The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Protecting Mobility and Health: 5 Tips to Consider Upon a Return to Running after Injury

Posted by on Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

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The most punishing thing I’ve ever done to my body was run a season of cross-country in high school. I was mostly a sprinter, but I dabbled in distance with 5Ks and competitive races here and there. Both styles of running threatened me with overuse injuries, considering I was running six days a week. With short distance sprints, I grimaced through shin splints, micro-tears in my arches, and occasional ankle pain. Cross-country brought patellar tendinitis in the knee and more shin splints. Fortunately, I made it through my running career without any of the major running injuries. Even so, it can be daunting to return to running after you’ve suffered some kind of physical setback.

ny sports medicine
Have you suffered one of the common running injuries? Find out how to get back to the sport you love as safely as possible.
Image Source: SmoothFitness.com

1. Take it slow.

Follow these guidelines for resuming activity:

  • Two-week break: Start at 50% of your usual mileage.
  • Four-week break: Start at 30% of your usual mileage.

For a walking / jogging workout:

– Begin with a 10-minute walk to warm up your muscles.

– Next, jog the straight part of a track (about 100 meters). Walk around the curves.

– Cover about four laps if you can and wrap up your workout with a 10-minute walk.

– Add one lap every other day if you feel up to it.

– Gradually increase to 8 laps (which equates to about two miles).

Avoid hills and speed work exercise until you can run 75-80% of your usual mileage. Trust me, it will feel silly to do at first. You may dread the stop and go routine, but the conditioning will pay off. If you experience pain during your workout, go back to walking. Pain is NOT normal! It is best to follow the “10% Rule” — never increase distance by more than 10% from week to week.

man on elliptical machine at gym
Cross-training is a great way to stay fit and prevent injury.
Image Source: Flickr user Dr. Abdullah Naser

2. Expand your horizons with cross-training.

Many running injuries occur because we’re too caught up with one type of fitness training and we overwork that one group of muscles and tendons. Sports medicine doctors recommend that you add activities to your regimen, like biking, elliptical workouts, swimming, yoga, core exercises, and weight training. This will help you strengthen your body, maintain cardiovascular fitness, and avoid overuse injuries caused by too much running. You’ll find these exercises are especially beneficial in the early weeks when your running mileage is lower.

3. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Before embarking upon your first post-injury run, do this simple test to see if you’re truly ready.  “You should be able to hop in all planes and balance on each leg barefoot, in shoes, and on uneven surfaces,” Coach Bruce Wilk, P.T. told Runner’s World. If you can’t hop, then you can’t run. If you are able to hop, keep your runs down to less than six miles the first few times and see how it goes.

Other tests include:

– Walk briskly for 30 minutes pain-free.

– Balance on one leg for 30 seconds.

– Do 15-20 controlled single knee dips.

– Do 20-30 single leg calf raises.

– Try the 100-up and 100-up major exercises.

Learn how to do the 100-up exercise:

 4. Eat for your recovery.

Malnutrition is a major cause of delayed healing for runners, say physical therapists. In addition to drinking a lot of water, you’ll want to eat foods rich in:

Vitamin C: Citrus, Berries, Kiwi, Peppers, Broccoli

Vitamin A: Sweet Potatoes, Squash, Carrots, Spinach

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Salmon, Tuna, Flax Seeds, Walnuts

Zinc: Oysters, Nuts, Seeds, Chicken

Protein: Grass-fed Beef, Chicken, Eggs

 5. Address underlying issues before you return.

It’s important to understand what, specifically, caused your injury in the first place. Perhaps overtraining was partially to blame, but there were probably biomechanical issues affecting your runs that caused certain parts to wear out prematurely. A NY sports medicine doctor can help you uncover crucial areas for improvement. They may assess your footwear, look at the structure of your feet, or perform a full biomechanical analysis to assess how you run in general.

For instance, I discovered that I was an overpronator and that the shoes I was wearing were not only worn-out, but also the wrong type for my particular foot and sport. I had been relying on cross-trainers and sparse runners that lacked adequate cushioning. Custom-made orthotic inserts really helped correct my imbalances. The pains I had been having in my ankles and feet went away within a week of wearing my new insoles. They also recommended that I change my training location to avoid hills, which cut back on the shin splints. The doctors showed me how to wrap my legs in a compression bandage and apply ice to treat the acute symptoms as well. Contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in NYC for help resuming running.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.