Tips for Injured Runners

Research suggests that approximately 2 out of every 3 runners bear an injury in any given year.  As a runner myself, I’ve been through my fair share of injuries:  Ankle problems, stress fractures, and my new current annoyance, a knee problem.

Injuries can arise from any number of reasons.  Several main reasons include wearing improper footwear, nutrition deficiencies, muscle weaknesses, and training mistakes, such as running on hard surfaces, increasing mileage or speed to quickly, and not allowing the body enough time to rest.

I’ve probably struggled with a combination of these issues, but particularly lately, the city surfaces I have been running on have just been too hard.

Running is a high-impact activity, meaning a lot of stress is placed on the bones and joints.  This can actually benefit the body, such as by strengthening the bones and increasing one’s bone mineral density.  However, if not careful, running can take a heavy toll on joints and ligaments.  For example, running day after day on hard surfaces, such as concrete sidewalks and pavement, exaggerates the stress of the impact on the body.  Additionally, unvaried surfaces drive this exaggerated stress to repeat itself with every step.

So what should you do if you acquire an injury as a runner?  Your best bet is to stop running altogether for a period of time in order to let the injury fully heal.  However, I know from experience just how hard this can be for avid runners!  Running is one of those activities that goes beyond just the actual exercise.  The feelings you can obtain from running are often unsurpassable.

BUT there are alternatives that can be comparable to running if you allow yourself to go into them with an open mindset and willingness to let your body heal.  If your injury isn’t too serious, you could continue running at a decreased intensity and reduced distance.  However, I’ve done this method of healing before, and even if it doesn’t end up exacerbating the problem (which it often does), it usually makes the injury take a lot longer to heal than if you just laid off of running for a little.

An injury is your body’s way of telling you that you need to slow down and give yourself time to heal.  Our minds don’t always want to listen to our bodies, but for best results, we should tune into our bodies and follow their natural advice.  If you acquire an injury, use the time to nurse yourself back to optimal health, and maybe even break an addiction and find a better sense of balance in the meantime.  Once you return to running, not only will you feel refreshed and regenerated, but you may have acquired some new hobbies/passions in the meantime!

If you choose the path of taking a break from running or even decide to continue running at a reduced intensity upon becoming injured and want to add some additional cross training into your regiment, consider the following options:

  • Swimming-  Swimming is an incredible low-impact cardio workout.  Through swimming, you can achieve aftereffects comparable to a runner’s high.  It is also highly beneficial in toning the core region.
  • Biking-  Biking builds up muscles in the hamstrings, glutes, and muscles areas around the knee.  Biking will keep your legs in shape for when you can return to running.  It will also tone areas that may often be missed from running alone.  Similar to running, this activity can be taken indoors or outdoors.  Particularly in the winter, if you are a treadmill fan, try a stationary bike.  Unlike on the treadmill, you more easily be able to flip through a magazine while you ride, allowing the time to pass right by you.
  • Yoga-  Yoga is a wonderful healing practice, perfect for nursing any kind of injuries back to health.  Yoga will not only help to stretch and tone all areas of the body, gearing your body back up for running, but it will also enhance you mentally for when you decide to return to running.  The meditative aspects of yoga can train a runner’s mind to be able to increase endurance and ease while running.  Deep breathing during yoga can also be utilized in order to focus your mind on healing a particular area and mentally sending your breathe to that area for rejuvenation.
  • Elliptical-  While the elliptical machines at the gym will rarely compare to a run for most running enthusiasts, it will work to efficiently tone the glutes, quads, and calves, without putting much stress on the joints.  This activity will also elevate the heart rate, so if you’re an injured runner craving cardio, the elliptical may be for you.  If you do find it boring, try skimming a magazine or watching TV while circling those legs, and always remember that you’re doing your body well by allowing it to properly heal.
  • Aqua jogging-  Just like running, but in water, aqua jogging allows you to receive many of the benefits of running without placing much stress on the legs.  The plus to aqua jogging is that you’ll feel like you’re actually running.  The downside is finding a location to do it.

Allowing your body to heal is important.  If you are in pain, stop and listen to your body.  While this can be quite difficult to do especially when running becomes a habit, continuous running on an injury can do more harm than good.  It’s much more worth it to take a small break from running than to keep running and develop an injury for life.  Plus, running with an injury is never as emotionally lifting and mind-easing anyways.  When you think you are ready to start running again, ease yourself back into it by starting slow and running moderate distances.  How will you know when you’re ready to start back up?  Bryan Whitesides of says: “I give the single leg hop test. Stand on one leg and hop 30 times. When you can do that without pain, you’re ready to start running.”

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  • Reply
    February 5, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Great post! I once seriously injured my foot because I kept running on it when it was injured. I took lots of pain killers (VERY bad, I know). I since have learned to let my body heal and really listen to it…

    Happy Friday! 🙂

  • Reply
    Vern Myers
    February 5, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Great advice!

    I suffered two minor injuries in 2009, PF in March, and Runner’s Knee in November. I’m sure that both were at least partially attributable to training mistakes.

    I’ve tried both approaches, stopping running, and reducing intensity. I’ll vouch for your recommendation to stop running. For my PF, I stopped running for two weeks, and for the knee injury, I initially tried reducing mileage and intensity. With reduced intensity, the pain was more manageable, but never went away. This approach merely delayed the inevitable; when I stopped running for a week, and THEN resumed at lower intensity, the injury steadily improved.

