No one likes to be injured, but new research has shown that we runners unfortunately get injured a lot. We talk to experts to find out how we can deal with injury and bounce back stronger
Injury. It’s a word we all dread having to use, but it seems that a lot of us are – new research found that a whopping 46% of recreational runners experience injury every year. The study revealed that knee troubles were the most common (accounting for 27% of the reported injuries), with Achilles and calf problems close behind (25%).
But having these kind of injuries doesn’t always mean having to hang up your trainers until you’re healed. “The first thing physios used to say to a runner is ‘stop running’ – and runners hate that!” said Chris, physio and sports rehab specialist at The Running School. “Instead of telling them to stop, we find a way to modify exercise without pain, while progressing treatment. We use walking and walking backwards, running in a pool, and strength work.”
Our editor Esther spoke to a whole host of specialists to find out exactly what we should be doing when we’re injured, how to recover as quickly as possible, and what we can do to avoid it happening again.
The first thing we learned: if you’re injured, don’t despair. Your first port of call for any injury should be a physio: your main priority is getting your injury fixed. Sometimes your physio will tell you absolute rest is best, so in that case follow their advice. But if they’re happy for you to do some modified exercise, you may actually find yourself enjoying the shake-up to your usual routine.
So, what can you do? Which activity you choose will depend on what you enjoy and the nature of your injury. But anything that gets your heart rate up and puts a smile on your face is going to beat sitting on the sofa and counting the days until you can run again. And it will help keep your fitness up for when you’re given the green light to return to running.
Walk the line
You can walk. Crazy, right? But true. If you can walk without pain, then try walking your running routes – pick the nicer, more scenic ones. Possibly the shorter ones, as it’ll take a bit longer. Take a podcast (we hear the Women’s Running podcast is astonishingly good), a snack, some water, and go. You will be exercising your legs, your lungs, and the benefits to your mental health are myriad. Don’t underestimate the power of walking, especially in terms of your running fitness: with many injuries, continuing to move those leg muscles while engaging your posterior chain and your core, will help heal your muscles correctly, rather than them knitting back together shorter and stiff er.
Ride it out
You can also take to a bike – cycling has much less load on your joints in the way that running has. In fact, Kate Allan from Wattbike thinks that all runners should all be cycling, to help us avoid injury in the first place.
“To get stronger and faster, our bodies need to be stressed in different ways,” she explains. “Yes, upping your mileage and doing more speedwork will result in faster times if it is done carefully and progressively, but it carries with it an increased risk of injury.”
Cycling gives your quads, glutes and core muscles a tough workout without stressing your joints. Runners battle niggles more than most other athletes, but because pedalling is low impact, it is easier on your joints, enabling you to strengthen your leg muscles without the risk of injuries such as shin splints.
Plus, cycling has other benefits, as Kate explains: “Whereas a three-hour run is not feasible for most of us unless we’ve spent a long time training for it, a low-intensity three-hour ride on a stationary bike most certainly is. If you have just started running or if you are coming back from an injury and want to build cardiovascular fitness, a long endurance ride will raise your heart rate and burn calories.”
Again, cycling the routes you usually run can be a great way to keep yourself motivated and enjoying time outside, but indoor bikes, like the Wattbike, are also a great option, especially if you live near busy roads or don’t feel confident on two wheels.
Swimming is ideal if you have injuries that mean you need to avoid putting weight on your legs (for example, severe ITBS or stress fractures). Using a pull buoy can help keep your legs still and place all the emphasis on your core and upper body.
“Often runners start swimming because they’re injured,” says Alexa Duckworth Briggs, a running coach with We Run. “However, it also complements running because it off ers a cardio workout without the impact load on your muscles, bones and joints. Swimming is good for core control, stability and shoulder mobility too; areas to work on to improve your running.” It also helps aerobic efficiency, which can help improve the body’s uptake of oxygen. That’s your V02 max, right there.
Indoor pools are usually the best option if you’re looking to do arms-only swimming or other pool rehab exercises, but cold water swimming is a great swap for outdoors running and will really get those endorphins flowing. Be sure to research how to swim safely and prepare for the low temperature before you go.
Exercise from home
You can also build on your fitness from home – something we’re all a bit better at after the past year. Equipment for home exercising is often bulky and pricey, so it’s worth doing the research before you invest.
If you have the space for it, elliptical trainers can be reasonably priced and off er a great all-round workout: you may be surprised at just how taxing ten minutes on an elliptical can be. And that’s with very little pressure on joints.
You can also walk or run on a treadmill of course, which will offer a softer surface, and the impact on your joints is considerably less than if you were to be pounding the pavements. Treadmills can be a fantastic investment for runners with the space to house one, as they can offer so many benefits like this if you have a small niggle.
A study published in the International Journal of Sports Science suggests that rebounding on a trampoline is twice as effective at improving aerobic fitness than running. It also showed that bouncing increased vertical jumping ability – and jumping is effectively what you do with every step of your running. And, massive bonus: it’s really kind on your joints.
Now, we don’t mean a 6ft one in the garden – have a look at Bellicon’s range for an idea of the right kind of thing. These trampolines are sprung with bungee cords rather than springs, so they’re quiet, which is a bonus. Plus, they’re made to your specifications, so you won’t bounce through the ceiling when you step on.
The benefits go further than just a softer landing, too. Bouncing helps strengthen and tone your pelvic floor, as well as your deep back and stomach muscles, and helps prevents back pain. The result is a stronger, better conditioned core, which is essential for runners who want to run injury-free.
And, while you can jump on the trampoline, you can also run on it. Once you’re used to it, you’ll soon notice that the running feels different: it works different muscles – hips and glutes will begin to ache in a very pleasing sort of way, helping to strengthen your legs around your injury so that when you’re ready to face the outside world again, you do so fitter and stronger.
Whatever you decide to do, try to reframe your injury from a negative to a chance to improve your running. Many running injuries aren’t a result of one isolated incident but something that’s been going on under the surface for a while. It might be a biomechanical issue that needs attention or a muscle weakness that needs addressing. Ultimately, getting this sorted is going to make you a stronger runner in the longer term and help you to run for many years to come.
Please seek professional guidance if you’ve become injured, and remember the importance of rest: your running strength will not disappear if you have to lie low for a bit, we promise.