Strategies for Maintaining Fitness and Coming Back
Unfortunately, even when a runner follows all of the rules, they can still become injured. Injury rates among runners are fairly high, primarily because running is a repetitive, high-impact sport. You may still become injured despite being careful to follow your program, eat right, get plenty of rest and strength train. So, you are injured. Now what?
See the doctor. First and foremost, any nagging or lingering pain needs to be properly diagnosed. A bit of soreness is normal after difficult runs, but if pain persists over a few runs, worsens when you are running, is keeping you awake or is significant in terms of intensity, it is time to seek help from a medical professional. Depending on the injury, they may do a manual exam, take X-rays and/or do other types of testing and analysis (MRI, etc.) in order to make a diagnosis.
Ask questions. Once you have a diagnosis from the doctor, ask some follow up questions:
Can I run? Chances are you will get a “no” to this question, at least for a while.How long do I need to stop running? At this point, the answer to this question might be unknown.Can I do other activities? What would those be? This is a very important question as the answer will allow you to formulate a cross training plan to preserve your fitness.Do I need physical therapy? Medication? Surgery? Immobilization/casting? What treatment options do I have along those lines? Depending on the injury, there may be multiple options. Your doctor may have a recommendation, but be sure to ask what all of the options are and discuss the pros and cons of each.What are the next steps regarding medical follow-up? Make sure you make and keep any subsequent doctor’s appointments.Follow the doctor’s plan. The doctor may prescribe medication (such as anti-inflammatories), immobilization/casting, physical therapy, meeting with a specialist, etc. Make sure you follow the agreed-upon plan.Create a cross-training program. Based on your doctor’s recommendations about what activities are acceptable while injured, create an exercise plan. Being a runner and not being able to run can be difficult, but it is important to find exercise that you can do to preserve your fitness. This will help you return to running more efficiently once your injury is resolved. Ideally this exercise plan will include some form of cardiovascular exercise and some form of strength training. Alternative forms of cardio that your doctor might suggest could include biking, swimming, walking, elliptical trainer, etc. Strength training options from your physician will likely avoid the injured area. For example, you may need to do upper body and core strength training only for a while. It is important to maintain these muscle groups as you are recovering. You may be told to “let pain be your guide.” In that case, be aware that the pain may manifest itself during the activity, or it may show up that night or the next day. In all of these cases, the offending activity needs to be discontinued.Take care of your body. As you are recovering, it is important to eat nutritious foods and to get enough rest. Be careful not to overeat (out of boredom or sadness over your injury) as weight gain will compound problems down the road. Try to minimize other stresses in your life. Your cross-training program can help with minimizing stress.Return to sport. Once your injury is resolved and you receive your doctor’s permission to resume running, you should return to running cautiously. Don’t jump back into the training load you were doing when you got hurt. Depending on the amount of time you were injured, you may need to start back with a beginner’s program. Consult your physician for advice on how aggressively to return to running. You may also want to consult a running coach or fitness professional to help you create your return-to-running program. With a good plan and a little time, you’ll get back on track.Laurie LasseterMarathonerACE Certified Personal TrainerRRCA Certified Running CoachEdward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness