Injuries:  Choose your time off or it will choose you

Some runners have little aches and pains every day and most of those are temporary due to the breakdown of weaker tissues and the gradual buildup of stronger tissues. Here are some guidelines to help you distinguish between temporary aches and an injury. You have an injury if:


  • It keeps you from running in a natural way.
  • It goes on for more than a week.
  • It gets worse.
  • You have swelling.
  • It is painful.


Per many doctors who work with runners, pain is the body’s way of telling you to pay attention. It is not okay to run with pain. You should also avoid using Ibuprofen or other pain relievers to override your body’s signals, so you can keep running. When in doubt about what to do you should consult a running doctor. Before seeing a doctor, here are some guidelines for treating yourself:


  • Stop running for a few days as soon as you notice a new pain or niggle.
  • Talk to other runners/coaches who have had similar problems to learn as much as you can.
  • Ice the injured area to reduce inflammation and stimulate circulation.
  • If the area is swelling, wrap it firmly but not so tight that it cuts off blood flow.
  • If possible, keep the injured area higher than your head or at least off the floor if you can.
  • Don’t stretch the injured area unless a doctor advises you to.


Cross Training

Often the toughest part about being injured as a runner is finding an activity to replace your daily run. Nothing else seems as simple or convenient as running. Some options to maintain your conditioning:

  • Pool running simulates running better than any other activity and can keep you in excellent condition. Running against the resistance of water forces you to lift your knees and drive them straight forward. A common preference is using a flotation device, but others like to run in thigh-deep or deeper water. If you can put your legs through the same motions as running, you’ll stay in good running shape. Stay in the water the same amount of time that you’d be running.
  • Cycling on a stationary bike (or biking outdoors) is the next best exercise to simulate the effects of running. Cycling doesn’t produce the gravity stress (pounding) of running so it will not aggravate most injuries. You can simulate the long runs and speedwork on the cycle but to gain the same benefits you need to add about 20-40% more time each session.


If you cross train regularly while injured, after you have recovered you can pick up your training by taking it easy the first week back followed by two or three transition weeks before resuming pre-injury workouts. However, if you are not able to exercise at all, you’ll need at least twice the number of weeks you took off to gradually build back to pre-injury level. It does take some patience while coming back from an injury so it is important to be conservative and take a few extra rest days if you notice any aggravation, so you can avoid starting the whole process all over again.