There is an abundance of information in the world now about injury prevention (which should more appropriately be termed injury risk reduction), which don’t get me wrong, is one of the key components of a long and healthy running career. However, there seems to be less beneficial information about what should be done if heaven forbid, you do get injured while training. Do you rest? Keep running? Not run the race you signed up for? Today’s blog post is aimed at providing the knowledge of what is the best course of action if injury does occur while training and how not to freak out.
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. So what is the plan if you do become injured? Let’s discuss the options:
1) Mild injury: minimal pain, no swelling, no changes in the way you walk/run.
Plan: 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 pain does not return.
2) Moderate injury: minimal to moderate pain, minimal to moderate swelling, slight change in the way you walk/run (i.e. limp or hobbling).
Plan: Take at least 1 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 injury. If pain returns with this plan, see a specialist.
3) Significant injury: moderate to severe pain, moderate to significant swelling and you walk/run like a zombie.
Plan: Stop running and see a specialist who can perform a thorough evaluation of the injury and provide an appropriate plan of care including if you need to stop running altogether or can 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.
Now remember these are GUIDELINES for the masses, meaning each of you is an individual with specific, individual needs. So where one person may only need a couple 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 design a comprehensive recovery program to help you return to your former training program. I highly recommend seeing a specialist (preferably a physical therapist) who either has a background working with runners or even better, they themselves run. 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.
“The part can never be well unless the whole is well.”
1) 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.
2) Running Medicine textbook: Robert Wilder, Francis O’Connor and Eric Magrum. 2nd edition. 2014.