Play it safe after a layoff due to injury

Credit: Michael Steele/Allsport
If you are returning to running after an injury or any significant layoff, it can be a real challenge to maintain the discipline necessary to limit increases in mileage and intensity adequately to prevent injury.

In the beginning, a single mile can feel like a tantalizing tease.

Most runners understand the need to make gradual increases and to listen to your body, cutting back in response to pain. However, if you are reasonably fit, listening to your body can prompt you to do too much, too soon.

It is better to make a plan, set a schedule, and restrict yourself to established increases, even if you feel great. It is very easy to get into a cycle of injury/ recovery/return to running/re-injury, especially if you are an older runner.

While every body and every injury is unique, you can prevent a world of hurts by holding yourself back in the early stages of a comeback. Write down a schedule based on the following rules of thumb, then add non-impact cross-training for extra conditioning.

Training has three basic components: duration (how long you run), frequency (how often you run), and intensity (how fast you run). All three components must be controlled and limited to gradual increases.

Avoid responding to feeling great with extra miles and faster paces. Be patient and know that with the proper forbearance you'll be back to your previous level of training, injury-free within about three months of gradual increases in training load.

Follow these guidelines when coming back from an injury:

  • Always warm up and stretch thoroughly before you run.

  • Stretch again after your run.

  • Begin your return with walking and only proceed if you are pain-free with 30 minutes of walking, three times in a week.

  • Limit yourself to 30 minutes of alternate walking and running for at least a week, preferably a few weeks.

  • Think in terms of total minutes moving, rather than miles in the beginning, adding 10% or less per week.

  • Never run two days in a row.

  • Allow yourself three months of conservative increases in training to return to former mileage and intensity.

  • If pain returns at any point, it may be a signal that un-corrected biomechanical flaws are contributing to your injury. Stop and consult a sports professional for gait analysis and correction.

    (From The Beginning Runners Handbook; the Proven 13-Week Walk/Run Program, by Ian MacNeill and The Sport Medicine Council of British Columbia, 2001, Greystone Books, Vancouver, $12.95, 170 pp, provides excellent, conservative schedules and tips on common injuries that can help you return to running safely.

    For a safe, 12-week Walk/Run training schedule, call American Running Assn. for a copy (1-800-776-2732) or click here.

    Running & FitNews, Vol. 20, No. 7. Copyright, American Running Association.

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