Fitness and Performance

How to return to running post injury

Nov 4 2022

So long summer trails, hello winter training. As we enter the colder months, it’s the perfect time to work on strengthening our bodies in preparation for our next race season. However, if you’ve suffered an injury and are on the road to recovery, our RunFit Specialist, Jack Winyard, shares his top tips on how to return to running safely and successfully…

The prevalence of running related injuries is as high as 50% amongst runners in the UK, and research shows that those who are injured have up to a 62% chance of re-injury without a bespoke rehabilitation programme.

Commonly, it’s injuries to the knee, Achilles tendon and calf muscles that can be problematic among runners. “We see a lot ‘weekend warriors’ who come into the clinic in pain. Often they have no training periodisation or strength and conditioning programme. They just love getting the miles in! Sadly, clocking up the miles without a supporting strength and conditioning plan, will almost always end in injury. Get one of those in place, and common running injuries can easily be avoided” says Jack.

3 rules to effectively return to running post injury

To effectively return to running post injury, it’s important to take three key steps:

  1. Seek an appropriate and effective treatment plan
  2. Implement expert advice and guidance on the principles of returning to running
  3. Ensure ongoing maintenance and support to achieve your goals and prevent future injury

Bespoke rehabilitation

Given the nature of running related injuries, it’s important to consider the time required for a tissue to repair and recover. At times, a prognosis and expected return-to-run date can be mentally challenging. However, throughout your recovery, it’s worth keeping in mind that in fact, this injury could be an opportunity to reset your body. With an informed rehab programme, many runners return fitter, stronger, and faster than before.

“Bodyset listened, carefully assessed, and provided me with hands-on treatment, as well as a tailored rehab programme. Not only am I now pain free, but I am back running again. I feel stronger and more confident in doing so than before. I can’t thank them enough!” Doctify review, Bodyset patient.

A bespoke exercise programme is far more effective than a standardised plan. Understanding your previous running history, future goals and aspirations will guide the mid to end stages of your rehabilitation. For example, a client looking to return to a 200m track will have a very different programme to a client preparing for a return to 10km running. A sprint athlete will require more focus on strength, power, and plyometrics. In contrast, a middle to long distance athlete will have a programme consisting of more endurance-based exercises.

Regardless of your injury, your road to recovery should include a guided and individualised strength and conditioning programme. A rehab plan will present in 3 stages; early, mid, and late. During these stages, you will steadily expose the injured tissue or structure to increasing load. From there your physiotherapist will be able to analyse your body’s response to impact, preparing you for the day when you can run without pain again!

Principles for your return to running

Your physiotherapist will work closely with you to ensure your mind and body is ready to return to running. Here’s how..

Test your return

Prior to the return to run phase, you should be able to complete a series of tests performed by your physiotherapist. Success is quantified as the ability to complete all tasks with ease and without pain.

These tests will put your injury through its paces! Can you tolerate load and impact, change of direction, accelerate and decelerate effectively?

Grade your return

With your physiotherapist, select an appropriate baseline. This is often dictated by injury, previous running history and rehab to date.

Increasing speed often increases risk of re-injury, so focus on increasing distance or time, before speed.

At times, a walk-run programme is more suitable, as this exposes the body to an intermittent change in load, giving the structure time to adapt. This can often be frustrating when you’re fighting the desire to just run! However, remember that slow and steady wins the race!

The 10% rule

Increasing distance, time, or speed by 10% weekly is the increment you should be looking to follow. However, more importantly, listen to your body and your physiotherapist. Everybody and every injury is different.

Maintenance and re-injury prevention

“You must be fit for your sport, rather than use your sport to be fit” says Jack,

Once you feel recovered from your injury, it’s important to keep a strong strength & conditioning programme in place to avoid another injury.

Strength and conditioning

Often it is suggested that those running up to 3 times per week, should consider completing a strength programme twice weekly.

The focus should primarily be on lower limb conditioning, specifically soleus strength and endurance, and the posterior chain. These are the key muscle groups that are working when we run!

Cross training

Cross training is a great way of getting the miles in. Those looking to complete high mileage on return from injury, often benefit most from mixing up their training modalities.

Cycling and swimming are two excellent ways of improving your cardiovascular fitness, whilst keeping impact and load under control, when phasing back to a running programme.

Ongoing support

As you begin to return to running post-injury, it’s vital that you have continued contact with your physiotherapist.  As you begin to increase training volume and intensity, now is the time when your body is under most stress.

Engaging with your physiotherapist at this stage is arguably the most important time. Having contact, reassurance and continued advice is important in preventing any re-occurrence of injury. Whether it’s to progress exercises, provide some maintenance massage or celebrate success, your physio would love to hear from you.

Looking for running support?

At Bodyset, physiotherapy is far more than just injury management. It’s about engaging with our patients from the start of their physiotherapy journey through to return to sport and beyond. So, if you’re looking to recover from injury, improve your running performance, or support your running with a strong maintenance programme then please get in touch. Our RunFit experts are here to help!