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 injuredrunner.com 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.”