Running Injuries: When it's All Pain and No Gain
If you read my post about landing in the ER after falling on a run, you know that I’m no stranger to the world of forced rest breaks due to injury. More than once I’ve had to rearrange my workout schedule to accommodate a scab, strained muscle, or damaged ego.
The problem is that I hate being told what to do. Even if the only thing I’m craving is a gingerbread cookie, if you command me to eat one, I’ll eat every oatmeal raisin cookie in the factory before my lips even touch the gingerbread. Yeah, I’m as stubborn as they come.
As far as running injuries are concerned, there’s no better reason to put my defiance aside and do what my body is telling me to do.
Logic: body in pain ---> don't do things that make the pain worse
Me: body in pain ---> SUCK IT UP!
In the past, I’ve pushed through a calf strain only to end up on marathon day with a worsened calf tear. In this current case, my inability to listen to my body resulted in a nasty infection, weeks of antibiotics, and delayed healing. Both were not ideal and could have been avoided. So, how do you actually listen to your body and give it a break when running injuries strike?
Exercise the Rest of Your Body
My physique has always resembled that of a chicken, or a turkey, or some other funny looking member of the poultry family. No matter how hard I’ve tried, my arms have stayed the same size as they were when I was five and my legs have only grown up instead of out. Building muscle is only a far and distant idea.
Despite my stubbornness, my most recent injury made running an impossibility. Even my large and loud ego couldn’t justify it. So, I had to turn to other options. Completely abandoning cardio or any exercise requiring me to bend my legs, my arms have finally been given the attention they deserve. As it turns out, the lack of strength and definition I’ve always attributed to biology may have been a result of neglect all along. Wait, what is that? Is that a little baby bicep I see there? Hey there little guy; feel free to stick around.
When running injuries take you away from the sport you love, focus on what your body can do instead of what it can’t. I addressed this issue in my post about reasons to exercise besides losing weight, and it deserves reemphasizing. Even if you feel constrained by circumstances beyond your control, make the most out of your remaining abilities. Just because I can’t run doesn’t mean that I can’t be happy, healthy, and moving towards my goals. My goals may now be about pumping iron instead of leaping like a gazelle, but that’s ok.
Did I really just say that? Please appreciate the fact that this is the first time the words “pumping iron” and “me” have been used in the same sentence.
Give it a Rest
More often than not, we are awful at taking rests. In fact, I think our entire society needs to pull out the dictionary and reread the definition of rest. Let’s do it together. Merriam-Webster defines rest as:
a bodily state characterized by minimal functional and metabolic activities
Did you notice that nowhere does it mention hiking, repainting the house, organizing the garage, kayaking, sailing, chasing the dog, climbing a tree, walking 5 miles, or saving the world?
While we often get them confused, it’s important to realize that there’s a big difference between mental rest and physical rest. Yes, it’s good for your emotional, spiritual, and mental health to get out of your office on the weekends and experience something different and new. But, just because your brain thinks it’s a good idea, doesn’t mean that your body agrees.
There have been times I’ve gone on hikes because nothing sounded better than getting out into nature and switching up my mental context. While my brain would love the chance to be outside, my body would be wiped out by the miles of hills and rough terrain. I would return to work the next day mentally energized, but even less capable to meet the physical demands of my job.
Check out another great post from BTA!
When you have running injuries, it’s important to prioritize the needs of your body. Believe me; I understand the mental anguish of having to sit still when you’re used to running miles at a time. Your brain wants nothing more than to get moving again and it’s easy to fall for its enticing plea. But, you need to resist.
For your body to recover, you need to actually let it recover. Runners are notorious for tricking themselves into believing they are resting when they actually aren’t. In our minds, anything that isn’t running is recovery. While this sounds great, it isn’t true. When you can scale a mountain, it’s true that you’re technically taking a break from running. You aren’t doing your body any favors though. You’re not resting.
Be aware of moments when your brain is telling you to jump back into activity before your body is ready. If running and physical activity is emotionally and mentally sustaining for you, look for other outlets. Do you have other hobbies you find fulfilling? Maybe this is the perfect time to take that painting class you’ve always had your eye on or to finally write that novel that’s been whirling around in your head. Understand that there are ways to take care of your body and your mind at the same time; you just need to find what works for you.
Remember, Everything is Temporary
When you’re six feet under, you won’t care about your Plantar Fasciitis. Sorry, that was a bit dramatic. But, the point remains that nothing lasts forever. You may have a running injury now, but you may be feeling better in a few weeks, months, or years.
I have a bad tendency of projecting current circumstances into the future. Despite of what I know about the magic of the human body, I can’t help but thinking that the scab on my knee will still be there on my 80th birthday. While it’s true that I may be showcasing a beautiful scar, it would be quite the biological hiccup for it to not heal within the next 60 years. Convincing myself that I will, in fact, recover from my running injuries helps me combat my stubbornness and give my body the rest it deserves.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you are realistic about your recovery time. While it’s true that everything is temporary, the time frame of your recovery is relative to the injury. If you have a very serious running injury, you will need more time to recover than if your injury is minor. There’s nothing worse than underestimating your body’s needs and suffering from a more severe injury as a result of jumping back into physical activity too soon.
If you’re struggling to understand how much time your body will need to recover, seek the advice of a doctor or physical therapist. When you love a sport, and are eager to return to it, it can be easy to trick yourself into believing you are more recovered than you actually are. Take it easy, seek advice, and don’t overdo it too soon. While running injuries can delay us in the pursuit of our goals, giving our bodies the rest they deserve can set us up to be stronger and healthier in the long run. Trust me; I’ve learned this lesson many times now.