Today on the Doc On The Run podcast, we’re talking about how long tissue takes to heal so you can run.
I get questions all the time on social media from people who want to know if they can run, and at the base of their question is really, how long does it take for some particular injury to heal? I thought we’d talk about this a little bit in this episode where you can understand why different tissues take different times to heal and how your behavior and the way that you look at it can actually alter that timeline as well.
The fact is if you go to your doctor and you have an injury and you asked the doctor, “How long does it take for this to heal?”, you really expect one answer, not some crazy timeline like somewhere between four weeks and a year. You want a timeline, like a number of days or number of weeks, something reasonable that you can give an expectation on what you can do, and then make decisions about how long it’s going to be before you get back to a given activity, or you can do some specific race.
A lot of the timelines you see published, that you read about in articles, in running magazines, and everything else is things like it takes six weeks for bone to heal, or it takes four weeks for ligaments to heal, or it takes two weeks for skin incisions to heal. Let’s take that last one, the simplest example of all, something everybody can understand about a skin incision. A skin incision where you have a cut or something like that. Or in our case, the cleanest of all possible incisions, the best of all possible skin injuries that could heal, a surgical incision.
We make an incision with a scalpel. It’s all sterile. We do it very specifically in a way that will actually facilitate healing as quickly as possible. And then, we reoppose the skin. We actually put it back together, put it right back where it should be to heal as quickly as possible. And then, we secure it in place, in that position, with sutures or stitches to speed up the healing process. Well, in that case, you would think that skin would heal because it’s done as good as we can do it. It’s going to heal as fast as possible, because we’re holding it in place with those stitches.
There’s actually a wide variety of timelines on how long it takes for all of those things to heal dependent upon where it is. For example, in an adult patient, we know that the face stitches are usually there, in the skin in the face, for about five to seven days, so a little less than a week in most cases. On the neck, well your head moves around more, so since you have more movement in your neck, neck stitches are generally left in by head and neck surgeons for about seven days. If you have stitches in your scalp, in your hairline, if you have an incision on your scalp, that’s about 10 days. If you have an incision on your torso, on your body, or on, let’s say, on a part of your arm that doesn’t move a lot, like your forearm, well those stitches are usually left in for 10 to 14 days.
Now on the feet, you have more pressure and you have more tension on the skin. Your feet actually move around a lot. And so, it takes longer for that to heal. On the feet, it’s generally 14 to 21 days, depending upon if the incisions on the top of the foot or on the bottom of the foot where the skin is thicker and actually has more tension because you’re stepping on it.
Now, the other thing to think about is how old you are. If you’re older, it takes longer to heal. That’s the end of the story. Kids heal much faster. In fact, kids, a lot of times stitches are left in only three to five days. And so, you have this problem with timelines, where we give you these blank timelines of 14 days, or two weeks, or six weeks, or something else, and that in itself is a problem.
Your age plays into it. The one thing that most doctors never explain to you and that you really should be thinking about is that you have more control than you think over the healing of any injured tissue. It could be an Achilles tendon injury. It could be a metatarsal stress fracture. It could be plantar fasciitis. It could be perinatal tendonitis, or sesamoiditis, or anything else for that matter, but you have a huge amount of control over the healing of that tissue.
The plantar fascia is the largest ligament in your foot. If a doctor tells you it takes four weeks for an injury to a ligament to heal, well that depends on what it is. If you have a ligament injury in your finger, and you wear a splint on your finger, and you don’t move it, and you don’t use it, it will heal very quickly. If you have a ligament injury in your foot and you step on it, you run on it, you do box jumps, you’re jumping rope, well it’s going to take a lot longer to heal.
This is a really good analogy to how long it takes to prepare for a race. The race preparation, and how fit you get, and how fast you develop that fitness depends upon the amount of time you put into the workouts and the amount of time and effort you put into the recovery process after that workout. Why do I say that? Well, you really have to think about this. If you work out super hard, you do really long runs, but you don’t fuel immediately after, you’re not going to heal as quickly. If you’re not doing things to control the buildup of inflammation in your system, when you’re training for a marathon, you’re not going to heal as quickly. You do not get stronger when you run. You get stronger when you rest after you run. That is a part of the process.
When you have a running injury and you want to get better as quickly as possible, most runners that I talk to through consultations, telemedicine visits, second opinion consultations, they are missing the boat most of the time. They call me and they say, “I have a stress fracture. I want to know, can I run or not?” Well, that depends. What are your goals? How much does it hurt? Where are you in that healing process right now? That’s part of what I teach in the three-day Fast Track Challenge. It’s a free three-day series of trainings that I go through with you to help you figure out very quickly where you are really right now, so that you can make assessments as you ramp up your activity and maintain your running fitness. If you don’t do that, it is going to take you longer to get back to running at your usual pace, speed, and distance.
Most runners try to slow things down, just stop running, just wait and see what happens, and they have no plan. Hoping it’s going to get better is not a plan and it is not a course of action. If you want to find a way to really figure out where you are right now with your injury, to really figure out what you might be able to do right now that’s not going to stress the injured tissue, then sign up for the three-day Fast Track Challenge. You can get it for free. It’s in the links below. You can also just go to docontherun.com/fasttrack and sign up there. Come check it out and I’ll see you in the training.
If you think you have a nagging injury, and you are trying to figure out whether or not you can run, you need to check out How to Fast-Track Your Running Injury in Record Time!
Give me 3 days, and I’ll help you figure out where you are are now, and how you can get back to running in record time. Get started for free right now!
Go grab your seat now. I’ll see you in the training.