I’ve been running for 30 years, and one thing that experience has given me is an appreciation for the complexity of any decision to either continue training through an injury or to just shut down for a while. Professional medical judgment is essential when you have a real problem, but what about that suspected ‘run-of-the-mill’ ache or pain that is pretty typical of the repetitive motion of running and walking we all love? Ignoring important signals and charging through a training plan while injured can really set you back.
For me, the six big questions to answer are…
What exactly is going on? To make a good choice, you have to be pretty sure what you have. You are surrounded by resources – use them. Search the internet … talk to experienced runners/walkers you know … stop by your favorite running/walking store with the best staff ever … go see a medical professional specializing in sports injuries.
Why did it happen? If you know, do what you can to remove or minimize the threat of re-injury. If you don’t know, try hard to figure it out.
Which of the essential home ‘therapies’ are appropriate? My arsenal: ice, heat/ice combination, stretching/flexibility exercises, strength training, rolling devices like foam tubes and balls, massage, and others. Be careful of anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen because they can mask important pain signals as you exercise, and they increase your risk of dehydration.
What is my body telling me as I test the injury after getting it under control? I think of my training load as a dial. As I increase load through running/walking frequency, distance, terrain, and/or speed, how does my injury react? If I dial up the training load and my injury flares a bit, I dial it back until the flaring subsides. If I keep the dial steady and I continue to improve, then I will test small load increases to see if my injury tolerates them.
Is my continued pursuit of a training or event goal counterproductive? Goals are great motivators! But the minute you risk your long term health over ‘running 5 days a week’, ‘doing that certain 5K at a 9 minute pace’, or ‘finishing your 1st half-marathon this spring’, consider backing off that goal. I get it – no pain no gain, no risk no reward, whatever. My point is that careful recalibration of your goal can help you achieve it soon. Failure to appreciate the true risk of debilitating long term injury can put that goal waaay out of reach.
Am I truly healed? Residual inflammation, tissue vulnerability, and scarring can still be present even though you think you are 100%. Be hyper-careful as you return to full training, and consider keeping those home therapies and your trusted sports medicine professional close at hand as you
Running and walking is the essential exercise for health and happiness. Be smart about it.