Returning From Injuries
Six weeks into your 13-week training plan for the St. Luke’s Via Marathon, you step on a big rock you hadn’t noticed, and you sprain your ankle. You take a week off from running, icing it, elevating it, massaging it and you’re ready to get back out on the road. According to your training plan, it’s a 10-mile day.
Don’t do it.
“Coming back from an injury, you have to start slower and shorter,” says Joel Allen, PT, MSPT and certified Healthy Running Coach with Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s in Quakertown. “I prefer people to start back on a flat surface like a high school all-weather track, and then progress to more uneven terrain like grass and trails. You want to be successful when you’re getting back into it. You don’t want to suffer another setback.”
With injuries like ankle sprains, he says it’s important to work on stability and balance before returning to run. Stability and balance play a key role in whatever type of surface you run on, and offer different stresses based on flat or uneven like grassy areas or cindered trails.
“Even if you’re running on the road, there is always a crown on the road for drainage, and that creates increased stresses on the body,” Allen points out.
“One of the most common causes of injury is making training errors,” he says. “Whether it’s too much, too fast, too soon, or poor mechanics, those things have a huge impact on your body’s health. You don’t want to make those errors when you’re returning from an injury.”
An overlooked-but-easy exercise a runner should do involves strengthening their feet. Curling the toes against the ground or using your toes to pull a towel under your foot can activate muscles that strengthen the arch of the foot, which can lessen injury potential.
Strengthening the posterior chain of muscles – the hamstrings, glutes and low back – help balance out the whole body to keep it stable during running, which mainly involves the anterior, or front muscles like quads and hip flexors.
Strengthening the abdominal core is also an excellent way to improve running posture and keep the body stable.
All these exercises can be worked on while recovering from injury and pay dividends when a runner gets back on the road or trail.
Allen, a triathlete and former soccer player, is a big advocate of cross-training. Substituting a swim or a bike for a run reduces the potential for overuse injuries and helps the use muscles not normally associated with running. It can also maintain or even improve fitness.
Allen, one of just two certified Healthy Running Coaches in Pennsylvania, says that going through a running gait analysis will go a long way in helping runners find the most efficient form for them, and efficiency is what it’s all about when returning from injury.