As a keen runner I’ve been there too… Injured and forced into an extended period of no running. Sitting on the sidelines, checking out all my friends’ runs on Strava, wishing I was out there with them. One of the biggest questions at this point is “When can I run again?”. Luckily, a lot of the time it’s sooner than you think, as long as you are smart about it. I love to see my clients’ faces when I tell them they are good to get back out there. By following a few key guidelines and being sensible about your approach, you will hopefully find you don’t have to wait as long as you thought.
1: Don't jump straight back in
The number one rule to follow is to take it easy. Jumping straight back in to where you were pre-injury is the biggest reason for rehab to fail. A boom-and-bust cycle is extremely common along runners. They take a long period of recovery while the injury heals, then they resume training where they left off. This doesn’t give the injury any time to become reconditioned to running, and a week or two later they’re right back where they started – on the sofa wishing they could run.
A reconditioning period may only need to be a few weeks. A gentle progression, starting off very easy and building back up gradually will give the injury the right impetus to heal. This will reintroduce it to the stresses and strains of running slowly and help to build robustness, instead of breaking it right back down again straight away. This long-term approach will be much more effective than the short-term gains of getting straight back into full training.
2: You don't have to be pain-free
It’s natural to be scared of jumping back into running, especially if there is still some niggling pain there. It’s definitely sensible to wait for the pain of an injury to settle down to manageable levels. However it’s not always necessary for the pain to completely disappear. Some tightness, stiffness and low levels of pain are a natural part of the healing process. As long as you don’t push so hard that the pain flares-up too much, then you can work through some minor pain. By following some simple pain management guidelines, you can reintroduce some running to your life sooner than you may thing. For a more detailed look at managing pain when running, see my article and infographic here: Exercising with Pain Article
If however you are concerned about your pain and aren’t sure what the correct course of action is, please see rule 5 and seek professional advice.
3: Test it out
No matter how detailed and well-reasoned a rehab plan you have, you simply won’t know how your injury will react to running until you try it. The most important thing to remember is that you are allowed to do as little as you want while you are testing things out. Many runners feel that they haven’t “gone for a run” if they haven’t done 5k or even 10k. But when returning from injury, you are rehabbing rather than training. There is nothing wrong with taking baby steps.
Every injury is different, so tailor your approach based on how serious the injury was, and how long you’ve been out. If it was mild and you’ve only taken a couple of weeks, then it may be possible to just go and try a couple of miles. Maybe it was a more serious injury and you haven’t run for a month or more. In this case, I usually recommend just going for a walk, but wearing your running shoes. In the middle of the walk, try a 3 minute run and see how things feel. Manage your progress based on how it felt – Too painful, and you might need to take things steadier. Low levels of pain, or pain-free, and you can look to progress.
4: Work on other aspects of running
So you’re on the road to recovery, but you can’t manage a full training regime. This is a perfect time to start to add in some accessory work to bolster your running. Strength training is amazing for building robustness and helping in injury avoidance in the future, as well as improving performance. Working on mobility can help address any restrictions in your movement. This is also a perfect time to look at your running technique and work on drills to improve your form. All these things will work to improve your running overall despite not being able to put in the miles. The psychological benefit should also not be underestimated. If you can proactively work on yourself in these areas you will get a big mental boost which will work wonders for your return to running.
5: Get professional advice
While all the rules above are good general advice, they are not set in stone. As with all general advice, there are conditions and stipulations. In some circumstances the rules can be broken. Sometimes a rule may not apply. It is for this reason that if you are concerned at all about how to get back into running, especially if you are still feeling pain, then you will benefit from seeking professional advice. Look for a therapist that understands running. They will be able to relate to you as they will share the same mindset, and they will be keen to get you back in action as soon as safely possible.