It happens to all of us. One unforeseen twist or stumble and we’ve noticeably hurt something in a leg or in the lower back or hip. Do you stop immediately and sit still in the living room for the next 6 weeks?
It may be best to be on the safe side and immediately rest the injured area. Most trainers will recommend the R.I.C.E. method as a preliminary treatment for sprains and strains. R stands for rest, I for ice, C for compression and E for elevation. Sitting still for 6 weeks is not part of that treatment, though.
You’ve been training for many weeks now for that marathon and ceasing to exercise will decondition your body. You don’t want to simply stop all training altogether. This is a good time to bring in cross training. Instead of running, If you’ve injured your legs or lower body, refocus your strength traiining to your upper body such as an exercise that is done while seated. If it is an upper body injury, try exercises that work the lower body, such as riding an exercise bike or walking on a treadmill. Yoga is another exercise that is low impact and can be modified to avoid the injured body area.
If your injury led you to a doctor’s visit, you need to follow that doctor’s advice, by all means. Even walking may not be advised, depending on what you have injured. You stand the risk of making the injury much worse than it ever was by rushing into running again.
When you can return to some use of the part
If you are under a doctor’s care, that doctor will be the one to advise you whether it is appropriate to put weight through the injured area or if you should avoid certain activities such as repetitive lifitng, twisting or over stretching. A plan as to when to return to these activities should be agreed upon by you and your health care provider.
In the case of a minor strain or sprain to a muscle , reducing the stress to the tissue by reducing intensity, frequency or duration of the activity will allow you to keep moving while reducing the risk of overuse. You need to find out your level of healing and mapping out a plan addressing the above to safely return to your sport/running is an important conversation to have with your healthcare provider.Consider the following checkpoints before running again:
1. Do you have full range of movement in the affected joints near the injury?
2. Is there any swelling? If so, you are not ready as tissue healing is suboptimal in the setting of swelling.
3. Ideally, are you pain free? Only in cases where running does not cause pain in the injured area should you run.
4. There should be no involuntary movement, catching, giveway or locking of a joint.
5. If you are in the care of a physician for this injury, be sure to follow his or her direction
6. You should be able to do the following with no pain:
- Walk at a fast pace
- Balance on one leg
- Do controlled single knee dips
- Do single leg calf raises
Determine a safe level of return to running
Using a treadmill to help you determine distance and time, try running for as long as you are pain free and stop immediately when pain occurs, recording distance and time.
Note if you are sore 48 hours after this attempt.
If all is well after this test, take the time and shave off 10% of it to use as your starting point for returning to run.
To begin, run one or two times per week at about half of that starting point and one time at the full starting length/time. Always put a rest day in between the run days. Do this for two weeks and assess your tolerance. If you are doing well at this point, you could try increasing your starting point back up 10% of the distance or time you spent running.
Work within these guidelines to continue to make small increases at a time in speed, difficulty and distance as you avoid setbacks.
As always, listen to your physician’s instructions first and foremost. They are aware of the proper path of care for your injury.
The above is not to be taken as medical advice for your condition but are merely suggestions which may work in the case of a minor injury and if your symptoms are not improving may serve as an indicator to seek medicial care.