Author: Altra Red Team and Trail Physio, Tarryn van Niekerk
When you spend a lot of time running, you're bound to hit a rough patch now and again. I've dealt with my fair share of running injuries over the years, including numerous tendon issues, a broken wrist and more recently, a torn meniscus.
From experience, I know that dealing with an injury and not being able to run can be incredibly frustrating. So how do we get through these difficult times? Below is a 6-step strategy that has helped me and many of my patients cope with injury.
Step 1. Go and get it checked out.
Ignoring an injury is pointless and trying to run through pain is just stupid. Learning as much as you can about your injury is the first step to recovery. Once you've got a diagnosis, you need to accept that injury is part of your life for now. It sucks, but the sooner you accept your current limitations, the sooner you can refocus your energy on getting better.
Step 2. Recognise and honour your feelings.
Dealing with an injury can be an emotional rollercoaster, and it's perfectly normal to wallow in self-pity for a few days. You are, after all, unable to do the activity you love most. I've been angry at myself for overtraining and ruining my goal race, frustrated because my rehab takes longer than expected and depressed because my weekends seem so empty without my usual running adventures. These are all valid feelings, and it's ok to admit to yourself (and others) that you feel this way. What is more, these feelings are a sign of how much you care about running. Take a moment to honour these feelings, then exhale and let them go.
Step 3. Keep Moving.
At first, it might feel like you're forced to a complete standstill. Find a way to keep moving, whether it's walking, cycling, swimming or yoga. Channel the energy you usually reserve for running into recovery and cross-training. It's also the perfect opportunity to work on overall strength and flexibility, areas we usually neglect when we're so focused running. Not only will it help you retain some base fitness but completing workouts will lift your spirits and help you stay positive. Check with your Physio which alternative exercises are safe during rehabilitation.
Step 4. Set weekly goals.
Setting and achieving even the smallest goal during rehabilitation keeps you positive and motivated. Runners are natural goal setters, and nowadays we're experts at tracking and monitoring our progress. Together with your Physio, set weekly rehab goals, then log your daily rehab towards these goals (with added comments) to help you measure progress.
During recovery, I also found that completing weekly challenges gives me a sense of achievement and helps me maintain my athletic identity. These challenges could be anything from swimming a mile non-stop to mastering a new yoga pose.
Step 5. Practice healing thoughts.
Research suggests that optimism and the use of healing imagery could reduce pain and shorten your rehabilitation. Try the following exercise; sit or lie down in a comfortable position, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to relax. Now imagine some healing thoughts, for example, cement filling the break in a broken bone, fluid draining out of a swollen joint or torn muscle fibres braiding together getting thicker and stronger. By combining healing imagery with your physical rehab exercises, you are taking personal responsibility for your recovery and switching your mindset from "waiting to heal" to "making it heal". Also, visualise yourself running strong and without pain. I like to imagine myself running along my favourite trail, tearing around corners and jumping over obstacles. Practice this at least once a day for 5-10 minutes.
Step 6. Avoid social withdrawal.
If running is a big part of your life, it is only natural that you might feel disconnected from your running community when injured. Just because you can't run, doesn't mean you have to stay home and lick your wounds. Besides, it will only deepen your sense of isolation. Instead, keep showing up for the post-run beers, go and second your friends at their races and surround yourself with positive people who will encourage and support you, even when you're injured.
So, don't let injuries get the best of you, with enough knowledge, patience, self-compassion and support you can overcome any injury.
feature image: Cornelius van Niekerk (@flintandfuelcreative)