    The suggestions on alternate activities are also good. Bicycling got me through both of my injuries without losing too much conditioning.

    For the knee condition, I’ve found that strengthening excercises for the legs like squats and lunges have helped a lot. Stronger leg muscles seem to give extra support and the knee doesn’t have to carry so much of the load.

    I hope you are able to resolve your knee problem quickly!

  • Reply
    February 5, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Thanks for the info. Lucky for me, no real running, so no real injuries! Have a good weekend.

  • Reply
    Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman
    February 5, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Great article. I’ve been suffering with two bad knees (runner’s knee in both legs) for years. You got it right: Take a break from running. It’s not worth it to make your injury worse by continuing to run on it. Chances are, you’ll end up with a lifelong injury like me.

    I agree that the elliptical, while not as cardiovascularly as challenging as running, is great for bad knees. That and the bike is really good, too.

  • Reply
    Teniah Howell
    February 5, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Really awesome post and I’m sure many will benefit from this wisdom.

  • Reply
    February 5, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Great post! Injuries have stopped me dead in my tracks in the past and I am hoping this time around, it is different.

    BTW that is my fave FAVE yoga pose!

  • Reply
    February 5, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    This is a great post! I used to be able to run much more than I can now because I injured my knee. Now I run 1-2 times a week which is great but any more than that and I’m hobbling around for days!

  • Reply
    Lily @ Lily's Health Pad
    February 5, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    Interestingly, I’ve never been injured! I’m thankful to be the 1 out of 100. I’m not sure if this is because I listen to my body well or if I’ve just been lucky.

  • Reply
    February 6, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    those are some GREAT tips girl!! aqua running sounds super interesting..i would feel like a total idiot doing that at my colleges pool but i bet its a great workout

  • Reply
    Jenna @ Healthy. Happy. Well
    February 6, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! I am training for the Dallas Half right now and just recently had to have my feet analyzed for new running shoes. I was getting arch soreness and blisters like crazy and it turns out I was in a completely wrong shoe. Swimming is a great “off day”workout. So gentle on the joints!

  • Reply
    Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga)
    February 6, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    great tips and as a yoga teacher, I would also say do some yoga! it doesnt have to be anything too complicated, just stretch out those tight runner’s hamstrings with some fwd bends or whatever works. Great post!

  • Reply
    The Candid RD
    February 6, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    Great tips. I had a very bad stress fracture in high school, actually I had one in both legs! They were super painful and right in the middle of track season. I wasn’t giving myself enough protein or calories at the time, and I know that’s why it happened. I ended up training on the bike, the pool, and the elliptical, just like you said. I currently still use the elliptical instead of running because my feet don’t like the pounding. I just wasn’t meant to run 🙁

  • Reply
    February 6, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Great advice. I recently picked up a Yoga for Runners DVD to keep me going – also to help me stretch better before and after a run!

    Love the post.

  • Reply
    February 7, 2010 at 12:40 am

    I got shin splints while I was training for a half marathon. It’s definitely a bummer, reminded me that I needed to adopt a stretching / yoga routine for overall fitness. I used the elliptical, bike and Brian Kest yoga DVD series to stay in shape and help heal my shin splints – but it wasn’t until after the half marathon that I was able to rest and feel 100% better. Thanks for the post!

  • Reply
    February 7, 2010 at 7:26 am

    I really need to show this post to my husband. As an avid runner he has a few injuries a year but he keeps on running. Great post!!

  • Reply
    February 7, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Wonderful advice! After upping my mileage recently I’ve learned 2 things: 1) shoes need replacing…more than you think and 2) diversifying what you do is so helpful. I’ve started doing yoga and more strength. Thanks for posting this, it’s wonderful!

  • Reply
    February 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    agreed, but it’s tough to stop running sometimes. if it’s just typical soreness, etc., i generally wont stop but just lower the intensity / mileage of my runs.

    that being said, cross training is incredibly important. Ive had two ACL reconstructions, and in addition to running, i swim, lift and do yoga. swimming does wonders for your endurance, and yoga and lifting are really important for improving your flexibility and strength.

    oh and my newest discovery – last week it was pouring rain and the gym was packed, so i was stuck on … the stairmaster! i doubted, but omg, ive never sweat so much in a half hour ever. it was insane. next time im forced to do my cardio indoors and the treadmill lines are hellacious, im hitting the stairmaster. it was a fantastic workout!

  • Reply
    Kim Wright
    March 7, 2010 at 4:59 am

    This article has come at an ideal time. I have just had physio on my legs and found out that i have runners knee and the onset of shin splints. Now i am resting for a week or so, so that i can run the Brighton Marthon in April and get through it!

    Swimming,cross trainer and the bike were on the lis but i will now welcome yoga and the stairmaster to my new programme!

    Thank you for a great post and great support.

  • Reply
    Running After An Injury « Food-Fitness-FreshAir
    March 9, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    […] to make the commitment to stop and let yourself heal (yes, I know it’s hard), check out my Tips for Injured Runners post.  You’ll be thanking yourself in a few weeks when natural warmth arrives and […]

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