Injuries should never be ignored. The best thing you can do when injured is let yourself heal completely before returning to normal activity. But if running is a part of your life, it can be unthinkable to stop altogether, especially when you don’t want to lose a hard-earned level of fitness.
So how do you maintain all your efforts without injuring yourself further? I live by the mantra, ‘Movement is Medicine,’ and I’ve got some key tips on how to stay in shape while injured. If followed, you can return to running even stronger and more resilient than ever.
Step 1: Learn your injury
The first thing you should do is find out what caused your injury. Coach, physical therapist, and author of “Becoming a Supple Leopard,” Dr. Kelly Starrett states, “Pain is a lagging indicator that something is wrong.” Think back to a time when you injured yourself. When did the pain set in? For those of you who, like me, have sliced your hand open while cutting veggies, the first sign there's a problem is the bleeding. Now think about the pain. It’s not until a few seconds, or even minutes later, that the real pain starts to kick in. Heck, this even applies to a paper cut! It’s not until later when you wash your hands that you really feel it!
Here’s the kicker:
*As an endurance athlete, it’s death by a thousand cuts – literally. By the time you feel the pain, a lot of damage may already have been done.
You can take all the time off in the world, but the problem is going to keep coming back unless you find out what caused it, and do something to correct it.
Mobilize your joints, practice your yoga, and talk to a professional to identify the root cause of your pain. If you’re local to Houston, we recommend Mvmt Chiropractic for joint or spine work, and Dr. Ty at Bulletproof Physical Therapy is a mad scientist with the body. Between the two, you should be able to get a handle on what’s going on with your body and some ideas on how to fix it. If you’re not local, look for an Airrosti clinic near you.
What’s the difference between a chiropractor and a physical therapist?
You might be wondering, what’s the difference between the two? What are the benefits of a Chiropractor and/or a Physical Therapist? The best way to look at it is this:
Your movement system, at its simplest, is made up of two subsystems- structural and electrical. The structural system is your bones, and the electrical system is your nerves and muscles. A chiropractor helps tune up the structural system, whereas a physical therapist works on the electrical system. Both look at body position, movement quality, and habituations to help retrain movement and alleviate the problem or pain long term.
*Key link: The electrical system is attached to the structural system using connective tissue like tendons.
My clients have asked, “How do I know when I’m using which system?” The best way to answer this is to dive a little deeper.
The structural system consists of dense bones which glide and slide along each other. Movement is driven by the electrical system, and the patterns of your electrical system are designed by you... if you sit or sleep in strange positions for hours on end. Don’t forget that you may favor one side because of an ankle sprain a few years ago, or some similar injury.
Now the dots connect. Our electrical system gets out of whack now and then, due to injuries like ankle sprains, and pulls our structural system out of whack. It’s important to see a chiropractor to realign the structural system, but if you don’t address the electrical system, it’ll pull the structural system back out of whack… and the cycle of pain begins.
More on this topic coming in future blogs, but essentially, you’ll need both!
Step 2: Movement is Medicine
In my personal experience, over 90% of debilitating pain comes from muscles that are aggravated. I’ve seen clients, barely able to jog from shin splints or plantar fasciitis, go on to complete long course triathlons by re-educating their movement patterns. I’ve even seen clients with herniated discs in their back go back to playing tennis without surgery once they’ve corrected their movement and fixed the issues at their core.
Make sure to get through step one above first. After you know what’s going on, you can take the time needed to educate new muscle patterns stopping the cycle of pain.
*Remember, movement can help or hurt you. If you don’t know where to begin, you can always reach out to us by sending some videos of your SBR or your lifts and we’ll help.
The tasks at hand are tedious, but they can eliminate chronic pain and improve your health long-term if you spend the time and take it seriously.
Phase 1: Re-establish ROM – Range of Motion.
