How To Return To Running After Injury

How to get back to Running after an injury or time off

We’ve all been there: after several days/weeks/months on the sofa, you realise that your [insert body part] doesn’t hurt anymore and you enthusiastically lace up ready to make a big comeback. Then one of two things happen:

  1. You realise you aren’t as fit as you once were, get frustrated and return to the sofa, or
  2. You’re so happy to be running again that you get over-excited, immediately jump back into your pre-injury training routine… and quickly end up injured again.

Coming back to running after an injury or time off from running for any other reason is an exercise in patience. I’ve put together some tips to help you be sensible and come back stronger than ever. 

Not injured? Check out this week’s podcast with Ben Davie to stay injury free! 

Personally, I’ve been dealing with burnout (check out my. blog post on it). Alongside some very long hours at work which have caused stress levels to be sky high. I’ll be honest, I’ve been prioritising sleep, dog walks with friends while we’re allowed. Strength and mobility rather than running. BUT I feel like the New Year is the perfect time to try to readdress the balance in my life currently. And to start focusing on my running goals for 2021…

I wrote a blog earlier this year sharing Tips for Coming Back After a Break from Running

How To Return To Running After Injury

Be honest with yourself

Not being able to run sucks, whether that’s through injury or general life getting in the way. (Speaking from experience for both.) It’s not just a way to keep fit. It’s how many of us get our endorphins, a de-stresser, our vitamin D top up! And it’s no surprise that runners are always eager to get back out there as soon as possible. However, there’s nothing to be gained from rushing back too soon. It’ll be one step forwards, two steps backwards (literally).

Be honest with yourself. You know your body best and I think deep down we usually know when something isn’t quite right. Just because your ankle, for instance, is no longer three times it’s normal size, doesn’t mean it’s ready to run on again.

One good test is the hop test. You should be able to complete at least 12 pain-free single leg hops on each side before you start running. You can end up using the other leg to overcompensate (a recipe for disaster!) which will let you get away with returning to running too soon, whereas the hop test will uncover those niggles. If in doubt, seek a professionals advice…and actually listen to it! 

Don’t mask pain

Medicines definitely have their place when it comes to treating running injuries. For instance, ibuprofen can be useful to reduce inflammation and pain relief gels might help to make you more comfortable while you’re resting.

When it comes to getting back out there though, you want to avoid overmedicating. Pain is often your body’s way of saying stop before you do more damage. The last thing you want to do is mask this pain and end up doing more harm than good. 

Use over-the-counter painkillers to manage pain and injuries by all means, but if you can’t run comfortably without them, then you probably need to wait a bit longer.

Use the run-walk method

When you’re finally able to run without pain, it can be super tempting to jump right back into your old mileage – especially if you haven’t been out for too long, or have been cross training to keep your cardio fitness up. It takes your legs much longer than your lungs to adapt to new stresses though, so try to be patient.

Trying out the run-walk method can be a great way to ease back in. I have a whole post here  about training for a marathon using the run-walk method and I think it’s a great way to start running again after being injured too. If you haven’t run for a while, it might be worth going back to basics and following the Couch to 5k plan to build up gradually (check out this podcast of three runner’s sharing their experience of Couch to 5K

You can also supplement your running sessions with some straight up walks! Runners often underestimate walking but actually it’s still a great way to be outside, getting fresh air and spending time on your feet without stressing your muscles and joints so much. Or crank up the incline on the treadmill to get that heart rate up! 

Come back stronger

It can be hard to fit everything in when you’re at the peak of a training plan – trying to eat well, get enough sleep, stretch and fit in working and having a bit of social life (or whatever we’re allowed to do in your Tier!) The extra free time you have while dialling back your running can be the perfect time to focus on the bits that get forgotten, and make sure you come back stronger than ever.

I talk more in this post about how important strength training is for runners. Working on your weaknesses now could reduce the chances of you ending up injured again. If you can, it’s worth consulting a qualified physiotherapist or personal trainer who will be able to give you some pointers on exactly what you should be doing, both to speed up your healing time and work on your individual imbalances. 

There are lots of free resources out there too though. For instance, Laura from Lazy Girl Running (qualified PT and running coach) has loads of free strength workouts for runners videos on her Youtube channel. They can all be done from home and require minimal equipment and are worth a look.

Cross train

Often runners just like to run, and when we can’t do that we end up doing nothing at all. This means that the frustration of not being able to run just gets amplified by missing out on all the things we love about exercise in general.

While some injuries require total rest to heal, sometimes you’ll find there are at least some activities you can do which won’t exacerbate your symptoms. You’ll likely feel better just for moving. And you’ll be keeping your fitness topped up ready for when you can make your comeback. When you are okay to start running again, you can keep supplementing your runs with some cross training to make the reduced mileage/running fitness less frustrating. 

As with strength training, it’s worth consulting a professional who’ll be able to make suggestions and ensure you aren’t causing any further damage. As a rule though, lower-impact activities are probably safest and only do them if you can do so pain-free. Try cycling, walking or using gym cardio machines like the stairmaster or the rower for a starters. You know I love my Peloton bike for cross-training

Set new goals

It can be super frustrating thinking back to how fit you once were. I am SO guilty on this, thinking back to my 3.38 in Edinburgh 2019  and I’m know I’m not the only one struggling to see a way back to that prior fitness. Seeing everybody else absolutely smashing their training while you’re doing 20 minute walk-runs doesn’t help either. Try to avoid making comparisons if you can. It’s totally OK to unfollow or mute people on instagram or Strava if they’re making you feel worse, not better. about your running. 

It can really help to set yourself some new goals. I’ve seen people talk about ‘post-injury PBs’ which I think are great – treat it as a fresh slate. Think about switching up distances as well. If you were previously stacking up the miles training for marathons, why not focus on a 5km PB for your comeback. Something you can work hard at and feel a sense of achievement in, without necessarily putting your body through the stress of 20 mile runs every weekend.

Although, if you’ve got still got that BIG GOAL in your sights, then try to break it down into smaller, manageable chunks with a realistic time frame!

Have you recently come back to running after injury? What are your tips for staying motivated?

2 Comments

  1. Fiona
    December 27, 2020 / 10:17 pm

    Yep, no running here while I rest due to an angry IT band, made even more frustrating by the fact that I got a new running watch for Christmas! So frustrating but trying very hard to be good, had sports massage to stretch it out, had a couple of 20 min run/walk sessions and walking but normally I’d be running lots during my time off to compensate for all the cheese eating and I can’t help but feel lazy and lardy!

  2. December 28, 2020 / 11:17 am

    I have Achilles tendonitis which has kept me off the road for almost 6 weeks now!
    I’ve been extending my plank work out by adding different moves and trying to do some yoga each day.
    Somehow I’ve managed to only gain my normal holiday 5lbs. So I feel good about that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.