Dealing with running injuries as I do on a regular basis, one of the questions I most commonly get asked by runners is ‘when can I return to running?’ I know as a runner that, when you get injured, you have mixed feelings. On the one hand you obviously want to get back to running as quickly as possible, but on the other hand you are worried about going back too soon in case you make the injury worse. In practice I tend to see two extremes; runners who have rested for far too long for fear of making the injury worse, or runners who ignore pain and push too hard too soon, prolonging the injury.
So how can we know when it is ok to try running again? The short answer is, it depends! There are so many variables from the type of injury, the type of runner you are, and other uncontrollable factors which may influence the amount of time it takes you to recover from an injury, that it is impossible to give a definitive answer. This is why we take runners through a graded rehabilitation programme to ensure that the body is strong enough to cope with the increased loads associated with running after injury.
In general terms, if you are more or less pain free in normal daily activities, it is safe to try a short run at low intensity to test capacity. I usually suggest doing the first couple of runs on a jog/walk basis, based on the Couch to 5K programme. Leave your runners ego at the door here, we are testing capacity, not breaking records! If that is ok and you are not getting pain more than 3 out of 10 on a 0 to 10 scale, then you can slowly progress, working on distance first, then frequency of runs, and finally intensity. It is best to change just one thing at a time. This way you can easily roll it back if your symptoms are increasing.
Finally, a good rehabilitation programme of strength and conditioning, focusing on the injured area, is essential after injury. Merely resting and returning to running when the pain eventually goes without addressing the cause can put you on a repetitive cycle of running – overload – rest – recovery – running – overload, which can very quickly get old!
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Please feel free to post any questions and comments if these blog post raise any issues for you. Thanks from a fellow runner!