How to get back into running after injury: top questions answered
In this article, we consider some tips and guidelines to assist your return to running after time out injured.
One of the hardest things to gauge as a runner coming back from injury is how to increase training load responsibly. Injuries are frustrating, and as runners we tend to want to get back to pre-injury levels as soon as possible. We often hear that we should “listen to our body”, but what does that really mean, and how do we transition back into training?
When can I start running again after an injury?
Research shows that returning to running after injury will depend on the severity and type of your injury. Your return will be dependent on achieving strength and mobility goals set by your physiotherapist rather than how much time has passed since the injury.
The best way to restore the strength and endurance in your injured body part is by following a structured rehab plan. With the right guidance, your programme will increase in intensity based on the signals you get from your body (i.e. pain).
If your injury continues to improve without additional setbacks (i.e. symptoms of the injury worsening), then you’ll be in a position to re-introduce running in accordance with your rehab plan.
What milestones do you have to reach to return to running? That will depend on the specific injury you have. If you have one of the injuries listed in the Exakt Health app you can view the milestones in your plan’s overview screen.
It is recommended that any return to running is gradual and relative to the severity and nature of the injury itself. Exakt Health offers programmes that guide runners to start running with short intervals (run-walk) until they are confident that they can progress to continuous running at an easy pace.
But progressing beyond run-walks to week-to-week running training at a higher training load is still challenging. Making this transition benefits from some tips and guidance.
Do I need to wait until there is no pain or discomfort before I can start running again?
You can usually start running again even if you do have mild symptoms. If your rehabilitation has gone to plan, without any setbacks for the prescribed period then you would be in a position to get back to running.
It is common to have some discomfort following an injury layoff, and it may be ancillary to the injury itself, which may have already recovered. For instance, if a runner has had a muscle injury and is returning to running, they may experience slight discomfort, which is a warning or reminder from the body to make sure they don’t overdo it.
It can be easy to confuse this for reaggravation of the injury itself. If it is discomfort of a low intensity/mild/dull, then chances are it is not a flare up of the injury itself. This is really something that can only be determined through experience, or by a medical practitioner. The key point here is not to be disheartened if you can still “feel” something in the region of the injury, but to seek advice on whether you can continue increasing your running.
How quickly can I ramp up running?
The short answer is that there is no one-size fits all. This depends entirely on the athlete and specific factors including, their previous training load and the severity of the injury. Research has shown that injury risk is in fact lower with higher, consistent training loads with less recovery, but only when the athlete has ramped up to that level gradually.
People often quote “the 10% rule” of increasing mileage by no more than 10% week on week. Mileage is not a great yard stick in this instance, as it does not factor in intensity. Running 40 km in a week at 4:00/km pace is not the same training load as running 40 km at 5:00/km pace. Running the same distance, but faster means a higher training load.
Some programmes account for training load as a combination of intensity and mileage in order to guide an athlete back to full fitness. Kaizen — an app for all runners who want to improve — considers this as well as the athlete’s running history in providing runners with a safe weekly training load target that increases each week. The gradual increase provides guardrails so that runners don’t overdo it when they are returning from injury.
What happens once I am back to full fitness?
You can continue using Kaizen and switch your plan over to one that is focused on continuing to improve post-injury, or towards a specific race goal. Based on research, Kaizen can predict runners’ current fitness by considering recent (and historical) running activity, and sets athletes with an incremental weekly target each week working backwards from their time goal on race day.
For runners who have previously been injured, it’s a great tool as it does not prescribe any specific workouts that may aggravate the injury. Research has shown that consistent training is the key factor in improving running performance. Kaizen is built around this principle and helps runners zoom out and consider the bigger picture to achieve their goal, rather than focusing on individual workouts. This means you can really take your time and ramp up by running easy, whilst still having the confidence that you are (re)gaining fitness.