Today on the Doc On The Run podcast, we’re talking about two ways an injured runner can tell the injury is actually improving.
How do you know your injury’s improving? How do you know that you got the green light to start running? How do you know it’s healed? Well, when I talk to runners, most of them tell me that they, they will say, “Well, my x-ray shows this. Does that mean that I can run? My blood test showed that, does that mean I can run?” Or, “My doctor said this, but you said this in some other podcast, so does that mean I can run?”
There’s lots of confusion around this, and I know that this is really a crucial piece of information if you’re injured and you’re a runner who really wants to run. So you need to think about this differently. What you need to think about is not that you’re going to get some green light from an x-ray or a blood test or anything else, but you need to think about the stuff that you actually know as a runner that has always worked for you and apply it to your recovery.
Think about the things that you track when you train. What do you track? Well, my guess is you’re probably tracking some things like heart rate. How fast is your heartbeat when you’re working hard and you’re running? How long can you run? How fast can you run? You track your speed, you track your pace, you track your perceived exertion, right? You’re tracking all of these things, and you’re actually measuring, are you getting stronger or are you getting weaker as you train? Usually, of course, you’re getting stronger, but I can guarantee you, when you’re sitting still and you have a running injury, you’re getting weaker, and you got to do something about that.
Here’s the other way to think about it. Let’s imagine that you track a couple of things. Let’s say you’re tracking your pain, right? So you have your pain over here, and you have your activity over here on the bottom. So let’s say that you do what you’re supposed to do when you’re a good little patient who listens to the person in the white coat, and they tell you, “Look, dummy, you got a running injury because you were running, and so you can’t run and actually recover. Do nothing. Rest, sit still, don’t do anything.”
Basically what you do is, your activity is way down here, you’re basically walking to the bathroom, but not much else. You’re not doing any activity. Your activity is not staying the same. It’s not changing. It’s almost nothing. You’re losing your fitness as a consequence of that, but you are sitting still doing nothing like you were told and while you’re doing that, your pain level goes down.
Well, if that’s happening, you know that you’re improving, right? Because the injury is healing enough that it’s stable enough, that it doesn’t hurt as much. So over time, if your activity is the same and your pain is going down, you know you’re improving. That’s number one, okay? But if you wait until your pain is zero, you’re going to be waiting forever and you’re going to lose all your fitness.
That’s option number one, but here’s option number two. Let’s say you’ve been tracking all of your pain numbers. You know what it feels like in the morning, you know what it feels like in the evening, you know what it feels like when you walk around your house, making dinner, walking to the bathroom and whatnot, and let’s say your pain’s gone down and it’s actually pretty low.
Your pain is now like a two or a three or something like that when you’re really doing stuff, when you’re walking upstairs or something, and it only occasionally hurts you that much, but most of the time, it’s barely there. You don’t feel any pain when you’re sitting still, and you feel just a tiny bit of pain here and there, like a one out of 10 or something. But you’ve been tracking this, so you know, for sure what the numbers are, right?
So if you’ve been tracking those numbers, and then so your pain is now way down here and your pain is basically stagnant, it’s been staying the same for a while, and then what you do is you start actually ramping up your activity. So instead of sitting still doing nothing, you’re doing more and more stuff. You’re doing more things that will maintain your running fitness. You’re doing more things that will make you stronger. You’re doing more things that will actually get you toward your goals. That’s way number two, is that you actually are having your pain number stay the same, and you’re actually increasing your activity that’s going to support your running fitness.
Those are the two ways that you can really tell. So what happens in the Injured Runner’s Aid Station, when people come in to ask me questions, they’ll ask me some questions about what can I do to get back to running. Can I do this exercise or that exercise? What do you think you that I ask them? Do I ask them about x-rays? No. Do I ask them about blood tests? No. Do I ask them about all of these other objective things? No. I ask them about what is your pain like? What is your activity like? What did it feel like? Now, based on that, do you think it’s safe for you to advance a little bit or not? And it is always very clear when I ask them those questions.
If you’re looking for the fastest path back to running injuries, make sure that you really think about the things that you do in training, the ways that you track things in training, and then apply that to your recovery now. That will help you get back to running as quickly as possible. If you like this episode, please share it, please like it. Please share it with one of your friends who is a runner, somebody that needs to hear this, and then make sure you join me in the next episode. I’ll see you then.