Proper recovery from injury is the key to running again

Credit: Mike Hewitt/Allsport
Runners are the healthiest group of injured people that you will ever know. Unfortunately, injuries can be unwelcome side effects of exercise.

Overuse leads to hurt joints, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures and iliotibial band syndrome. If you have a running injury, there are a few basic rules to follow before you get back on the road.

Prevent injuries in the first place by warming up and cooling down, stretching, wearing a good pair of running shoes, varying the terrain you run on, listening to your body and stopping if something doesnt feel right.

Nothing is worth six weeks off from running, especially if its from pushing yourself when you really shouldnt have been, says William Faubion, M.D., of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Dont try to do make that last measly half-mile when you are feeling pain.

He also emphasizes the importance of stretching, which is a great habit whether you are injured or not. To get his muscles ready, Faubion uses an elliptical trainer or stationary bike for a few minutes. Changing the time of day you run could be helpful, too; running at night can be beneficial because the body is loosened up from the days activities, according to Faubion.

A runner himself, he is training for his 10th marathon Boston this year. He knows all too well that coming back from a running injury is difficult.

People are nervous about getting back to where they were, he says, so they overcompensate by trying to immediately run 40 miles a week again, which is not going to help a runner heal.

The best bet is to take it slow when recovering from an injury.

Start with a thorough warm-up, then walk slowly, before easing into the run, Faubion says. Run for five to 10 minutes, and then check your body for pain. If you are pain-free, walk again for another five to 10 minutes. Add a little more each time you run to slowly build your mileage and stamina."

Remember the acronym RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. He suggests icing within the first 48 hours or immediately after exercising when returning to your routine.

Once you start training again, a general rule is to increase mileage no more than 10 percent per week. If you ignore this rule and dont let your body adjust to the new schedule, you may pay by not being able to run at all. Before you start running outside again, try to hit the gym or use your home treadmill if you have one. That way, you dont find yourself stuck four miles away from home with a sore foot or leg.

If it hurts, stop, Faubion cautions. Listen to your body. Your body, by emitting an ache or a pain, is telling you something.

Faubion advises trying a new pair of running shoes if you think you have an injury but get some professional advice before you open your wallet.

Talk to a podiatrist or a physical therapist who is also a runner, he says. They have amazing insight on what can be improved, just by looking at what shape your running shoe is in."

Bring along your running log (you keep one, right?), to pinpoint the exact cause of the injury.

A running injury may not only be physical. The aspect of not being able to run on a regular schedule may cause some emotional pain. The fear of losing the physical stamina that you worked so hard to gain can also be scary.

Generally, two weeks can be taken off completely without ill effects, Faubion says. I would say if you take longer off, then the time to recover fitness is about the same amount of time that was taken off.

"So, if a 40-mile-a-week runner cant run for four weeks, it will take about four weeks to get to the same point once he or she starts training again, as long as caution is practiced and no re-injuries occur.

During this time off, keep in touch with your running buddies, and try to attend a race or two as an observer. Rather than letting disappointment take over your psyche, look at it as a gift to be able to watch the race as a spectator and learn things that you wouldnt as a race participant.

Exercising is still an option. Swimming, cycling, walking and using an elliptical trainer get your heart rate up and use some of the same muscles as running without the high-impact shock to your body. Water running in a pool is another option that gives you the same workout without adding stress to your joints.

Whatever path you take to recover from a running injury, stay positive. Keep it in perspective, and remember to be patient without pushing yourself. Keep in mind how hard it was to try to run with the injury, and do everything it takes to avoid getting into that situation again.

Anne Kymalainen is a freelance writer based in Providence, R.I., specializing in outdoor recreation.

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