Running is one of life’s simple joys. Just by moving your feet and balancing your body, you can experience head-to-toe exhilaration. Some people do it for fun or for health. Some go running because they formed the habit early in life. Some discover running later and never look back. Some run off-and-on based on life changes and mood. But one thing all runners share is frustration with an injury.
An injury of the foot, ankle, knee, or hip can completely throw off your running plans. An injury can make it impossible or painful to run. Even walking daily can be a challenge. It can be necessary to take days and weeks off from your daily run to allow the injury to recover. And when you do recover, you’ll need to give that injury time and training to get back up to your usual standards of activity.
Getting back into running is a common concern and, fortunately for you, that means many athletes have been on this path before. Here are some of the best tips for re-training yourself to run after an injury.
Take it Slow
First and foremost, don’t rush it. We know you want to, that’s the nature of being an active person. But if you rush an injury, you’ll only slow down the healing or re-injure yourself. There’s an art to recovery that balances rest, protection, and measured physical progress. Each type of injury requires a different recovery arc and exercises you can do at each stage.
Talk to your doctor and work with a medically experienced trainer or physical therapist. Do your isometric exercises and practice your crutching skills, but don’t try to run on an injury before you’re ready. And if you do start walking or running, take it easy and let your progress come slow.
At the same time, avoid too much rest. When an injury heals, the tissue regrows. If you are constantly at rest, the tissue will grow “short” and limit your range of motion. You’ll have to teach the new tissue to stretch like an untrained muscle. But if you stay mobile, carefully, your tissue will grow with similar flexibility as the tissue it’s replacing.
Without weight, practice the motions of stepping and stretching, with approval from your doctor. Listen to the injury and stop when it hurts or feels precarious. Do your full routine of isometric exercises. The more you stretch and strengthen your recovering injury without creating risk, the better shape you’ll be in when the healing is done.
Build Your Stamina
When you are able to begin taking steps and doing careful exercise sets, begin building your stamina. The second biggest concern for runners, after flexibility, is the strength of new tissue. It’s common to lose complete or partial support after a leg injury. As you are able, use a safe exercise range to build the stamina of your new tissue.
Workout reps or taking careful walks can build strength in normal tissue, but only persistence builds stamina. You want your newly regrown tissue to last as long on a task as the other tissue around it, not just short periods of exhausting strengthening therapy. So when the injury is strong enough, start working on stamina.
Choose Your Paths
Eventually, you will be able to take walks and even start running again without the aid of crutches or a cast-like brace. Focus on taking steps that explore your full range of motion and, of course, take it slow. It’s also helpful to choose your walking or running paths carefully. Your route will determine things like grade, even ground, traction, and obstacles to navigate. Even if you love a challenging running course, take it easy on your injury and choose easy routes with very little variable surface and shallow grades.
Treat the Injury After Stress
It’s very common to stress or even minorly re-injure your damaged leg while retraining to run. This is normal and, while to be avoided, it’s also easy to deal with. Remember your RICE and treat the injury after any stressful work. If it swells, ice it. If it aches without swelling, use a hot bath or compress instead. Wrap it for support and rest it after exercise to promote faster healing with the increased bloodflow.
Wear the Right Shoes
The right shoes can make a huge difference in retraining your injury for running. Shoes provide support and aid in maintaining your alignment and form on the track. The right shoes will help keep your healing tissue aligned and provide the most support from the rest of your leg and hip structure. The wrong shoes, conversely, can make it harder for your injury to adapt and work as a team with the rest of your legs.
Brace the Injury
A brace at the right moment, and wearing the right brace, can also increase your recovery time or decrease your retraining time. As you heal, softer and softer braces become appropriate. Compression braces help deal with swelling and wrapped braces can provide some comforting and protective support while also allowing the injury to flex and take some weight. Reduce your risk of injury by wearing an appropriate elastic brace whenever you put on your running shoes.
Slowly Increase Your Speed and Distance
Once you’re back on the track and able to walk or run with the injury, increase your intensity slowly. We know you want to get your body into that perfectly balanced place of exercise, but give your injury a break. Listen to how the injury feels as you up your game and use a calendar to help yourself maintain pace when increasing the intensity of your runs.
Monitor the Injury in Future
Last but not least, monitor the injury. Ankle, knee, or hip; this injury might recover completely or it might become the weakest link in your leg system. Many athletes have one weak joint that they wrap before a game and take better care of during training to ensure re-injury doesn’t occur. Consider this injury location as the most likely suspect for an injury in the future that you might be able to avoid with this knowledge.
Getting back into running after an injury can be a real challenge, but almost anyone can do it with enough time, patience, and your natural love of exercise. For the medical supplies you need for your stage of recovery, browse our website to find products that best fit you.
*Please consult with a medical professional if you have any medical issues that may be affected by the suggested activities.