6 Essentials for an injury-free return to running


In this article I am going to give you 6 strategies to make a successful and injury free return to running following injury.

Running is a stressful activity on the body. While runners find their pursuit rewarding, the activity of running places considerable stress on us - physiologically, emotionally, and mechanically - bone, ligament, tendon and cartilage stretching, torsion, shock, & compression. It is estimated that with every footfall there is a reaction force back through the leg of around 2.5 x body weight. Multiply that by 10, 000 steps over a 10 km run and it is little wonder that around 50% of runners will experience at least 1 injury in any given year.

There are a number of things you should do to ensure a successful return to running following an injury lay-off.

Here are my essential 6.

1 .Get 'Run-fit'

The more physically prepared you are, the more success you will have returning to run. 'Get fit to run, don't run to get fit'. While there is no right or wrong way to go about this, following this six-week program will help physically condition for a return to running. Click here for a 6 Week Return to Run Conditioning Program.

2. Get a 'Return to Run' plan

A graduated 'Return to Run' plan is essential, since you need to rebuild your running schedule in a slow, structured fashion. Initially, aim for 2 runs per week. . This will allow at least 3 days between each run which should be sufficient for tissue adaption to take place, especially since the 2 runs you are doing are of low intensity. As a rule of thumb, don't progress your run volume (Total distance) by more than 10%.per week.

Click here to get a simple, graduated return to run schedule. Return to Run

When you are back to running pain-free for 30 mins, you can transition to a standard training schedule.

3. Check your running shoes

Before you set out be sure your running shoes are up to the job. Moderately to very worn running shoes contribute significantly to the injuries we see in the clinic. Ask your physiotherapist for help if you are not sure. If you need to update your running shoes, choose a footwear retailer who can advise you, since we are all different with respect to foot shape and function. Contact us for a list of suitable retailers in New Zealand.

4. Add stretches to your run routine

While there is no hard evidence to show that stretching prior to sporting activity reduces the incidence of injury, we believe a simple set of exercises to release tension, and take joints and muscles through full range is a useful addition to your running routine. Sticking to a routine that is more than just 'rushing out the door' is important since it brings you into the moment and prepares you for the activity. We advocate general spinal column oriented stretches on the basis that good symmetrical running requires normal spinal function. A foam roller is a useful tool to help you stretch. Additionally, your physiotherapist may prescribe you some injury specific exercises/drills to do before & after your run. Click here for a set of quick 'Pre-Run Stretching Exercises. Pre-run Stretching

5. Choose your route carefully

Start out running on relatively flat terrain. Both up and downhill running place stress on the body in different ways, but running on neutral terrain controls the variables. If there are hills don't be afraid to walk up and go down slowly. Running on a natural surface such as grass, dirt, or even loose gravel, reduces the shock through your body. A simple study conducted by our clinic using Runscribe sensors demonstrated a 20% reduction in shock when running on grass versus running on pavement. Furthermore, natural surfaces such as trails and sports fields offer the additional benefit of footfall variation, meaning that every step is slightly different, reducing the risk of repetitive loading injuries. Plan your route before your head out.

6. Run slowly

Start out by running ultra slowly - as slowly as you can. Running slowly will significantly reduce the mechanical loading on your entire body, and reduce the demands on your physiology too i.e. your energy systems. By lowering the demands of running in this way you are less likely to re-injure yourself. Running slower also allows you to focus on your technique. Additionally, you will require less recovery time between runs. Rebuilding your aerobic fitness base after a lay-off requires one to train at a much lower intensity than most of us intuitively run at. As your confidence and fitness improve, your pace will lift. For more information on this check out the work of renowned running & health coach, Dr. Phil Maffatone (MAF system).  

Disclaimer - The advice and resources in this article are generic. In some circumstances, some of the exercises provided may not be appropriate. If what you are doing doesn't feel right or you are unsure about the suitability of certain exercises or advice given, please contact your physiotherapist.