November 25 2015
One injury-prone runner set out to discover what she was doing wrong. The answer surprised her.
As a longtime runner, I’ve had my fair share of injuries. I can stay away from running while I heal, but it drives me crazy to sit on the couch! What are exercises I can do while recovering? —Dawn
For endurance junkies, an injury is a tough pill to swallow. The good news is the old-school prescription of “rest, rest and more rest” has been debunked by recent research. Evidence now suggests that a modi ed exercise plan helps you heal faster than staying off your feet completely.
The key is to catch an injury at the onset, evaluate the ache and modify your workouts accordingly. Follow the guidelines below to assess the gravity of your particular pain—we’ve separated the stages of injury into four different zones—and to see which exercises are safe for you.
Symptoms: Mild discomfort only after a run.
Exercise Rx: As long as there is no pain mid-workout, you can continue to run. Stick to at terrain, avoid speed work or tempo runs and cut your mileage in half. Swap every other running workout with low-impact cross-training, such as yoga, weight lifting, elliptical, biking and swimming. Stretch lightly and perform self-massage daily with a foam roller or similar device.
Symptoms: Very mild pain while running that does not cause you to alter your stride or limp. The discomfort may be present (but does not worsen) post-run.
Exercise Rx: Cross-train with low-impact activities for five to seven days. If the pain subsides, gradually incorporate running back into your workouts. For example, if you were biking for 30 minutes, bike for 20 minutes and run for 10. Slowly add more running minutes over the following week or two.
Symptoms: Pain is present during and after a run and restricts activity. You can no longer run without altering your stride.
Exercise Rx: Cross-train at easy-to moderate efforts with activities that do not cause pain. Consult a doctor or physical therapist to develop a recovery plan with exercises that build strength and flexibility.
Symptoms: Acute, unrelenting pain.
Exercise Rx: Before you hit the gym, you must visit your doctor. Depending on your diagnosis, you can begin to exercise with non-weight bearing activities (e.g. swimming, aqua jogging, rowing) as tolerated. Work with your doctor to develop a recovery plan tailored to your injury. Listen to your body and you’ll prevent overuse injuries from worsening. Remember: If it hurts, don’t do it. If your pain is ever in the orange or red zones, it’s time to make a doctor’s appointment.