Injuries are common among runners. They suck as they keep us from regular training and make it much harder to reach our fitness goals.
Returning to running after an injury is no easy feat. It can test the runner’s patience, will power, and emotional well-being like nothing else.
If you’ve suffered a recent injury, I know you want to back to running as quickly as possible. But if you push your body more than it can handle, you may find yourself right back in the injury cycle and even worse.
I’ll share with you the training strategies you need for a strong, pain-free, running comeback. By applying them into your recovery training program and your approach to your return to running, you’ll improve your odds of making a successful, long-term, comeback.
Let’s get started.
Note – In today’s post, my aim is to provide you with a framework for a return to running following injury. These guidelines shouldn’t substitute medical advice if trying to return to exercises following an injury.
How Long Should it Take for a Pain-free Return To Running?
The answer isn’t all white or black, as it really depends on a host of factors since not all injuries are created equal. For a runner dealing with a mild injury, the recovery process may take no more than a couple of weeks. But in case of severe injury, the process can extend to up three months or even longer.
I know. It’s not fair.
With that said, your plan should revolve around six main factors that help determine whether you can return to running within two weeks, or, let’s say, three months. Here they are:
- Your fitness level before the injury
- The type (and severity) of the injury.
- Your layoff off time.
- Your fitness background and experience.
- Your cross-training workout during the recovery phase.
- The quality of your treatment (and prevention) plan.
A couple of years ago, I suffered a severe case of Achilles Tendinitis and couldn’t run for at least two months.
My injury wasn’t only serious, but I also made the mistake of postponing my treatment, pretending that everything is okay.
By not taking action sooner, I believe that I made things worse. Instead of taking a few weeks off, I was forced to stop running for months.
My condition got better the moment I stopped running and started taking a proactive treatment and prevention approach.
Within a few weeks, I was eventually able to return to running again, pain-free for the first time for months.
Assess Yourself – How to progress
After a long layoff from running, you need to avoid any and all comparison to your conditioning level pre-injury. Holding unrealistic expectations can only set you up for disappointment and can eventually derail your comeback.
As a rule, you should only take things to the next level once the current stage you’re at doesn’t trigger symptoms nor cause pain during or after a run.
You should also keep tabs on the progress you make following an injury and take every victor as it comes. Don’t let your ego get in the way.
Given time, you’ll eventually return to your old runners’ self and time, but before you reach that stage in the game, adopt a beginner mind. Start with a totally clean slate. Start from zero if you have to.
What To Examine?
Before you reach for those running shoes, and decide it’s time to resume training, assess your body for the following:
Examine your range of motion. You should have a full range of motion in the joints surrounding the affected limb. Compare the injured area with the healthy opposite side to check if you’ve gained back your range of motion. If you injured your body on both sides, make sure the ROM is balanced on both sides.
Look for swelling. The injured limb should have no swelling and no stiffness. It’s too early to return to running if there is still swelling in the injured area.
Check for instability. You should experience no instability (locking or giving away) in the injured limb.
Consult your doctor. If you’re undergoing treatment, then heed your doctor’s advice. They know better. This is especially true if you’re recovering from a severe injury, such a stress fracture or ligament injury. Ask them if you still need to wear bandage or kinesio tape.
Check your pain. See if you can perform the following pain-free:
- Walk briskly for an hour.
- Balance on the injured limb for 30 seconds.
- Perform lunges, squats, and calf raises for one minute.
Your Return-To-Running Plan Post-Injury
Once you get the green light from your doctor (or find the right time to start running again following injury), come up with a training plan.
Having structure helps you stick to your training and avoid random workouts. Failing to plan is planning to fail, as the saying goes.
The key to scoring a pain-free comeback is having a sensible plan then following it while paying attention to your body both during and after training.
To help you proceed without fail, here’s an example of a return-to-running plan that can serve a great rough guide.
- 1st Week: Shoot for 30 to 40 percent of your typical running mileage.
- 2nd Week: Shoot for 40 to 60 percent of your typical running mileage.
- 3rd Week: Shoot for 60 to 80 percent of your Typical running mileage.
- 4th Week. Return to your Typical training load, but pay attention to your body. In case of trouble, scale back, rest, then do it again.
Taking Care of Your Body After An Injury
Just because you’re back on the running track doesn’t mean that you should ignore proper rehab work. It’s, in fact, what’s going to help you prevent future injury. And you want that, right?
Physical therapy, or prevention work, can help expose the cause of your injury, whether it’s a muscle imbalance, biomechanical issue, flexibility/mobility problem.
Make it a rule to not lax on physical therapy or other rehab plans. Keep in mind that in order to prevent future injury, you’ll need to take a proactive approach. Re-injury is, Afterall, the biggest risk.
Here are some of the preventative measures you can take.
Assess your Weaknesses
Your recovery period is the time for focusing on your weaknesses. For a thorough fitness assessment, check my post over here and take the fitness tests shared over there. These tests can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses.
Fix Muscle Imbalances
muscle imbalances are one of the most common causes of running injuries, according to research.
Want the full scope on the topic? Check my post here. Inside of it, you’ll learn all you need to learn about injury-proofing your body against common running injuries caused by muscular imbalances.
You should also seek the assistance of a professional. A physical therapist, for instance, can help you root out the causes of your injury and provide you with the tailored solution for your own specific case and injury.
I’m a big fan of cross-training. It’s actually a must whether you’re healthy or injured. There’s no way around that. I love to do this instead of sleeping or no exercise during my recovery days.
Great cross-training workouts for runners nursing injury include swimming, low-intensity spinning, yoga, or resistance training (with minimum impact on the affected limb). Isometric is one of my favorite. Looks simple but it actually engages the whole body.
Lifting weights is the ideal cross-training workout for runners.
Strength training helps increase overall strength, mobility, and athleticism. This not only improves your performance but also reduces injury risk. What’s not to like!
For runner’s friendly strength routines, check my cross-training page over here.
Prevention is always less of a hassle than recovery. So please, take care of yourself and build healthy running habits. That’s how you’re going to make the most out of your miles. Stay safe!