Returning to Running Post-injury: Part I

I have worked with numerous runners over the years and the one of the most important pieces of their treatment program is returning them to running correctly.  If done improperly, re-injury is more likely and time to full recovery can be delayed.  For many of my athletes this is crucial because races are on the schedule and there is no time to just sit and rest.  So, here is a look into how I deal with my running athletes and how I can get them back to running as quickly as possible.     

how to run after an injury, running post injury

The key to returning to running is only introducing one variable at a time to the runner.  This allows the return to be controlled and for a proper build to be created.  If it is not done this way, and pain returns, it is impossible to know what is truly irritating the runner.  Plus, the body must build up tolerance for the runs since the injury has caused the athlete to take some time off and the damaged muscles and/or joints cannot handle the same load as healthy tissues.  If done properly, this allows the runner the greatest chance to build back into running without having to take another break due to pain increase. 

For runners, there a three major variables that must be considered when dictating the runs. 

These are time/distance, speed, and terrain. 

In this article, we are going to discuss the first variable and the one that I always begin with when helping runners get back to training.   

Time and/or distance is the first variable and the easiest to manage for the recovering athlete.  Basically, this is just how long you are out running.  These runs are always done at a fairly easy or comfortable pace.  This pace should stay about the same while you are building back using this first variable.  No speed or hills should be introduced at this time as the runner needs to first be able to handle easy runs that will progressively increase in distance. The spacing of these runs and gradual progression of the distance will vary from runner to runner.  Determining factors can be severity of injury, type of injury, and overall running experience. 

Many times, I will have a runner start with only 1/4 or 1/2 mile.  This allows for a good baseline and let’s me know how much the athlete’s body can handle and if progressing runs needs to wait until more treatment is rendered.  Again, every athlete is different, but I typically want to have at least 2-3 runs at each progressive distance until I green-light the athlete to increase distance. 

The other factor that is almost always a necessity in my practice is to have the athlete run only every other day in the beginning.  This allows the most recovery time in between runs and can many times allow the runner to begin running before the injury is 100% healed.  If runs are done everyday, many times the athlete is unable to fully recover between runs and eventually the pain will return and he/she will have to start over at the beginning. 

Using these guidelines, you can try to control the first step back into running.  Of course, this also means that the injury is being addressed and the soft tissue and/or joints are being restored the health at the same time.  Continue reading my next blog where I will be discussing the second variable and how to introduce this once the first variable has been conquered. 

For more information on how to recover from your injury call our office today at (949)387-0060.

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