Recovering from Injury – What I wish I’d known!

This is a guest post by Kate McDowell, a running-obssessed computer science major at the University of Virginia

There are two kinds of runners – those of us who have been injured, and those of us who will be injured. Until last December, I was a proud member of the latter group. I’m young! I thought. I listen to my body (except when it’s being a weenie)! I’ve read so many Runners World articles on how to stay injury-free that I could write the book! Not so.

Hindsight is, of course, 20/20. I now see that training for a marathon less than a year after I had begun running meant I should have trained very conservatively, something I did not do. I ramped up my mileage to 40 a week, and not enough of those miles were recovery miles. I didn’t replace the calories I was burning each day, and neglected my calcium intake. I didn’t supplement my cardio workouts with strength training to prevent injury.

Ultimately, my injury was preventable. Some are, some aren’t. Either way, once you’re injured, you’re going to have one question on your mind: What now? Here’s what I wish someone had told me when I was recovering.

Do what you can. Be creative! You may not be able to do weight-bearing activities, but what about swimming? Take the time you’re off of running to work on flexibility or strength, things that usually take a back seat to running. Make sure to listen to the limits your doc lays out for you, though. The last thing you want is to prolong the time you can’t run!

  • Take a step back from the running community for a while if it’s too painful. The first few weeks of being injured I couldn’t bear looking at my friends’ workouts on (a great site where athletes hang out and track their fitness!) Taking a little break from the running world helped me to stop obsessing over what I was missing, and prevented me from pushing too hard to recover.
  • Find a good doc. Getting a doctor who can properly diagnose you is key to fixing the problem. It wasn’t until months after I was told – by the ER nurse, my primary care provider, and my physical therapist – that I had torn or severely strained my hip adductor that I found out via X-ray that I actually had a stress fracture on my pelvis.
  • Find a physical therapist. Working with a physical therapist who is familiar with running injuries is a great way to recover faster and prevent future injury. I started at a bad clinic – a different therapist each time, the same exercises that didn’t feel like they were targeting the problem area, and no feedback as to what might have caused the injury. Finally I switched to a therapist recommended to me as a specialist in sports injuries, and he talked with me about my fitness and racing goals, did a thorough analysis of my running gait, and pinpointed specific bad habits that were putting unnecessary strain on my hips. Each session after that, the therapist introduced new exercises, saw how I was progressing with the ones he gave me, and constantly pushed me to do each exercise perfectly to strengthen the muscles that weren’t supporting my hips.
  • Don’t give up! Being injured sucks. Fitness is lost. Speed can vanish. Races aren’t run. Goals aren’t met. But you know what? It all comes back. Better to be injured and learn from it than to spend years being held back by bad habits. Learn from your mistakes. Maintain what fitness you can, and use this time to explore the world of fitness beyond running. Stay positive and listen to your doc and your physical therapist. And when you’re ready, go out for that glorious first run! It’s like falling in love with the sport all over again.

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