The idea here is to use conscious and controlled movements to re-establish proper range of motion and kinetics. Sometimes your electrical system is glitching (your muscle is mad at you) and when it hurts like hell, it can negatively affect your movement. If you have a conversation with those tissues (our way of saying conscious effort in movement learning), usually they’ll do what you ask and thank you for listening by easing the pain.
Note: During this process, you need to understand pain. If it feels hot, burns, or stings, don’t do it! Although if it feels like you’re stretching when you wake up in the morning, go after it ;)) If interested in more on this, check out our blog from the ‘Somatic Movement Center’ on pandiculation, or email us!
Phase 2: Safely Load Phase 1 Positions
Once we’re able to reach our desired and required ROM, it’s important to strengthen/reinforce those positions with bodyweight. We can even add weights where applicable. One of our objectives at Facet Seven is teaching our clients strength through length, and this absolutely applies here
Phase 3: Introduce Application
If we’ve successfully progressed through Phases 1 and 2, we can start to introduce sport or life-specific applications of these movements. This can show up in many forms, please seek a professional’s eyes and advice.
Step 3: Train other Areas
Lastly, you can also use this time while you’re injured to work on parts of your body that you may have been neglecting, and which are not affected by your injury. A great example is Conor McGregor posting pics of himself at the gym doing seated cable rows with his leg in a cast.
Weak glutes and hips are a common problem for runners, so if you’ve tweaked an ankle, now is the time to knock out those Banded Clams you always avoid.
Other important parts of the body that many runners overlook are the core and upper body. A strong core not only helps you stabilize your body and improves posture and running form, but a strong upper body helps balance back and neck position. All of this helps your pelvis, hips, and lower back work together more efficiently, translating into stronger and more efficient strides. Every little bit counts here. Look at the Nike 4%!
Again, always consult with a professional to understand what exercises you can do and the limitations of your injury. Your trainer or physical therapist should be able to help you identify some great exercises that work the right muscles without slowing the recovery from your injury.
With the stresses that running applies to the body, it’s no wonder that many injuries result from running itself. These types of injuries will usually reveal some issue in your running behavior. This can be overtraining, muscle weakness, improper form, the wrong shoes, or something else you never would have imagined! To maintain your running and avoid further injuries, it’s always best to treat the underlying issue.
Speak with a physical therapist to understand your injury, why it happened (or keeps happening), and how you can prevent it in the future. You could be overtraining; in which case you should find a running coach who can help you develop a more balanced training program. We have several listed here. Overtraining can have a serious and lasting impact on runners, which you can read more about in our article here.
If the issue lies in muscle weakness or imbalances in your body, our Physical Therapist can help you create a workout routine to target the areas you need to strengthen. The worst thing you can do is to ignore your body when it tells you it’s in pain, so take the opportunity to fix the issue before it gets worse.
Keep a healthy mindset
Being injured, especially for a longer period of time, can take a toll on your mental health. Worrying about whether you’re going to be able to run that race in three months’ time or feeling anxious about when your injury is going to start getting better are totally normal and legitimate reactions.
Make sure you don’t let them get to you so much that they’re affecting your mood and preventing you from maintaining a positive mindset. Practice mindfulness, express gratitude for what your body is able to do for you, and trust that you will be back running soon. Your mental health is just as important in your rehabilitation as your physical health is.
Return stronger and fitter
Getting injured doesn’t have to mean the end of your running practice. Instead, see it as an opportunity to mix up your training, improve parts of your body that you may have been neglecting, and fix any underlying issues. Follow our tips and work with your physical therapist to come back to your running stronger and fitter.
About The Author
Founder & Training Director
Layn has spent his life immersed in the worlds of fitness and physical performance. As an athlete, he’s completed multiple endurance events such as the Texas Bandera 50k Trail Run, Austria’s Ironman 70.3, and the Alaskaman Extreme Ironman. He’s been coaching since 2008 with certifications in USA Weightlifting Level 1, CrossFit Level 1, Strong First L1, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine.