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Coping with running injuries

Posted Oct 17 2011 8:40pm

There are many pitfalls one can fall into when one is recovering from an injury, which act to increase the tilme it takes to recover. The adage ‘runners always seem to learn the hard way’ is often used to describe how runners get injuries in the first place, but it can be equally well applied to how we cope with injuries too.

What affects people most with an injury is ultimately the change in routine. This particularly affects younger runners and those for whom running occupies a substantial part of their life. There can be a real ‘itch’ to just get back out there, which can lead to you trying to come back too early even when deep inside you know it’s just a bit too soon. This ‘itch’ can take place on quite a few levels – from the physical feeling you get in your muscles from a few days without exercise, right down to missing that feeling of fulfillment that comes from having a good run.

That’s why it’s important to get an alternative routine in place as quickly as possible. Mental attitude helps here: sure, there might be nothing as satisfying as pulling on your runners and getting outside for a run, but try to be upbeat about the alternatives. Depending on your injury, the elliptic trainer at the gym might be a way for you to keep training in a way that at least remotely resembles running. Swimming is always a safe bet for those with injuries; it’s an all over workout and the immersion in water won’t do the body any harm. (Those with knee injuries might be advised to choose frontcrawl over breaststroke though; the kicking action of breaststroke can aggravate the injury). Or you can always try cycling if you have a bike, again depending on the type of injury you have. Of course, having to go to all the way to the pool or the gym (and pay into the bargain) might put you off, and you might complain that cycling doesn’t push you as much as you wan’t to be pushed. Perhaps in that case, you can design a circuit workout that can be done in your own home, putting together push-ups, sit-ups and all kinds of cardiovascular exercises. With circuits you can push yourself as hard or as slow as you like.

There can be an even greater test of self-discipline when instead of rigorous exercise, you have to go through the monotony of the strengthening exercises recommended by your physiotherapist. Again, set a definite time in the day to do these: in the morning before breakfast is ideal as the likelihood of external events distracting you from doing them is less. Try and see is there any way of incorporating them into your alternative exercise routine, perhaps you can do them as part of the warm-down process. Get a firm estimation from your physiotherapist for how long you will have to do these exercises – it is much easier to fix your mind on a finite time limit.

The main thing however is to stay happy. Try to see the silver lining in the cloud – it may be harder to keep up an exercise program during injury, but the extra mental discipline and fortitude you need during this time is a kind of training in itself, and believe me, it will stand you in good stead when you do get back running.

When starting back, remember that no distance is too small. There’s nothing worse than coming back after a long absence only for the injury to go again; I learned the hard way that even two miles can sometimes be too much. Try to find a course that is mostly grass for your first few runs. You can even start with a combination of light running and walking, using the walking part to gauge the impact on the affected area.

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