easing back into things after mysterious running injury
January 31, 2014 10:13 AM   Subscribe

What’s a better strategy for easing back into running after taking 3.5 weeks off due to an unknown running injury?

tl;dr question:

Would it be better to try and run more frequently (every other day), but shorter runs, or infrequently (2x a week), with longer runs? What’s generally better to ease back into a routine?

longer stuff:

YANMD, but I had some series of undiagnosed running injuries a few weeks ago, that affected my right ankle and calf, with pain that changed places over that course of that time (starting at back ankle, then moving upwards to the side and mid calf, then to the front). I continued to workout (incline walking on the treadmill & elliptical), as the only time I ever experienced any pain, was immediately upon starting to run, and after attempting to run (it would hurt pretty bad walking after trying to run, but not during regular walks). I’d probably put it on a 6-7 on a scale of 10. The initial onset of the injury pain was very sudden, but as mentioned, the site of pain gravitated.

I did a test 60-second run a week ago on the treadmill, and experienced no pain. So a few days ago, I did a test mile run on the treadmill, and aside from it feeling difficult because of taking some time off, it was completely pain-free.

This morning I had my first outdoor run (ran 1 mile, walked 5 minutes, ran 1.5 mile), and oh god, it was so blissful and I just wanted to go on for more but I know it’s better to ease back into things. I hate the treadmill, but running outdoors on a cool morning was so wonderful - I missed it so much. No pain.

Obviously I know to stop if I feel pain again, but even though I’ve only been running for 6 months, I’m realizing that I’m turning into that weirdo that really enjoys running - it’s not just for health or losing weight. Although I’m writing this after running and still on I guess what was “runner’s high,” that I’ve only felt once before in those 6 months. I feel fantastic, and the last thing I want to do is injure myself again because that would mean no moar runningz, and right now I just want ALL THE RUNNINGZ.

[not like I was some super long-distance runner before, as I was previously doing 15-20 miles a week, split up every other day]

Anyway. What’s a good way for me to ease back? Short, frequent runs, or longer, infrequent runs? Let’s say doing this for a combination of enjoyment, health/exercise, and wanting to sign up for another 5k or train for a 10k.
posted by raztaj to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
I see no reason why you shouldn't just resume your prior running schedule and see how it goes. Five miles every other day is a pretty low-key, low-impact routine. Maybe slow down the pace for the first few runs as you get back into the swing of things.
posted by killdevil at 10:23 AM on January 31, 2014

I had weird ankle and calf pain a few months after I started running too. My doctor sent me to a physical therapist, who watched me walk without shoes on and then said, "Do you know that you walk on your toes?" Apparently, whenever I wasn't wearing shoes I was walking on my toes and the balls of my feet; I had been doing it all my life, most likely because I am short. Turns out it is not a good thing to do, and my muscles and balance were out of whack. Even with the right running shoes and all that jazz, the way I was walking in general was affecting my running. The pain was only when I was running.

We worked on retraining me to walk on my whole foot like a normal person, and also on stretching my ankles, and wouldn't you know it, no more ankle/calf pain! Six months have gone by and it hasn't come back. So if the pain comes back, you might want to look into why it is happening; it could be something really simple.

Anyway, when I went back to running, I did running/walking intervals for awhile until I was back up to speed.
posted by jenjenc at 11:03 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're probably okay to run at something close to the mileage you were running before. If you feel it again, though, back the heck off and see a PT.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:12 AM on January 31, 2014

Running injuries suck.

Some things to consider:

Have you been to a running store to get a recommendation for the running shoes that suit your foot shape and gait? There are different shoes for runners who over- or under-pronate. The wrong shoe may put stress on your feet and legs and cause the issues over time.

Do you run on a variety of terrain? Mixing it up can strengthen your feet and legs more completely, where as pounding the concrete all the time can wear you down a wee bit.

Are you always running as fast as you can? While your distances shouldn't be causing problems, your effort and pace might be. Give yourself a mix of recovery runs at an easy pace as well as harder runs to work on speed.

If you do run further, so it gradually. If you run 20 miles a week, make sure you don't feel the need to do one 15miler the week you only managed to schedule two runs. That's an exaggeration, but doing a much further distance you never trained for is not good. Even if your cardio can handle it, your bones won't. That's how I got injured...

Good luck!
posted by man down under at 6:01 PM on January 31, 2014

Let me pitch seriously cutting way back and easing back in very carefully. Re-injury can be much worse than the original and isn't the idea to keep running? Do more stretching, learn better stretching. I'm still trying to get back into it after over doing my calves, it would have been much better in the long run to skip months rather than years.
posted by sammyo at 6:36 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and to specifically answer your question:

More frequently, shorter runs. Build up to longer runs by increasing mileage no more than 10% per week.
posted by man down under at 6:42 PM on January 31, 2014

I had an injury very like this, with a similar pattern of pain. I felt better after staying off it, went back to running (in expensive shoes nominally addressing my style of pronation; carefully, on a run/walk program, stopping at the first sign of pain) and still made things worse, such that I now have chronic pain (thankfully, now well-managed) and permanent nerve damage.

That is me and you are you, and there's no knowing if my problem is your problem. Further, you may have optimal biomechanics and fantastic collagen and may have healed from this beautifully.

But on the off-chance there's damage lurking beneath the painlessness (because if tendons have been damaged, it can take ages for them to heal)... knowing what I do now, if I could go back in time to 3.5 weeks after my initial injury, I would tell myself to see a physical therapist and ask her/him to design an injury-prevention program to promote strength and flexibility right up the chain (feet, ankles, knees, glutes, their coordinated function; all need attention). And I would tell myself to listen to whatever that PT said with regard to a return to running. (I would see a PT who is herself/himself an athlete and who is willing to support that goal; some are more conservative.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:26 AM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

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