Sadly most runners are side-lined at some time or another by injury and accepting that you are injured and not able to run can be really tough, but it is really important to take the correct course of action to help recovery and prevent re-occurrence of the injury. All injuries fall into one of 2 types: acute (an injury that happens suddenly and is very painful and makes any movement nearly impossible) and chronic (injuries that start as a niggle and gradually get worse over time – these are typically ‘overuse’ injuries).
Sometime it is possible to continue training with a chronic injury that is detected early, provided that training load is reduced and preventative/corrective exercises are undertaken, but in many cases an injury does mean a break from running.
So, if you are injured what should you do to get back onto the road to recovery?
Firstly, take some painkillers such as paracetamol to help ease the pain (but not ibuprofen for the first 48 hours as it is thought that it can interfere with the body’s own healing mechanism). Also reduce inflammation/swelling by elevating and resting the affected area and apply ice for 10 minutes, 3- 5 times a day for the first 3 days.
It is a good idea to monitor your pain level by using a rating system such as the one below. This will give you an idea how your recovery is progressing and when you resume training will help you assess whether your injury is coming back. If an acute injury does not improve within 3 days (or a chronic injury with 2 weeks) after following the above advice then please seek medical or expert help.
After 48 hours you can start taking anti-inflammatories, eg. Ibuprofen and 3 days into the injury alternate applying heat and ice to the injured site. The heat will increase blood flow which will encourage the absorption of the swelling, removal of debris and dead blood cells, and the formation of new blood capillaries and scar tissue. After this a programme of gentle mobility, stretching and strengthening exercises should follow to help with the healing.
To maintain fitness during this phase you may want to do some cross-training; walking, cycling and swimming are great options (provided they do not cause any pain) – or if you can manage it try some aqua-jogging.
Once you are pain free then you can start running again. However DO NOT resume the same training regime as before you became injured – you will need to build up slowly to prevent a reoccurrence of the injury. Regardless of your running ability your first ‘run’ should be just 10 minutes of alternating 1 minute running with 1 minute walking. This way, if your body is not ready to resume training you won’t do too much damage. If following this short ‘run’ you are pain free, then 48 hours later try the same again, but this time for 20 minutes. Provided you are still pain free, run again 48 hours later – this time running for 1-2-3-3-5-5-5 minutes with 1 minute walking breaks in between. Continue running every other day gradually increasing the running intervals and reducing the walking breaks until you are back to covering your normal training distance. If at any time you feel discomfort, a niggle or pain then rest up and when pain free revert back to a previous stage of your running recovery programme.
Once you are back to running your normal distance then introduce some fartlek sessions for a few weeks before trying any speed work. If all goes well then you can resume full training and enjoy running again!
If having read this article you feel you need some further help or advice with getting back to running following an injury then please do get in touch.