How to build your own injury toolkit - Women's Running

How to build your own injury toolkit

Author: Kate Sellers

Read Time:   |  April 9, 2021

No one knows your body like you do, so building your own injury toolkit is the best place to start when niggles arise. Anna McNuff tells us how

It’s a word I dare not mention. I’m even concerned that putting it in ink may summon the forces of evil running juju, but it’s the thing I get asked about the most. And so, the time has come to talk about… injury.

Injury has been on my mind more than usual lately because my own rules for body-management changed dramatically this year. At 8+ months pregnant, there’s currently a tiny human, bags of fluid and a whole new organ hanging out somewhere between my stomach and my bladder. And that means a lot of extra weight tugging at my lower spine and jiggling around on sacroiliac joints which have a history of giving me jip.

Having spent much of my adult life managing lower back issues, I thought I had things sorted. I knew the warning signs, I had my methods for coping with flare-ups (more on those later) and so, when the bump started to take off and I began to look like Godzilla – all big belly and heavy feet – I felt confident that my lower back would cope.

What I didn’t account for is the fact that the normal rules of injury prevention no longer applied. So, on a leisurely walk with a friend, my back went ping. And my-oh-my, it pinged in style. Cue losing the feeling in, and use of, my right leg (terrifying), a lot of pain, a call to 111, my first ride in an ambulance (neee-naww) and five hours at the labour ward in Kingston hospital, where I found myself insisting that, unless the baby was being born via my right hamstring, these weren’t labour pains. Needless to say, I got in a pickle.

Somewhere between thanking the hospital staff for their kind assistance and scoring a much-needed bag of beef Hula Hoops from the vending machine, I began to think about all the times I’d been delivered the unwanted gift of an injury surprise. Of which there are many. And while being injured is never fun, my experience of them has helped me to come up with my own injury toolkit that I can use whenever I need to make them more bearable.

Finding what works for you

Between June and November in 2019 I ran 2,352 miles, in bare feet, and only had to take one day off for a tight calf muscle. Okay, I did spend two weeks laid up with an infected foot, but I’m putting that down to bad luck rather than a mismanagement of my bod and its musculoskeletal fandango. All things considered, I thought that just one day of enforced rest in 2,352 miles was impressive.

Although I don’t claim to hold the secret for how to 100% stay injury free (the back episode is proof of that), that barefoot run is a testament to the fact I’ve spent decades shaping a bespoke injury prevention and management toolkit.

The decision to create that toolkit began when I realised that physiotherapy in its traditional form wasn’t working for me. Because here’s the thing with me and physios – and I apologise to any reading this – but I will sit in your office, and I will smile and nod at everything you tell me. I will promise that I will do the exercises you have taken great care to set me and then, a week later, I won’t be doing them. My relationship with physiotherapists is akin to the one I have with my foam roller. It’s built on lies, empty promises and shattered dreams.

What I do find works are a variety of different things. I use trigger point release therapy to loosen off angry, tight muscles – think sticking a golf ball in your ass muscles and repeating all over your body. I find it more effective than massage, I’ve learnt how to treat myself and I enjoy that it calls for some serious deep breathing to push through pain until a muscle lets go.

I do Iyengar yoga twice a week; a practice which focuses on body alignment. I still fidget through class and oft en have to drag myself onto the mat, but I feel like a million dollars afterwards. Plus, I’ve never met a female Iyengar Yoga teacher who didn’t have fantastic posture and boobs that point towards the sky, even if they’re 70 years old.

The final tool in my kit is that I see a chiropractor – because I love being cracked into place and the odd cheeky bit of needling. 90% of the time, the combo of those three things keeps injury at bay.

Trust thyself

The thing about building your own injury toolkit is that it’s bespoke. It’s not out of a book, no one can tell you what will work, and you have to find the right approach for you, given time and experience.

There is no medical professional who knows your body better than you, after all. They might be able to offer up some valuable insight and explain what they believe is happening with your runner’s knee/lumbar strain/shin splits, but you are the only one who can actually feel it.

It’s like being the CEO of a company. You absolutely need experts to advise you and a good team in place for support, but at the end of the day the buck stops with you. You are chief-in-charge of Brilliant Bod Ltd. And you can hire and fire at will.

Keep the faith

When you are next given the gift of an injury surprise, remember that you always have options for building that toolkit. And there is so much to be experimenting with; acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathy, reiki, reflexology, yoga, trigger point release, massage, aromatherapy, physio, heat, ice, compression… the list is endless. Above all, remember that your body wants to heal – healing is its default, it’s what bodies do. It’s just about finding the right toolkit to help it on its way.

About the author

Anna is an adventurer, motivational speaker, influencer and author, who gets her kicks by travelling the world on long, human-powered journeys, and in sharing those journeys with others. Follow her @annamcnuff


Written by

Kate Sellers

Kate Sellers

Kate is our Senior Digital Executive and a keen runner. She's also a qualified Personal Trainer and yoga teacher, so she knows her stuff about workouts, cross-training and stretching. She loves to combine running and exploring, so you'll often find her testing out the latest kit in exciting locations across the UK and beyond. Kate champions exercising for enjoyment. "Most of the year, you'll find me running for fun and wellbeing," she says. "That being said, I do still love the thrill of training for a race from time to time!"

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