If you run for long enough, there is almost a universal guarantee that at some point you’ll get a running injury. Runners are particularly prone to injury given the repetitive stress that running places on the body. Sometimes we miss a few days while other times it could be months. Regardless of the type, severity or duration of an injury, being forced to take a break from running can be a difficult thing to deal with.
What you should expect when you have a running injury
We often begin by denying that we are injured or downplaying the severity of the injury. We become overly (and falsely) optimistic that the pain/problem will simply go away. We’ll likely compensate by stretching, strength training and treating the injury with an intensified vigor hoping that will help. We might (finally) go visit a sports physician, physical therapist or chiropractor expecting that this can quickly get us back on track. Unfortunately, it’s often already too late. We are injured.
At this point, we are forced to accept that we’re injured and commit to taking some time off. In almost all cases, we underestimate the time it will take to fully heal and we then become certain it will only take X days or Y weeks before we’re back again. This is when it really gets tough. Being denied a regular part of our daily routine, we may then become anxious, irritated, depressed and generally uneasy about the prospect of not running. The mental/psychological anguish we experience is often (seemingly) worse than the physical pain and discomfort we feel.
Our productivity, energy levels, sleep patterns and eating habits may also be altered and affected by being injured, often in adverse ways. Whether we recognize it or not, we runners can be quite miserable when we’re injured. Try to be aware how your actions and attitudes may affect those around you and make a conscious effort to be positive, or at least limit the negative effect on others.
What you should do when you have a running injury
Remember that getting healthy and fully recovering from the injury should be a runner’s first and foremost priority. Coming back too soon only to get re-injured will make things worse and delay the return to running even further. Also know that taking a break from running, whether unplanned due to injury or not, can be an opportunity to work on weaknesses, spend time on other pursuits and re-discover the passion for running and training.
In many cases, cross-training activities such as swimming, cycling/spinning or strength training can substitute for running and help maintain your fitness (and sanity). Be sure that you’re not delaying your recovery by engaging in an activity that puts stress and strain on the injured area. Make sure you get clearance from your doctor or specialist to safely engage in others activities. In some cases, complete rest may be required and that needs to be respected and adhered to.
Some people may also want to distance themselves from running and the running community as being exposed to that environment could create added stress and anxiety. Others will want to do the opposite and remain actively engaged and involved–If you can’t race, consider volunteering instead. In all cases, do what’s best for you and what feels right, both mentally and physically.
Success as a runner should mean being able to engage and enjoy running in the long term. Short-term setbacks such as injuries should not be considered absolute and having a healthy, flexible and long-term perspective is critical. Injuries happen, they definitely suck, but they can also be opportunities to learn, grow and improve as a runner.