How to Return to Running After an Injury

 |  Running  | 

Returning to running after an injury can be a challenge for anyone; even the most advanced of runners. When it comes to returning to running, runners need to take an intelligent and cautious approach when making a comeback.

While taking it slow may be frustrating for many runners, runner need to stop and think about the bigger picture. Would you rather make a safe, gradual return to pain-free running or would you like to jump right back into running where you left off; leaving yourself in the position to experience other possible setbacks? When it comes to returning after an injury, slow and steady always wins the race. Read on how to return to running after injury.

How to Return to Running After an Injury

When you decide to return to running after experiencing an injury, all runners should consider the following:

  • The severity of the injury you are recovering from. For instance, returning to running after experiencing IT Band Syndrome is going to differ greatly from experiencing a fracture that requires surgery
  • The length of time you were forced to be side-lined
  • Whether or not you are able to cross-train with your injury
  • How experienced of a runner you are
  • Your fitness level prior to experiencing an injury

The following are some tips on how to return to running after experience an injury:

1. Always consult with your Doctor
First and foremost when returning to running following an injury, you should always receive clearance from a professional physician. Additionally, did you receive physical therapy? It is a good idea to wait for physical therapy to clear you as well. In fact, your physical therapist may be able to work with you to help set you up with a training program that will gradually get you back into running again.


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2. Are you really pain-free?
Before you hit the ground running again, can you complete the following without any pain?

  1. A 30 minute brisk walk
  2. Balancing on one leg for 30 seconds (especially a leg that may be coming back from injury)
  3. Performing 15-20 controlled single knee dips
  4. Performing 20-30 single calf raises

If you experience any pain during these tasks, it may not be time to run just quite yet.

3. Rebuild a solid running foundation
Whether you were a 5k runner or a marathon runner before your injury, all runners need to rebuild a solid running foundation. Runners should let go of the mind-set that they should be able to pick up where they left off.

For a vast majority of runners, this is not the case, it is going to take time to recover from an injury and get yourself back to where you want to be as a runner. By taking it slow, you will be more likely to achieve your goals in the long run. There are a large number of running programs that take people from not running at all to being able to run a few miles.

Here’s an example of a four week running program that could help you get your running back on track.

Each run in this program should begin with 15-20 minutes of brisk walking and should always be followed up with a stretching routine; focusing especially on the previously injured part of your body.

  • Week 1: Engage in three run session of five intervals. Try running for two minutes and walking for three minutes.
  • Week 2: Engage in three run sessions with five intervals. Try a 2-minute run followed by a 2.5-minute walking session.
  • Week 3: Engage in three run sessions of five intervals. Try a 2-minute run followed up with a 2-minute walk.
  • Week 4: Try to run sessions of five intervals. Consider a 2.5-minute run followed up with a 2.5-minute walk.
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4. Always remember to stretch
Runners recovering from injury should always use a foam roller to help ease muscle tension. This should be done after every running session. In addition to foam rolling, a consistent stretching routine will help to build strength and increase a range of motions. As a runner, you should try to focus on the following:

  1. Lunges to help stretch your hip flexors
  2. The use of a band to help stretch your IT band
  3. A resistance band to help stretch your hamstrings
  4. The use of a rope to pull each leg outward in a diagonal direction- this helps to stretch your adductor muscles
  5. A figure four stretch (crossing on ankle over the opposite knee) to help stretch your piriformis and gluteus medius muscles.

5. Learn to manage setbacks
A majority of runners returning from an injury are likely to experience at least one setback. It may seem hard to believe, but this does not mean you are back at square one. At least in most cases, mild pain while running may be the result of micro trauma. This occurs when you overload tissue that is healing. Healing tissue is often comprised of collagen that is not completely developed. As a result, this collagen may struggle to endure the stress running is placing on your body. Overtime this collagen will mature and you will be able to run pain-free. However if pain persists you should always consult with your physician.

6. Further tips for making a strong running comeback

  • Build up your running slowly. Never just jump right back in where you left off. Opt to increase your training regime by no more than 10% each week.
  • Never slack off when it comes to physical therapy. Just because you are feeling better doesn’t mean you should quit therapy. Wait until you are successfully discharged from your therapy program. Even after discharge, consider doing your at-home therapy program each run as a preventative measure.
  • Never compare the pre-injury to the post-injury. Remember, recovery takes time.
  • It’s okay to feel very tired after your first few runs. Your body is adjusting to using your muscles again and those first few runs can be very taxing. Do not get discouraged and let your muscles get used to working again.
  • Consider cross training. You don’t have to run everyday to get yourself back into shape. Alternate running with low-impact exercises (such as swimming or cycling). This can help you to rebuild endurance without hurting yourself.

If it hurts, stop. Never push yourself to the point where you can re-injure yourself. Think of all the time you’ll have to spend sidelined and all the physical therapy sessions you may find yourself in again.