Dealing with an injury from someone currently injured

March 13, 2024

Injuries in running are to some extent unavoidable but how we deal with the situation is something that we can control.

Jump into a conversation with a group of runners and it won’t be long before you hear that at least one runner in the group is on their way back from an injury. The issue of injuries and runners is a complex one and something that I think is worthwhile discussing.

Runners and injuries are a match made in heaven

Running as I am sure we all know from our P.E lessons at school is an impact sport. This means that our skeletal system has to withstand a shock force with every stride we take. Unlike cycling which is a low-impact motion, the movement of running puts high stress through our bones, tendons and ligaments. When you pair this with the repetitive motion of running we very quickly become a ticking time bomb for potential injuries.

Our muscles are very quick to adapt to the demands we put them under, if you can remember back to when you first started running or began a new workout programme you might remember the first few sessions left you ruined. Given a couple of repeat sessions and ample time to recover our muscles do a remarkable job of adapting and becoming stronger. Our bones are pretty similar, as we put extra strain and demand on them, especially through repetitive impact they can become stronger. The issue is that unlike our muscles our tendons and ligaments take a lot more time to catch up and adapt to the loads we put them under. As far as tendons and ligaments are concerned you are still a fresh-faced newbie to running for well over a year.

With this in mind, we can start to see how injuries can start to occur. We have our muscles and bones that can adapt fairly quickly and a cardiovascular system that can build to meet our demands however, other crucial parts of our running mechanics are left trailing behind trying to catch up.

The final nail in the coffin for runners and injuries is we tend to be goal-driven, motivated and stubborn. As great as these attributes genuinely are they also put us in a position that opens us up for injury. If we have a slight niggle in our knee, ankle, hip, etc. a lot of us are guilty of carrying on the run to see how it feels. Even worse sometimes even if it does develop into legitimate pain, we will suffer through to get the run done. The issue with this is that there is only ever one outcome. In this mindset, we have subconsciously decided that we will keep running until we are injured to the point that we physically can't.

Injuries should always be analysed

No matter how big or small the injury is, even if it doesn’t fully prevent you from taking time away from running something has gone wrong. As much as injuries are a part of running, they shouldn’t just be accepted. An injury is your body breaking down and telling you something is wrong.

There are way too many injuries to cover in this article but you should always spend some time figuring out what might have caused it. This doesn’t mean forking out for a physio or a gate analysis although from time to time these could be worthwhile investments. It means looking at your training and seeing if there have been any changes to your load, the surface you have been running on, your pace, the weather etc. Keeping a log of all your niggles in your training diary can massively help with spotting trends.

Injuries can also be a sign that more specific training is required. Speaking from experience I found at the start of this winter I found myself getting repeated niggles all over my right leg. My calf, hip flexors, IT band… Nothing severe enough to stop me from running but enough to infuriate me. In hindsight, it is pretty obvious but all of these issues were trying to tell me that my right leg was weaker than my left and it was working too hard to try and compensate.

Cross-training is a saviour

There is a lot of evidence that points to training in other ways beyond running that can actually benefit your running. It makes sense and I am definitely an advocate of it. Something that I think can go overlooked however is the role of cross-training in light of an injury.

Running is addictive and if some is good, then more must be better right? The issue with this mentality that I have fallen foul of in the past is that you become very single-minded. As far as your physical health is concerned everything quickly becomes geared around running and being the best runner you can be. From someone who has done this multiple times, I strongly advise against doing this. Not only does cross-training prevent burnout and boredom in training but it also means that when if you need to take some time away from running you can lean on other activities to keep your fitness.

Cycling can be a great activity if you need to take the shock loading of running out of your training for a while. Not only that, studies have shown that running and cycling, especially at aerobic intensities are mutually beneficial. Adding some time on the pedals can not only help prevent an injury it can be a saving grace in the unfortunate event of some injuries.

Gym work is also a classic cross-training activity. The harsh reality is that running on its own is not enough for your body to become a sustainable and strong runner. The motions of running put a lot of stress and strain on your body and working on them with resistance training is a key part of injury prevention or prehab as it is affectionately known.

Swimming is another cross-training activity that can be invaluable for more severe injuries as it is non-weight-bearing. Although swimming might not work your muscles in exactly the same way as running it will help keep your aerobic, cardiovascular fitness even when you cannot run.

Do not put your identity on running

This is a hard one and something that I think a lot of us need to remember from time to time. Even though we love to run and maybe we are known in our social circles as ‘a runner’ I cannot stress enough how important it is not to see yourself simply as a runner. You are so much more than that.

If you see yourself as a runner first and foremost that is great but you need to remember what else you are, what else you enjoy and what makes you happy. Assigning your personality to running is fab when everything is going well, but when you are injured or cannot run then it quickly feels like you lose yourself and who you are.

It is this mentality that actually causes a lot of insignificant injuries to develop into larger more problematic ones. Instead of taking a few days off to let your body recover you push through because you are a runner and runners must run. If you instead can flip this mindset on its head you are likely to find that a lot of long-term injuries never surface. Whenever a small niggle develops, firstly analyse what might be the cause but then instead of panicking about missing training for a few days or a week think about all the other stuff you can do that you haven’t had time for recently. Treating small injuries like this is great for your brain and your mental health as well as allowing you to reconnect with other elements of what makes you, you.

Running is tough, don’t make it any tougher

I had to learn this one the hard way. Running is really tough on your body and if you think you can run a flat-out 10k every time you leave the house you are on the fast track to repeat injuries. As much as you might not want to believe it most of your running regardless of your goal should be done at an easy pace of between 1-1:30 per kilometre slower than your current 5k pace. Like we have already covered, running is tough on your tendons and ligaments more so than your muscles. Although you might feel like you can run hard every day and for some of you it might even be true that you can head out at close to PB 10k pace day after day you are almost certainly heading towards an injury.

Slowing your runs down working on good running form and enjoying the journey will not only have measurable aerobic benefits but will also keep most injuries at bay. If you can find running routes that you enjoy, places that are nice to be. Pounding the pavements around your street can be convenient but it can also be dull which can lead to faster runs to get it over and done with. Spending a little more time to head somewhere nice for your runs is possibly the easiest way to make slowing your runs down easy.

If you are injured, you are injured

Be patient. Your body is remarkable but if you felt the start of a bout of a runner's knee or shin splints testing how your legs feel the same afternoon or even the next day is not beneficial. At best you quickly reconfirm what you already knew but more likely you are going to further aggravate the injury and extend the time it will take to recover.

You know your body better than anyone else but you need to be honest with yourself. Most of us know when a niggle shouldn’t be ignored but we choose to bend the truth to fit what we want it to be. If you are injured it's important to accept this and do what is right for your body. Even if you need 6 months off of running to fully recover that is better than ruining your body for life. You are so much more than just a runner and you owe it to your body to look after it.

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