Do I have to stop running and lose my running fitness entirely just to heal? Well, that’s a great question and that’s what we’re talking about today on the Doc on the Run podcast.
This morning I was doing a call in the Injured Runners Aid Station and this is where recovering runners come and show up to ask me specific questions about what exercises can they do, whether or not they should run, how they should run, how long they should run, how fast they should run, all these questions that may make you a little nervous when you’ve had an injury, you’re getting better and you’re getting back to running.
Well, this was a great question. This was someone who actually had said, “Well, but I mean, my doctor said that since I got a running injury, the solution is to stop running.” I know that’s really rubs runners the wrong way and it would really irritate me too if a doctor told me that.
So when I think about this, what I actually explained to this runner, I thought you might find useful to hear. When I think about this, there are really two approaches. That’s it. There are only two approaches with this idea. The first one is you get, let’s say, a metatarsal stress fracture. You go in and see the doctor and they tell you got a stress fracture because you ran too much. You ran too far, too soon, too fast, too something, but that’s why you got the stress fracture.
To get it to heal, you’re going to have to stop all that and just let it heal and then you can start running again. So basically their approach says, stop exercising, rest and pay your copay at the front desk on your way out of the office. That’s the normal doctor approach and yes, that will heal your stress fracture. It will. It will definitely, if you stop running and you stop doing anything, you stop all stress applied to the bone, it will definitely make it heal.
But there is another way and that’s the way that I teach to runners in the metatarsal stress fracture course, in the 12 steps presentation that I do, in Zoom calls with runners house calls. This is my approach with athletes and this is basically what I teach to physicians at medical conferences, that there is a different way, and it is different. What I say is that you basically, you have an injury. What you do first is you need to figure out your baseline numbers, in terms of assessing what to do in terms of maintaining your running fitness, that’s a really crucial piece and it’s one of the 12 steps. It’s not actually the very first, but it is one of the steps in that process.
You need to figure out what your baseline numbers are. If you have pain that’s a five out of 10 when you’re just walking around your house barefoot, but then you put on some running shoes and your pain drops to like a two out of 10, that gives you more mileage of activity that you can do before you stress the bone or the tendon or the ligament to the point where it’s going to prevent healing.
The whole name of the game with this is trying to figure out how can you do as much activity as possible without crossing over your threshold for re-injury or surpassing your threshold for recovery of that injured piece. That’s the whole process. So you basically figure out what are your baseline numbers. You reduce the inflammation to wipe out the inflammation that’s causing distension in the tissue and falsely elevating your pain levels and after you’ve done that, you just decrease the stress and strain to the injured piece of tissue while you are actually strengthening everything else. Then you just add back exercises that you know will support your running fitness and you add them back one at a time and you watch your pain numbers.
If your pain numbers do not go up, but your activity level is skyrocketing, you know you’re getting better. If you were not getting better, your pain would get worse. You would have swelling or bruising or pain. You would have a bad sign that indicates you’re getting more injured, not less. So that’s part of the process I teach in the 12 Steps to Rapid Running Injury Recovery. It’s just a web class where I go through and I explain all of these steps in detail about what you really have to do. If you’re a runner and you get an injury and you do not want to lose all your running fitness while you’re sitting around waiting for one piece of tissue to heal, remember, it’s one thing, one bone, one tendon, one ligament.
It’s not your entire body and if you strengthen all of the rest of your body while you’re specifically decreasing stress and strain to that one injured part, you will maintain your running fitness and you will get back to running a whole lot faster.
If you want to join me in the web class, it’s free. It’s about a half an hour, but I go into a deep dive on all these topics. You can understand better what to do right now when you have an injury and you’re trying to stay fit. Just go to docontherun.com/12steps. You can join me, and I’ll see you in the training.