Do you typically think of running as a non-contact sport? The entire weight of your body is constantly making contact with the ground. On a 10 mile run your foot contacts the ground over 15,000 times. This exerts repetitive force on bones, ligaments, tendons, and other tissues. That is a lot of pounding. Unfortunately, injuries happen in the sport of running. The most common injuries for runners involve the lower leg and hips such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and the dreaded stress fracture. Even with a well designed training plan experienced runners can get injured.
A common question after an injury is how to return to running after taking time off dealing with an injury?
After a long lay off you must be careful when coming back. You may feel like you want to jump right in and get back to your training in attempts to catch up for missed time, but this is not wise. A common mistake is coming back too fast (or too soon) and causing injury to other potentially vulnerable tissue. Compensation injuries make up a large percentage of running injuries. For example, if you have a sore hip, which hurts less then you run a certain way, you may be setting yourself up to have a sore hip and a sore knee. In this case you may be able to prevent the knee pain and rid yourself of the hip pain if you take a few days off to rest.
Sometimes we get repeated injuries when we do not treat the source of the injury during the lay off. In this case imagine a runner has a weak glute, and may compensate by pushing more with the calf. This can overload the Achilles tendon and can cause damage. If your calf starts hurting, you should consider taking time off. However, if Achilles pain is reoccurring despite rest and icing the Achilles then consider seeing a medical provider such as a physical therapist or ART specialist to determine the cause of the issue.
If you do have an injury that will cause you to miss significant time in training. Cross training (if doctor approved) can be a good way to maintain your fitness and mental drive. Everyone has a different preference. Pool running and rowing are very good alternatives to running. You should always consult a doctor on what type of cross training would be appropriate with your circumstances and current physical fitness. But keep in mind: There is no real substitute for running. Just because you have crossed trained during your injury does not mean that you will be able to bounce back into your old running routine and paces.
When coming back to running there are several approaches. You should always listen to your body and make sure that you come back slow and smart. Run/walk can be a great method to ensure you don’t return to running too quickly and have an additional set back.
If you have been off for an extended period of time, coming back with a run for a set amount of time and walk for a set amount of time can be very effective.
Run 2 minutes/walk 1 minute . Each week you can increase the run period by 1-2 minutes. After 4 weeks of this, if you are feeling good, you can continue to progress.
3 runs of 2 minute run 1 minute walk – short duration 10-15 minutes for each
4 runs of 3 minutes run 1 minute walk – short duration 10-20 minute for each
4 runs of 4-5 minute run 1 minute walk – 15-25 minute each
5 runs of 5-7 minute run 1 minute walk – 15-30 minutes each
Straight runs. 3-5 runs of short duration. Distance should not exceed distance from previous weeks runs.
Continue to progress safely as you feel good, while also listening to your body for any complaints about nagging aches or pains. Everyone is different some people may not need as many weeks and others may need more. It will still take time to get back to your typical mileage. When it comes to returning to running you should always air on the side of caution. We are all eager to get back out there and run. Even though you may feel behind in training, just enjoy the experience and be thankful to be running again.