A fact in nearly every runner’s life, is that at some point he or she will suffer a running-related injury. Fortunately, such injuries are rarely serious. Unfortunately, they are often serious enough to temporarily derail your training and possibly, racing plans.
The mental pain of not being able to run like you normally would is almost always worse than whatever physical pain or soreness you have from the injury. Missing that daily rush of going for a solid run is very difficult to replace.
And yet with most injuries, the best rehab there is is the simplest: Rest. Easier said than done, but with most running injuries you must allow your body the proper time it needs to heal and then once healed sufficiently, not rush back too quickly to full-scale training.
Making a comeback from an injury in a methodical, progressive way is critical. Speed up the process or get too ambitious in training or racing and more than likely, you’ll end up being sidelined with the same injury.
The length of time you’ve been injured (and the severity and nature of your injury) determines the length of time you need to take for your comeback. Obviously, the more severe the injury and the greater the length of time you’ve laid off from running, means you will need to be extremely careful when coming back to running and take a longer length of time than a set back of just a few days from simple muscle soreness.
A three or four-day layoff won’t make much difference in your fitness, but a few weeks or a month or two off will have compromised your fitness a great deal. Even if you have trained diligently for months and months, you will quickly lose your hard-earned fitness when you stop running. Again, a day or two without running won’t matter, but after a week to 10 days, you will start to lose your aerobic fitness.
Sadly, you will lose your fitness quicker than it took to build it. Depending on how fit you are, you will lose about half of your aerobic fitness in just two or three weeks. Especially, if you do absolutely nothing during this down period.
You can minimize the detraining effect with proper cross-training. If you can find a cross-training activity that doesn’t strain or aggravate your injury any further, you can maintain some level of aerobic fitness during the period you are in dry dock. Although if the injury happen at work, and you have a back injury and can’t exercise or work, you may need a work injury attorney as Daniel J. Tuley to give you help in this case.
The best cross-training activities to maintain cardiovascular fitness are running in deep water in a pool, easy cycling or working out on an Elliptical Trainer. You will still lose a bit of aerobic fitness—none of these activities work your main running muscles in the same way running does—but you will lose less if you remain active.
How do you know when you’re ready to run again? If you can walk or jog slowly with no recurring pain or soreness, you might be ready to start again. If so, don’t begin your comeback the first day you feel better again. Instead, wait at least four or five more days to begin. You want to give yourself a complete rest and more than adequate time to heal. Don’t start running the first day you feel well again. Give it a rest.
The longer the layoff, the greater the loss of cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength. If you have had an extended period (one month or longer) on the sidelines with no running at all, your return to running should be extremely conservative. When you do start up, you might feel like you’re starting running all over again.
In a sense, you are. Mentally you still have the discipline and know what you need to do, but physically it is like starting over. So start over. Begin by walking briskly. Then, alternate periods of running with walking. (If there is any pain whatsoever while walking, don’t even attempt to run.)
Try and run and walk on a soft surface such as the grass fields at Zilker Park or on gentle dirt trails. Or go to a soccer field.
Running may feel a little awkward at first. It should. You’ve laid off for several weeks, but you’ll find your groove again. Don’t even think too far ahead to when you can compete again.
As you become more comfortable running again, gradually increase the time spent running and decrease the walking until you reach a point where you can run continuously again for 30 minutes. Once you can run for 30 minutes, hold it there and run easily for at least a week or two. At this stage, you can’t run easily enough. Don’t push it. Don’t even think about races, hills or hard workouts.
If you have cross-trained diligently during your lay off, you might find that your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) is still working fine and you don’t have any trouble keeping up with the easy running. You may not be out of breath at all, but you might be shocked how tired your muscles feel after just a few minutes of running.
That’s why it’s important during this comeback period not to get too ambitious. Just because your breathing is fine, doesn’t mean the rest of your body is ready to move back into training. It’s not.
Once you have done a few weeks of continuous 30-minute runs, begin running again at your normal easy pace. This is important to remember: Run easy, but not necessarily much slower than pre-injury. Run fewer miles, but don’t try to plod along at a much slower-than-normal jogging pace. Run normal and if you do get tired, just take a walk break or shorten the distance.
Since you’ve been a runner, you’ll progress quicker than if you were a complete beginner. Within a few weeks, you’ll feel like you’re back to your old running self.
Build your mileage up very gradually though. Add 5-10 miles a week to your total. That should give you plenty of time to adapt without stressing your injury. After every couple of weeks of mileage building, reassess and try to determine whether anything’s hurting. If so, back off.
Don’t rush back to racing. When you feel fit enough to race again, stick with the shorter races and try to keep your ego in check. Your first race back probably won’t be stellar, but try not to get frustrated with it and vow to double your mileage.
That’s probably what got you injured in the first place.
Tips how to get back in shape after a layoff:
1. Start slow and easy. Treat your comeback from an injury almost like beginning to run again. After a few weeks of slow running, go back to normal training pace but don’t run as many miles as before your injury.
2. Don’t try to pick up your training program where you left off. Gradually increase the pace and distance (and weekly mileage) and eventually you’ll be back at your prior level.
3. Monitor how you feel. After any increase in mileage or pace, reassess how you feel and look for any signs of overtraining, fatigue or abnormal muscular soreness. If so, cut back.
4. Never run through pain. If your original injury is still painful, stop running immediately. It’s way too soon. Treat the injury and give it additional time before running again.
5. Avoid speedwork, long runs and races. Instead, concentrate on re-establishing a solid aerobic base and staying healthy.
6. Add an extra rest day. If you’ve been running six days a week before your injury, cut back to four or five. If you were running five days a week, go back to three or four.
7. Maintain your cross-training. Instead of taking a complete rest on your days with no running, use the same cross-training activity that you used while you were injured. Hint: Deep-water running is the most beneficial and most applicable to running.
8. Continue to treat your injury. If it’s a muscular injury, use ice after every running on the injured muscle to reduce the inflammation. Add post-run stretching and possibly incorporate a strength-training regimen to reduce the chances of getting injured again. Consider getting a weekly massage.