Getting back on your feet: How to safely recover from injury

Being injured is hard. You feel like you’re wasting precious time, left to twiddle your thumbs when you want to be outside and raking up your mile count.

Yet, as much as you might wish you could just step up and go again, navigating your way out of injury safely is of vital importance to ensure you get back to your fully fit best.

Whether you’re a regular competitor returning from injury, or just want to get fit after some time on the side-lines, it’s important to make sure you’re truly ready in your approach to get back to regular movement.

As you gear up for your return to running, here are some tips to make sure you get back on your feet as safely as possible.

Listen to your body. If you’re not ready to get back to full exercise, you’ll know.

Of course, every running injury is different from the last, and in that respect, so is the speed of recovery for each individual.

The key to a successful return is to build up your movement and exercise, starting small with easy to manage, not too demanding exercises before you feel comfortable enough to step up to more demanding movements and begin reaching the levels you were at prior to your injury.

Start small — place your focus on your mobility and stretching. As you feel more comfortable in your movements, gradually progress to routine warm-ups of small physical exercises. Once you feel comfortable with that, you can begin to work on reintegrating your body to full training.

But remember – straining your body too early into your rehabilitation back to full fitness is always a risk and one that isn’t worth it if you feel aches and pains. Be careful not to do too much, too fast. There is no rushing recovery, especially as it can often result in long absences from running if you aggravate a previous injury.

Most runners know that mentality and mental attitude are crucial to be successful at the sport. But you’re not conveying a winner’s mentality by heading back to running too soon. Prepare yourself, both mentally and physically.

Gain an understanding of what works for your body in order to fully reintegrate yourself back to your full running ability. You need to be aware of your limitations and strengths to make sure you respect your body and your own rate of progression.

Ask yourself this question, and answer it truthfully, not just by what you want the answer to be.

You can’t just jump straight into long-distance runs and gruelling gym sessions after months out of action. Yet, there are still things you can do to get yourself back in the game.

It’s recommended that, as the old saying goes, you should ‘walk before you can run’. Try going for a medium to long walk (when you feel ready to) and see how your body feels. If there’s still pain as you move, it’s clear that you’re not ready to go straight back into more demanding exercises.

That said, if you can get through a good walk without troubling your injury, then you’re already on the pathway to recovery, with walking being great for working similar muscles you use when running.

Another option to consider is at-home exercises. These can provide good practice to keep your body moving and can vary in levels of intensity, from starting with stretches and easy to complete yoga, to more strenuous tasks like quick-fire HIIT workouts when you feel ready to step up your output.

…and it can’t be ignored.

Those who have been running for a long time will find it easier to get back into running than someone who has only been running for a year. That’s because the long-time runner has built up their aerobic strength, higher levels of mitochondria (that’s good for energy), more red blood cells, and more metabolic enzymes than someone who just started working out.

That’s not to say that less experienced runners can’t still get back on their feet — far from it. It might not feel as smooth getting back into the swing of things as your body hasn’t had the long duration of time to accustom to such high levels of aerobic output, but starting slow and being realistic about your recovery is key to effectively rebuild that strength and fitness over time.

Understandably, it can often be a frustrating process getting yourself back to your best, as it may feel like you’re having to work so much harder to build up your fitness, cardiorespiratory fitness, and muscle strength. But taking your time, acknowledging the sports science around how your body recovers and how you can ease back into it is crucial to an effective rehabilitation process.

When you do recover enough to start getting back into running properly, don’t go too fast. Break up your runs by running in bursts, followed by shorter periods of walking. This will help rebuild your fitness and consistency over time.

Plans like ‘Couch To 5k/10K’ encourage runners to ease back into their movements by breaking up runs and not doing too much too soon. That way, you still build your fitness, and with each run, you can lessen the number of walk breaks you need based on how your body feels.

Again, it comes back to that age-old saying: walk before you can run. In this case, do both!

Think about what goals you want to achieve. Are they too ambitious to do having just recovered from an injury? Will attempting to complete them result in further harm? Be truthful with yourself.

If it helps, draw up a workout plan that accounts for your gradual build-up of physical activities into a routine. Take it step by step and monitor how your body adapts to these new challenges you’re putting it through. If it doesn’t feel right, stop it, and find something that does. Your body will let you know what’s working, so listen to it.

Be realistic, if you aim to do too much too soon then you may cause yourself a problem. While it’s great to challenge yourself, make sure you’re listening to your body at the same time and are aware of your baseline right now. Ease back into a running plan and you’ll find yourself hitting your targets easier and safer than just diving headfirst into long-distance efforts.

Plan over a course of a few weeks, and set yourself targets to reduce the amount of walking, and increase your running over longer distances, longer times, and at different intensities – whatever you feel ready to up, you can do it, but just be cautious to not overdo it.

Getting back to running after a layoff is hard, but with a bit of planning, mental and physical resilience and some good old fashion hard work, you’ll be lacing up your running shoes and hitting the roads like normal in no time.

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