Injuries are not something most people think of when they begin an exercise program. I didn’t. After all, I’ve run over 1000 miles injury-free (save the mild shin splint and blister here and there). A few weeks ago, I began training aggressively for my next marathon, setting my sights on every runner’s unicorn – the prestigious Boston Marathon.
Three weeks in, I was doing great, beating my time exponentially and on track to meet the qualifications for Boston at the rate I was progressing…and then I strained my hip flexor. And I was out of commission. One thing about hips, they are attached to the core and your core controls practically everything you do. So any exercising that involved moving the core was out of the question. And everyday tasks such as driving, sitting on stools, and walking down stairs all caused shooting, spastic pains up and down my leg.
Annoyed, I vowed to try and run on it anyway (because badass and stupidity), but soon the pain was making it unbearable and so grudgingly my 6-day a week training schedule halted to a complete stop. I couldn’t even do yoga. Now, 2.5 weeks later, I’ve been cleared to resume training. If you too are battling a minor running injury like mine, here are five things that will help you speed up your recovery so that you’ll be back in no time.
[RELATED POST: Rehabilitation: How To Come Back From An Injury]
[Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and everybody’s body is different. These were things that helped me specifically for my injury and approved by my chiropractor. Ask your physician to help you determine the severity of your injury and the proper protocol]
This means, stop training. I’ll admit, I pushed it a bit, but I did stop training pretty quickly when it was clear that I would be doing more harm than good and possibly making my minor injury a lot worse. When it comes to rest,
- Don’t underestimate the power of it. Your body is a self-healing mechanism. This is not to say that modern medicine or outside help aren’t needed from time to time. But your body is very, very powerful. If you are fueling it with the proper foods, allowing it to move in the proper ways, stretching and foam rolling, it will remain happy and will work for you not against you.
- Don’t sit and do nothing. Even in rest (even if you can’t do much with your core) and depending on the type of injury and its severity, taking a brief walk or getting a massage may help. With my hip flexor strain, walking was pretty much out of the question, but I found that I could do some very light tricep and bicep work and could walk more after the inflammation went down. I also was able to foam roll my calves and low back a bit. It wasn’t much, but it helped me stay motivated (and sane).
- Don’t push yourself too soon. I’m a bit guilty of this but you should extra time to let your injury heal. Go out too early and you’re risking re-injury or overcompensating and injuring something else.
2. Learn How To Cope
Dealing with injury as a runner, especially if you are training for a race or are aiming for a goal, can be more mentally challenging than physically challenging. I was fearful that I would lose all of my speed gains, my muscles would atrophy and never reach my goals. I started to question my identity as a runner and would see people post about their runs on social media and be consumed with jealousy (Yes, I was only out for two weeks. It was two loooonnnnggg weeks).
When you’re suffering from a running injury, part of the battle will be mental. First, you’ll need to accept that you are injured, then you’ll need to use all that mental training you’ve used during those last few miles after the wall and focus it in on relaxing your body and not lacing up those shoes. Running is a mental game, learning how to cope with not running is as well.
3. Follow the Protocol
The most common protocol when it comes to a sprain or strain is RICE – an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevate. I couldn’t do the elevate or the compression, but I iced my hip (20 minutes on/20 minutes off) and rested for the first 2-4 days. The ice helped soothe the inflammation; I also used lemongrass essential oil, good for muscle aches and anti-inflammatory purposes, on sore areas.
Treat your protocol like it’s a training plan and follow it to the letter. Instead of scheduling runs in my calendar each week, I wrote what I would do to recover instead – i.e. ice 20/20; foam roll, stretch, etc.
4. Come Back Slowly
Many people don’t give their bodies enough time to heal before going out and pushing themselves again. As always, it’s important to learn to listen to your body. It will help you to determine if you might be ready to start running again. If you’re still in pain, the answer to that is probably no. If your body is hurting, that is a signal telling you that something is not right.
When you are cleared to run again, take it slowly. Your body isn’t ready to just jump right into your 50 mile a week training plan where you left off. Be conservative and run less than your normal mileage. You may need to adjust your goals and expectations, as you build up to your previous running level.
5. Find the Cause and Change It
See if you can pinpoint the cause of your injury. Do you need new running shoes? New insoles? Do your new insoles have arches that are too high? Not high enough? Did your injury happen because of a sprint or change in running surface? Try to figure out what caused the injury. In my case, it was a combination of needing new insoles, overtraining, adding new insoles, hill workouts and sprints in one week (can we say, overdid it?).
Once you’re able to determine the cause, well, then fix it. Get new shoes/insoles/etc., stop running on pavement, don’t skip foam rolling, etc. Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again, and expecting different results. If you don’t make changes to what you were doing wrong, then you’re bound to re-injure what you injured in the first place.
Being injured is frustrating, but with some self-care, hopefully, you’ll be back to the sport you love in no time. Want to know the most common injury locations and how to treat them? Check out our articles on the Shoulders, Hips, and Knees for more.