How to Return to Running After an Injury

Returning to running after an injury or surgery is often frustrating to the runner, and also to their doctor! Most veteran runners start back too soon, too much and too fast. The opposite can also be true; newbie runners are often afraid to re-injure themselves so often are extremely cautious making themselves borderline paranoid in their return to sport. Which is better? Neither! Somewhere in between is the most prudent, and less frustrating way to return to activity; especially after surgery!

God’s basic rule of bone healing is that the average person takes at least 8 weeks to heal a fracture or a surgically cut bone. It is important to understand that it’s his rule, not mine – made up to torture my patients! It is also important to understand that age and extent of injury can make these 8 weeks longer! Yes, I said that bad word – age! Listen to your doctor and don’t try to run too soon, or you may cause yourself a setback laden with swelling and more pain!

So, you’ve been cleared to return to running! Yea!!! But what does that really mean? Well, it depends. Great answer, I know ☺. The rate at which you can return to running is limited by your soft tissues ability to adapt to increasing stress. Gradual increase in running stress is paramount to this adaptation.

Here is a good basic plan to return to running after an injury or surgery:

Walk 5-7 minutes to warm up, run 5 minutes, walk one minute, run 5 minutes, and then walk 5-7 minutes to cool down. If you have no pain during this walking and running (Important tip! IF NO PAIN); then progress by one more interval each day. Day two would be walking 5-7 minutes, run 5 minutes, walk one minute, run 5 minutes, walk one minute, run 5 minutes, and finish with walk 5-7 minutes. You get the idea.

The next question is always, “When can I get rid of the walk breaks?” If you are under the age of 50 and a veteran runner, the walk breaks can be eliminated after you can walk:run with no pain for 45 minutes or so. In my opinion (and understand this is just my opinion), most newbie runners and those over the age of 50 should continue walk:run either forever (Yes, I love the Galloway method) or until they can comfortably walk:run for an hour. 

Another good tip is also to start with a pace that is comfortable, even easy; then after you can walk:run for 45 min to an hour with no pain – then you can start increasing your pace. Long, slow distance is good for your adapting muscles, tendons and bones.

I know this seems very slow to many of my readers but return from injury can be fraught with setbacks. This is a plan to continuously move forward in your fitness and avoid more time off! You will progress quickly through this algorithm if your body is healthy and sound – ready for the running challenge! 

Listen to your body and progress at your own pace! You will thank me for it!