How to Deal With a Running Injury

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I like 2018! It’s an exciting year with a couple of firsts. Some great ones, some unexpected and some I didn’t need to have at all.

But as always, bad things at least give me a couple of lessons learned to make things better the next time.

This certainly is the case for injuries. After a decade of running, I was always proud to not have had a serious injury once. But this year it happened.

It was 1st of August and I got up early to sneak out for a training run before breakfast. I tried to tackle some technical downhills faster than usual and then it happened: I twisted my ankle pretty badly. I sat down in quite some pain and didn’t know if I was able to get up or if someone needs to come and get me.

I managed to hobble back home in pain but the endorphins helped to get me back on my feet. A couple of hours later the pain increased and the fact that now I’m injured and need to skip running for a while started to sink in.

So time to deal with a new situation. Here’s what I learned from my first running injury and how to deal with it.

What’s Happening?

Of course you should always spend time to do what it needs to prevent injuries in the first place. But still there’s a remaining risk that you get injured. So it’s a good thing to have plan in place on how to deal with it once it happens.

There are two types of injuries: The ones that happen from an accident when running (like my twisted ankle) and the injuries that start slowly with some discomfort and get more and more serious when you don’t react in a proper way. These are usually overuse injuries.

So every time when something is unusual with your body, take it easy with running or stop immediately and ask yourself what’s happening. For injuries that happen with an accident it is quite easy but for the overuse type of aches it’s a bit harder.

And that’s why it is so important to know your body. To be able to distinguish between regular muscle soreness and a developing injury. This is obviously something you learn with experience but let me give you a few tips on early injury recognition:

  • If something hurts when running and is good when you stop
  • If you feel pain when you put pressure on a certain spot
  • If a spot is hotter than on the other side (compare same spots on both body sides).
  • Swelling
  • If you can’t walk without pain (pretty obvious, right?)
  • If a broken bone sticks out of your skin 😉

The points mention above are questions to ask yourself in your everyday running routine. After a major race things are a bit different. If you just finished your first marathon, chances are that you can’t walk without pain for a week. And that’s totally fine. Just recover well and get back to training bit by bit.

Accept It

You know what’s the most important step to take if you want to come back from an injury as fast as possible: Accept that you’re injured!

I can’t stress this enough. You will for sure make things much worse if you don’t accept your injury and keep running instead. Of course you want to stick to your training plan and don’t want to miss out on any workout. But if you don’t react early, you don’t just miss one or the other training week, you will miss the race you signed up to!

This sounds easy but it’s not. In fact most running injuries occur because people stay blind and don’t listen to their bodies. If your foot or knee hurts for a week your body is trying to tell you something. And it isn’t telling you that the workload you put on your locomotive system is just right!

So please do yourself the favor and be honest to yourself. Running is a sport that can be done up to high ages. So accept if something is wrong and start dealing with it and take the time needed to be back in full health.

Plan Your Recovery

This title is probably a bit misleading. You can’t just take your calendar and plan when you’re recovered and back in full training. Injury recovery just doesn’t work like that. Instead the steps you take when you figured out you injured and accepted it, need to be done over and over again.

But still you can “plan” your recovery in the sense that you can figure out what you should and shouldn’t do in your recovery period and how you can speed things up.

First you should determine what kind of injury you have. This is hard doing only by yourself. If it’s not your first injury you might have some experience and know what you have. Also you can get pretty close to a diagnosis with proper research and checking out yourself. But be careful: A website cannot examine your injured body part and often articles are not written by professionals.

To get you some help, check out the common running injury cheatsheet I’ve put together:

Learn about the most common running injuries and how to diagnose, treat and prevent them!

We’ll never share your email with anyone else.

So that’s what doctors are there for. Get yourself checked out and listen to what the doc is saying. This should be your first source of advice on recovery, not Google, not your friend, not even this website 🙂

So maybe you need an ice pack to hold back an inflammation. Or just disinfect an open wound. Or massages and warm pads to increase blood flow through a tightened muscle. Whatever it is, do it regularly with discipline. Track your improvement and do what works the most.

Also learn how to avoid the injury the next time. If your knee hurts, stabilize it by training your upper leg muscles. If you have a sprained ankle, learn proper taping and increase strength in you foot joint. Consider stretching, massages and foam rolling and other habits to complement your running and stay healthy in future training. Again check out the injury cheatsheet that you can download above for some actionable advice on avoiding common running injuries.

How to Stay Fit

When you train towards a specific race, obviously you cannot shift the race to a later date. And missing any workout is then frustrating. But the need to skip running for a while doesn’t mean you can’t do anything for your fitness.

It’s even better: Often an injury can be a great opportunity to try new types of training and you might end up training on a new level after your injury.

This was the case for my injury this year. Sure I had to skip sports at all for a couple of days because I could barely walk. But then I rediscovered cycling.

When you run, you train different things. On one side you toughen your locomotive system, your bones, joints, ligaments and tendons, so they’re able to handle the constant pounding. Obviously you lack this training when injured and unable to run.

But also when training you increase your endurance and aerobic capacity (fitness or speed). These are mostly metabolic and cardiovascular mechanisms that you can also train with other sports. You can also put your heart rate into a fitness increasing level with swimming, rowing, cycling and many other activities.

The reason why I choose cycling is because it’s also an activity that’s heavy on your leg muscles. You train the efficiency of similar muscle groups but you train it in another way which might be beneficial for your running. Depending on the injury you might do something else like swimming or get creative and try something completely different.

So try to stay active in one way or another while you’re injured. This limits the loss of fitness and helps you to maintain a regular workout routine.

Coming Back

Ok now, you are recovering, the injury is getting better and you ask yourself, when it’s time to lace up your shoes again and get back into running.

This is probably the most delicate thing that often is done wrong. If you start too early, your injury gets worse again and days or weeks of recovery go down the drain.

As it isn’t possible to give you a final answer to this question, there are some best practices.

If you figured out a way to stay fit during your injury, then there’s no need to rush your comeback. It’s better to wait a bit too long than to start early and risk falling back into pain and be sidelined a couple of weeks longer. So comeback tip #1: Be patient!

When you decide it’s time to head out for a run then take things slowly. Don’t go for a 20 miler just because it’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday and your original training program says so. Run around your block to get started and always focus on the injured body part. How does it feel? Still in pain or just a minor discomfort. If you don’t feel anything go for another round.

Even if you are an avid runner, don’t run more than a 5k to check if your body is ready for more.

The rest of the comeback depends on a couple of different things:

  1. Experience
  2. Fitness level before the injury
  3. How long you were sidelined
  4. Quality of your recovery

If this isn’t your first injury and you know your body well through years of experience, it’s easier to know how fast you can increase you training. Also you will get back faster to your regular training volume the fitter you were before the injury.

You should be more careful when you were sidelined for a few weeks or even months. If the injury was quite hard and you weren’t running for a long time, you need to train your locomotive system again so it can handle a high training volume.

And last but not least the quality of your recovery has a huge impact on how fast you’re back in your full training. So do what your doctor and/or physiotherapist told you to do.

Final Words

I for my part was able to come back after three weeks without running. But after some long bike tours and intense climbs on steep roads I felt not only stronger but also very recovered from giving my body some time off running. I hope you can achieve the same with your injury.

To give you an overview of the most common running injuries, how to prevent, diagnose and treat them, I’ve put together a cheatsheet that you can download below.

Learn about the most common running injuries and how to diagnose, treat and prevent them!

We’ll never share your email with anyone else.

If you like the information in this post, I would be very thankful if you’d share it with your friends and on your social media channels!

Happy running,

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