As many as 60% of recreational runners get injured every year, with the majority due to overuse.
One of the most frustrating things about getting a running injury is that it can be hard to pinpoint a cause, as they often come seemingly from nowhere.
This can be disheartening – it can knock your confidence in your training, can cause doubt and uncertainty, and it can make the road to recovery unclear.
It is important to be sensible and as level-headed as possible when dealing with injury, and here are some top-level tips to help with that.
If you notice it during a run, don’t try to push through it – this can make it a lot worse.
If it alters your running gait, stop and walk for 30 seconds. Try running again. If it’s still the same, stop running altogether. If you can carry on running with no change to your style and no increase in pain, it’s generally OK to continue – but keep an eye on it.
If you notice something post-run, or the next day, assess the discomfort/pain level. If it feels mild (4 or less out of 10), it's OK to try your next run. During the run, you can then refer to the above for how to deal with it on the run.
Typically, follow the “RICE” acronym. Rest: rest the injured area to help it heal. Ice: helps to prevent inflammation – apply an ice pack several times during the day for a few minutes. Compression: this can also help to increase healing – compression can take the form of a bandage or the ice pack itself. Elevation: to reduce the blood flow to the area – raise it above your heart, so if it’s a leg injury for example, lie down and prop your leg on cushions to keep it above the heart.
Note that this procedure applies to soft tissue injuries, which tend to form the bulk of running-related injuries.
As well as this, get in touch with a running/sports specialist physiotherapist or a doctor if necessary, if the pain persists with no real improvement for more than a day or two.
Depending on the type of injury, gentle stretching can help – but you should be sure what your injury is first as stretching can aggravate it.
Providing you can, do extra cross training to compensate for any reduction in running. Activities such as cycling and swimming are low-impact and a good way to maintain cardiovascular fitness.
You can also focus on your strength training, again providing you are safely able to. You can continue your existing programme of strength training in unaffected areas, and then do the appropriate conditioning exercises on the affected area. These can be provided by your sports therapist.
Just about the hardest thing when you’re injured is to maintain a positive mindset and to keep yourself disciplined with your recovery. Especially if those around you are out nailing their training! Don’t rush back into running until you know it’s safe and right to do so.
Try to visualise different scenarios in your head. If you have a goal race ahead that is suddenly in doubt, try picturing a couple of possible outcomes. 1: that your rehab goes well and you can complete the race as you planned, and 2: that you have to make the hard decision not to run the race, and how this will make you feel.
Plan for the best but prepare for the worst. Try to help yourself to see the bigger picture, too – your overall health is more important than rushing into something.
It’s also a good idea to write an injury diary, tracking the progress of the injury and how you’re feeling each day. This helps to make things a little more objective, and means you are taking some action towards recovery. It’s also helpful for you or your sports therapist to look back over.
It can also be helpful to practise visualisation, perhaps via guided meditation. Visualising the healing process and staying positive that your rehab efforts are having a beneficial effect can be a helpful tool on the road to recovery.
When you’re ready (your running coach or sports therapist will be able to help you work out when this is), gradually introduce running again. Build it up progressively, perhaps starting with a run-walk mix rather than going straight back into your usual running.
Don’t try to return at the same level of mileage and intensity as prior to your injury. And continue to keep up with your strength and conditioning work to help prevent future injury recurrence.
Ultimately, injury can happen. You can help to prevent injury by training smartly, with good form, and maintaining a good strength and cross training regime – as well as appropriate rest and recovery – alongside your running. But there is no magic bullet to prevent injury, and if it happens then acting quickly, appropriately, and staying positive can help speed up that road to recovery!
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