Running Injuries: Managing the Physical, Mental, and Emotional Aspects
We’ve all heard the familiar pop or woken up to a hobbling pain and thought “An injury, great now what?”
It’s easy to rationalize that an injury has ruined our next race or interrupted our progress and sometimes even puts us in a constant state of worry about how long we’ll be out. Afterall, running is our life! As runners we tend to have patience when it comes to training for a race because there’s a big reward waiting for us at the end. While recovering from an injury, patience is more difficult to find. Becoming injury free and to run again is the reward here!
We often feel lost during this time, questioning our capabilities; feeling inadequacy, guilt or even regret for being physically absent from an important part of our lives. Loneliness may set in from not spending time with our running friends. Usually these feelings materialize because we don’t have all the answers or an understanding of what to expect during this time of repair.
Managing your expectations…
Slow down, take inventory of why it is you run in the first place. Try to enjoy things you may have been neglecting during your big training blocks, and take time to reconnect with other things you love. Look for opportunities to volunteer during the coming weeks as you recover.
Educate yourself. Whether your injury is soft tissue (i.e. muscles, tendons, etc.) or structural (bones, joints) chances are you're not the first runner to experience it. Research the condition, understanding the functions of the muscles, tendons or ligaments involved. Just knowing what is going on inside your body can ease some anxiety.
Know your “down time” but realize you are an individual. We have all heard that a strained muscle can take 4-6 weeks to heal or a bone can take 12-16 weeks. These are estimates. Understand that your nutrition, body type, activity level, age or even your history of injury can have an effect on healing time.
Go to PT and PAY ATTENTION. While the therapy is important, the doing the exercises correctly and consistently at home is probably more important. Many of us don’t put enough emphasis on the exercises (and proper form) to recover correctly, and our time off increases. Make these exercises your new workout, schedule them and DON’T put them off. They are one of your most powerful tools to getting back to running!
Stay in touch with your running friends. This won’t be a popular suggestion but YOU may need to consider reaching out to THEM. It’s not that your buddies have forgotten about you or that you are no longer part of the group but it will take some effort to get their attention. Remember how focused YOU were during your last training block? You can also hang out with a fellow injured runner for support.
Cross-train and stay active. This can be a tough one, but find a way to get your heart rate up. Ask your coach what may be the most effective activity for your recovery. Make sure you communicate your cross-training activity along with any pain you may be feeling with your physical therapist as well.
After you are cleared from your PT you can come back to running slowly. There is a saying that once you’re no longer feeling pain, you are still weeks away from being healed! Just as getting stronger or faster takes time, your body needs time to adapt to the stress of challenging new tissue. This is the most important time to listen to your body. Keep a journal of your workouts, how much and what kind of pain you may still feel and your mental state after your runs.
Find someone new to train with temporarily! You can keep your old running friends, but need to start off slow and easy. Run with someone else at a slower pace and make a few friend! You can spend time run/walking with a new or injured runner or running a pace that is more appropriate for your recovery with a different partner during the workouts. Let your community help you!
Have patience. There will be good days and bad ones. There will be progress and setback. Don’t let these peaks and valleys lead you to second guessing your path. Understand that we are not machines and much like changes to our diet, sleep, stress level and mental state can affect our race training, they will also affect our healing and recovery.
Remember, this injury likely developed over time, and in-turn it will take time and consistent habits to develop the ability to completely heal and recover. We live for timelines and the expected timeline for an injury to heal is perhaps the most unreasonable expectation there is in running. Manage it with these tips and appreciate the down time of an injury as a way to put your next big accomplishment in perspective. Everything is temporary, no matter how much time it takes you WILL heal and this will be just a footnote to your life!