Today on the Doc On Run Podcast we’re talking about 4 trends injured runners should track.
Every runner in training tracks progress to monitor for improvement.
Heart rate, wattage, mileage, pace, and perceived exertion are all commonly tracked by athletes in training.
So many athletes preparing for an event, so diligently track and record metrics which reassure us and provide visual confirmation that we are on track toward our goals.
Yet, many of these same athletes simply stop recording any data at all when they get injured and abandon their training plans.
You have to think of healing just like training. You need to see progress. You need to track improvement.
There are a few metrics which you should record on a daily basis when you’re injured and trying to get back to running as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, many injured runners simply develop the perception that they’re not doing anything. You suddenly shift from being active to feeling passive. You feel like you’re just sitting still, rotting away on the couch while you’re wearing a fracture walking boot. It seems so passive, like you’re just waiting for something to transpire. It certainly doesn’t feel like active recovery, and most definitely doesn’t feel like training.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t take a more active approach by monitoring trends that directly affect your rate of recovery and modifying relevant activities based those trends. Let’s talk about the four most important metrics to monitor when you are injured and trying to get back to running.
When you are an injured runner, time is of the essence.
Every day you sit around without any exercise or activity you are getting weaker.
You are losing muscle mass and your aerobic fitness is decreasing.
Make no mistake, you are always either healing, or getting worse. No runner should have to wait for two weeks, four weeks, six weeks or 12 weeks to make an adjustment and increase your activity level. But you have to have some indication of when the tissue is healing so you can add a little bit more activity to your daily routine.
Pain is one of the very first indicators of tissue damage. It goes without saying that if the tissue damage is being repaired, the amount of pain you experience should go down accordingly.
One of the most important initial steps for any injured runner is to print out a copy of the Runner’s Pain Journal and start recording and tracking your pain level. You can create your own pain journal or you can simply download the PDF version we have for you available for free. It’s at the bottom of the show notes page for this episode at DocOnTheRun.com under the podcast section.
The fastest way to tell whether or not your injury is improving, is to see a decrease in the level of pain you experience on a daily basis.
Based on 20 years of medical training and direct experience working with injured athletes, I can tell you that many runners, even elite athletes, are absolutely horrible historians and seem to suffer some sort of self defensive amnesia when it comes to remembering pain levels associated with an over-training injury.
You have to write it down. You need to track it. Make note of how much pain you experience when you first wake up in the morning. How much pain do you have when you first up out of bed and start walking across the floor. How much pain do you have at the end of the day when your foot is a little bit more swollen from all of the activity throughout the day.
How much pain do you have when you push on the injured area?
You need to track and record all of these amounts of pain at different times throughout the day. Only when that pain level starts decreasing you can clearly see on your pain journal the pain is decreasing, do you get an indication that it’s time to advance your activity to the next level.
Sleep is the most abundant, and most underutilized resource available to any healing runner.
It absolutely amazes me that most injured runners I talk to don’t even know how many hours a night they slept during the past few nights.
What about you? You know how many hours did you slept the night before last?
When I ask that question, do you try to think about what day it is and then try to think about what your schedule normally is? Or do you actually know that you wrote it down, can check and could tell me with 100% certainty how many hours you slept the day before last.
I think most runners have no idea about how much they are actually sleeping.
The quality of your sleep is crucial to a speedy recovery. Your tissues heal fastest while you are sleeping.
If you are waking up multiple times during the night, that could be an indication that you are actually rolling over onto your injured foot, stretching, stressing and straining the injured tissue, inciting pain that actually wakes you from your sleep.
If that is happening, you need to protect or immobilize the foot so you are not stressing the injured tissue while you were trying to sleep and let it heal.
Make note of how many hours you sleep each day. Make note of how many times you woke up during the night. Make note of whether or not you feel fully rested in the morning when you awaken.
If you really want to recover as quickly as possible you should pay very close attention to your sleep patterns. Track your sleep and look for ways to make improvements.
No building happens without building materials. You cannot heal broken tissue, on air alone. No healing happens without healthy nutritional input.
It takes protein, antioxidants, micronutrients and minerals to facilitate the reassembly of any stress fracture, muscle strain or injured tendon or torn ligament.
Much like sleep, many injured athletes don’t pay sufficient attention to their nutrition.
Many times I hear an injured athlete express a concern that if they eat in the same way they do when they’re training, they will gain unnecessary bodyweight. Basically, the injured runner is afraid of getting fat because they are sitting still.
It’s fairly common knowledge that when you are in heavy training, if you eat 4 to 6 times a day, your body is getting fed more frequently and can rebuild tissue more consistently then if you’re only eating two or three meals a day.
When you have a running injury, you have tissue damage that needs to be rebuilt. It takes frequent feedings to make that happen.
Track your nutrition. Record what you eat. Look at the trends. And figure out how you can make sure your body is getting all of its nutritional requirements at regular intervals throughout the day.
Every single day, your healing tissues are get stronger. If that is true, every single day, as your healing tissues get stronger they are actually capable of absorbing a little bit more activity than they were capable of withstanding the day before.
If you’re getting better, your activity level should be going up. And slow and steady wins the race.
Even if you’re injured, you should not have days or weeks in a row where you have zero activity.
If you have a running injury, more than likely, you only have one specific tissue that has been injured. Maybe it is your Achilles tendon. Maybe you have a fourth metatarsal stress fracture. But that’s only one bone or one tendon. Everything else needs to be kept strong, and getting stronger.
When you start running again if you’re injured structure is not 100%, then all of the neighboring and supporting structures in your body have to protect and support that one injured part.
You need to focus on strengthening every single tissue in your body that is not injured.
Talk to your coach, talk to your doctor, talk to your physical therapist. Develop a schedule and a specific plan for increasing your activity level so you can strengthen all of the other muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments that will serve to support and protect your healing injury as you return to running.
Eat like an athlete in training. Sleep with the intention of healing. Watch your pain level go down and make your sure your activity level is going up accordingly.
If you do only those four things when you’re injured, you will definitely be ahead of the curve and will return to running much faster than the average injured runner trying to follow the standard timelines of conventional medical schedules.
Remember, the standard of care is for standard patients. You are not a standard patient. You are a runner. Do what it takes, and put it in the work, so you can get back to running as quickly as possible.
Pain is the best tool to help an injured runner decide when run. You don’t have to figure out what to write down. We made a simple Pain Journal PDF for you.
If you have a question that you would like answered as a future addition of the Doc On The Run Podcast, send it to me PodcastQuestion@docontherun.com. And then make sure you join me for the next edition of the Doc On The Run Podcast!