There is an abundance of information in the running world now about injury prevention (which should more appropriately be termed injury risk reduction). However, there seems to be less beneficial information about what should be done if you get injured while training.
Do you rest? Keep running? Not run the race you signed up for?
According to a 2007 study by RN van Gent et al, 19.4-79.3% of runners will sustain a running-related injury at some point in their training. If it’s truly towards the 79% end of that range, there’s a very real possibility many of you will experience some sort of injury during your training.
What is the plan if you do become injured? Let’s discuss the options for mild, moderate, and severe injuries.
Guidelines for Mild Injuries
A mild injury causes minimal pain, no swelling, and no changes in the way you walk/run.
Take 1-3 days off from running and rest or cross-train (bike, swim, walk, yoga, etc), then resume running. It’s a good idea to still bring back the duration and/or intensity of your training for the next week before you build back to where you had left off. You will likely be able to continue training per usual if the pain does not return.
Guidelines for Moderate Injuries
A moderate injury cases minimal to moderate pain, minimal to moderate swelling, and a slight change in the way you walk/run (i.e., limp or hobbling).
Take at least one week off from running (maybe more, depending on how you’re feeling) and cross-train instead if it does not increase pain. Decrease running amount and intensity by 50% after taking a week off, then gradually progress to where you had left off prior to the injury. If pain returns with this plan, see a specialist.
Guidelines for Significant Injuries
A significant injury causes moderate to severe pain moderate to significant swelling, and makes you walk/run like a zombie.
Stop running and see a specialist who can perform a thorough evaluation of the injury and provide an appropriate plan of care. You may need to stop running altogether or continue in a modified way.
When an injury is significant enough to change the way you move, it often requires some time off and possible activity modification. If you have a race coming up in the next 3-4 weeks, it may be to your benefit to defer it to the next year and find another race a little farther out to give you enough recovery time.
When to Deviate From Established Guidelines
Guidelines are for the masses, but you're an individual with unique needs. So, where one person may only need a couple of days off for an injury, another person might need two weeks.
When in doubt, seek out a specialist. They will not only be able to diagnose the issue but also design a comprehensive recovery program to help you return to your former training program. If their recommendation is to stop running completely and find a different activity, it’s time to find a new specialist. The most important thing is for you to understand what led to the injury, correct the issue, and be able to resume healthy training with the knowledge of what to do when injury strikes. Even better is to find a well-balanced routine to help avoid injury altogether.
- R N van Gent, D Siem, M van Middelkoop, A G van Os, S M A Bierma-Zeinstra, B W Koes. “Incidence and determinants of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners: a systematic review.” British Journal of Sports Medicine.2007;41:469–480.
- Running Medicine textbook: Robert Wilder, Francis O’Connor and Eric Magrum. 2nd edition. 2014.