Doc On The Run Podcast: How Long Will It Take To Heal A Running Injury? | DOC

How long will it take to heal a running injury?

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Today on the Doc On The Run podcast we’re talking about how long it will take to heal a running injury.

Running Injury

The number one question I get from runners is how long is it going to take me to heal this injury? That could be anything. It could be a metatarsal stress fracture, it could be plantar fasciitis, it could be an Achilles tendon injuries. But that’s what they ask me is how long it’s going to take. The next question of course, the follow-up question is always how soon will I be back to running.

The thing that you really have to understand is that the whole underlying premise of those questions, it’s just completely absurd. Everybody of course, wants to believe that it takes some certain given timeline for every given injury. And that’s just crazy right? I get this question from doctors at medical conferences and they’ll ask me how long does it take for a fourth metatarsal stress fracture to heal in the average runner and how long would it take for them to get back to running.  But that doesn’t make sense. It’s not that simple.

We know that it takes a certain amount of time to boil one quart of water at sea level and we also know that it might take a little bit less time to boil at high altitude because pressure is less in high altitude. It probably takes a certain amount of time for paint to dry on a wall if you apply it in a given thickness but there are also some variables that are going to that equation and you can modify those things.

Let’s take watching paint dry for example. That’s a pretty boring example but you can change that process. You can do something to speed it up or slow it down. We know for example that if you are painting in an area of low humidity or higher heat, the paint may dry faster. So if you’re painting your house and you have a dehumidifier in the house or you have the heat on in the house, it will heat up the air and the paint will dry faster.

So even with something that’s simple as paint drying, you know that it’s a fact that you can change that process and there’s some variables that you can manipulate some things you can do that can change the process when you’re healing as well. Because there are a lot more variables that go into healing so it’s not one given thing.

Everybody wants to think it’s just a passive process of just waiting for something to happen like waiting for a train to show up. But that’s really not true and if you can identify and you can modify the variables that affect your healing, it will change the pace of healing you’re running injury and it will make a difference at how quickly or how slowly you actually get back to running.

The big problem though is that people go to the doctor and they get these flat, even timelines on six weeks to take a metatarsal stress fracture to heal. Well, is it really the same for everybody? I mean if you go to the doctor and look at every single person in a waiting room and you look at them and you think if we all have the same injury, would it really take us all six weeks to heal, I beat the the answer is no.

The right question isn’t how long does it take to heal this injury. The right question is how can I heal faster than the average person because as a runner you know that you’re physiologically primed to heal. I mean you’ve been healing over and over from all of your workouts and you know that you can heal faster.

Somebody calls me for a webcam consultation, they have a running injury. If you think about it really, what is my job? I mean I was a doctor and they’re calling me and somebody has an injury. They call me, they want advise, what am I my supposed to do.

But really, the way I think about is my job is a few things:

  1. My job is to get that runner to believe that they can heal faster. I have to help them understand that this isn’t a passive process. You’re not stuck with the six weeks timeline or a three-month timeline or one year timeline. There are things that you can do to modify that timeline and you in fact can heal faster.
  2. I’m supposed to show them the steps they need to take to heal but you have to take certain steps to get things to happen. It’s a process. But it is a process that you can modify and if you’re sitting there passively waiting for healing to happen, well it’s going to take you longer.
  3. Help that runner develop their personalized plan for healing faster. So it’s not to send you to Pedia that says here’s the six-week timeline, all you have to do is sit around and watch TV for six weeks and your fracture’s going to miraculously heal.
  4. It’s my job to give you the steps and then I’m supposed to give you a way to follow up and stay on track and achieve those goals of actually healing faster. So I have to give you some way to look at it to really identify what you can do, how you’re going to do it and how you can make sure you’re staying on track.

Those are the keys. So whenever you’re injured, if you’re working with a doctor, you’re working with your coach or if you’re trying to heal the injury on your own, it’s your job to do all those four things.

It’s your job to find a way to heal faster. But again this is an active approach. This isn’t something that you’re just waiting passively for, waiting for you to just course through some given timeline to actually get there.

It’s really key that when you get injured, most people are told to rest and sit still and sit back. But you really don’t want to think about that way. So let me ask you a couple of questions and really and truly do you agree with these statements or not. I mean for you personally think about this and answers questions.

I have the capacity to heal faster than the average American who doesn’t exercise and who eats an unhealthy diet. Is that true or not?

Do you think that you as a runner as an athlete, somebody that eats a healthy diet who has been active for many years, do you think you’re going to heal faster than the average American who is not exercising, eating an unhealthy diet?

If I sleep more effectively, I will heal faster. Do you think that’s true or not for you? I mean if you sleep more effectively, you think you’re going to heal faster than the average person or not?

Photo credit: Verywell Health

What about if you stay appropriately hydrated, you think you’re going to heal faster them?

What about if you could reduce the stress on that one injured structure in your foot that’s been causing pain and bothering you, if you take the stress away from that structure, is it a reason that it’s not going to heal faster than the average person?

If you strengthen in everything else that supports that injured structure, will you or will you not get back to running sooner?

That’s the thing is you have to really think about all of these variables, all the things you can modify, all the things you can do differently that affect the healing process. The problem is that most of the time we go see a doctor, we get injured or read something online about how long it takes to heal a metatarsal stress fracture or how long it takes to fix your Achilles tendon.

You start thinking on these fixed timelines and it suddenly becomes passive not active. You want to sit and wait for that thing to happen. You want to wait for four weeks. You want to wait for six weeks.

Don’t be confused. You’re either getting weaker or you’re getting stronger. So when you’re injured and you’re waiting for six weeks doing nothing, everything else in your system is getting worse. And when all that gets weaker and stiffer and you lose your coordination, you lose all those neuromuscular connections when you return to running. That is actually your highest risk moment of re injury.

You are actually more prone to getting re-injury then because the whole system is so weak and debilitated that it can’t absorb the force of your new workouts when you return to what you think of as mundane workout and you’re very high-risk of re-injury.

So you have to realize that there are things you can do to modify the healing process. There are variables that you can manipulate. There are things that you can do actively not passively, while your healing so that you can stay healthy, keep everything else healthy in the system, let that one injury structure actually recover and support that and restructure as effectively as possible. So you can get back to running and return to running without any higher risk of reentry. It is possible.

You just have to make sure you really look for those variables and identify them and take action. That’s it! Figure out what you can do differently, figure out what you’re not doing, figure out what your doctor has not recommended to you and think about all these things that you could do that will accelerate your pace of healing so you can get back to running.

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!

Dr. Christopher Segler is a podiatrist and ankle surgeon who has won an award for his research on diagnosing subtle fractures involving the ankle that are often initially thought to be only ankle sprains. He believes that it is important to see the very best ankle sprain doctor in San Francisco that you can find. Fortunately, San Francisco has many of the best ankle sprain specialists in the United States practicing right here in the Bay Area. He offers house calls for those with ankle injuries who have a tough time getting to a podiatry office. You can reach him directly at (415) 308-0833.

But if you are still confused and think you need the help of an expert, a “Virtual Doctor Visit” is the solution. He has been “meeting” with runners all over the world and providing just that sort of clarity through online consultations for years. He can discuss your injury, get the answers you need and explain what you REALLY need to do to keep running and heal as fast as possible.

You can arrange a Virtual Doctor Visit with a true expert on running injuries. Right from the comfort of your own home you can meet online with the doctor, discuss your running history, talk about your running injury and figure out a customized recovery plan that will help you heal the running injury so you can get back to running as quickly as possible.

Book your Virtual Doctor Visit with Doc On The Run now!