. So you have to balance what is normal for you and what feels just plain wrong! I agree with you that your body knows what’s up! 🙂


    • Sara- Words to Run By Blog says

      Thanks for sharing your coaching philosophy, Liz! I appreciate you taking the time to do so. After what happened to me just last summer, I am inclined to say that if you are hurting (ESPECIALLY in the calf, groin or lung) and can’t relate it back to a training day, an exercise or a specific event, you should forgo the rest period and get to the doctor. I’m talking different pain than, ‘This hurts because it is hard or I rolled my ankle or my shoes are causing my arches to burn.’ I’m talking about if you’ve been cruising through training with regular running aches/pains or no aches/pains and suddenly you develop intense pain – my advice would be, see a doctor. In my case and the cases of others, it was neither an acute or chronic injury. It was a deadly and immediate injury that had nothing to do with running and to follow the advice of someone who may have suggested I RICE (which I did immediately after my run) or wait it out or take a walk and stretch would have been deadly, because the pain was sudden, unsolicited and accompanied with difficulty breathing. I actually asked my family physician (via an after-hours phone call) if I could rest the night and wait and see because I believed it was a muscle strain and he said no, absolutely not and directed me to the emergency room (he actually preferred I call 9-1-1, but my husband took me). I think we, as athletes, tend to push through pain even when we shouldn’t and to DISCOURAGE someone from seeing a doctor because of an upcoming race could be a serious mistake. If I had gone to the hospital the day I knew something was wrong rather than follow conventional advice, I may have saved myself ten days in intensive care, almost a month on bed rest after that and 1-2 years of recovery now. I just don’t want to see people hurt like I was because they think going to the doctor is a “bad” idea because of what they may hear.
      Thank you again for your thoughts and for reading my post! 🙂

  2. OH MY WORD.

    Because of your story, I would be even *MORE* inclined to see a doctor if anything caused pain or just felt wrong.

    I try to find natural ways to heal my body before seeing a doctor. HOWEVER- I know that there is a time and place for Western and traditional medicine! Got a cold? Eh, I’ll treat it with food and herbs. Got a physical injury? SEE A FREAKING MD.

    You’re so right. You can always decide to go against your doctor’s recommendations. But I don’t think I’d skip out on the doctor’s visit in fear of missing a race! Yes, registration fees are expensive but my health and well being are priceless.

    • Sara- Words to Run By Blog says

      I absolutely agree with you, Nessa! For a cold or flu or even normal aches and pains, I actually prefer to treat it myself and take it easy until I am feeling better; BUT as you said, in my case or if someone mentions intense pain in their calf, groin or lung (or especially these places combined) then I am always going to direct them to a physician. I may be a little gun-shy since my blood clots, but I was set on handling this like a running injury and that was just deadly. I think we tend to believe pain should be normal, and to some extent it is when we push our bodies to the limits we do with running and exercise, but there is some pain that just should not be ignored.

      I have learned through this experience how precious health and life is and how nothing is worth that price! 🙂 Which is why I am determined to get back in shape and take care of MYSELF! 🙂

  3. Geez! I don’t know how someone could honestly believe that seeing a doctor is bad, if you have unmanageable pain. Yeah, or stinks to have to cancel a race or so,etching you’ve been working towards, but not even close to worth risking your life.
    I was super bummed when my doctor recommended I not run a half, last year, but I listened, and I’m glad I did.
    There’s always a other race!

    • Sara- Words to Run By Blog says

      You are so right when you say there is always another race! I wish I would have listened to that even outside of this injury and when I was dealing with runners knee – there is always another (and maybe even better!) race. I’m glad you were able to recover and are hopefully back to running and training. Thanks for reading today and take care.

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