How to Stay Active When Injured from Running

I spent most of this summer training for a virtual marathon and had an unexpectedly good race. I took a full week off after the race to let my body rest, and eased back into running the next week. A few runs in, I started having a sharp pain in my knee. It was so bad, I had to stop running right away and walk back to my car. Over the years, I’ve had things like this pop up now and then, but they always heal within a day or two. This time, it didn’t.

I kept trying to run every few days and saw no progress. I ended up taking a full week of, which wound up being a full month off of running as advised by my doctor. The diagnosis was an LCL sprain, but I was cleared to do any movement that didn’t cause pain during (or after).

When you have an injury that doesn’t go away after a few days, its always good to see a doctor to get imaging and a professional opinion. Self diagnosing on google or asking other runners could lead to a more serious injury. For example, if I pushed my sprain, it could lead to a tear, which would be even worse!

Since I was cleared for other activity, I knew I wanted to focus on a couple of things (in addition to healing!):

First, I wanted to work on strength training. Strong legs, glutes, and core help you be a stronger runner and can help prevent overuse injuries (like knee pain!). I usually strength a couple of times a week, but I neglected it during the peak of training. I knew I had a month to focus on getting my body stronger without having to focus on running and really embraced it.

I did a 4 week program with the Nike Training Club app that provided structured workouts 3-4 times a week. Even in the short amount of time, I started to feel much stronger and better able to handle HITT workouts. Because of my knee, I was really cautious and adapted where needed, which was mostly on anything that involved jumping.

The second thing I wanted to work on was getting better at yoga. I started doing yoga more consistently this year to stay active on rest days and to help with stress! I really look forward to my recovery yoga workouts, but with the time off of running I was able to explore longer and more intense work on the Nike Training App.

Yoga uses a different type of physical and mental strength that is a good practice. It also helps with my flexibility and balance, which is also important as a runner!

The last thing I focused on was keeping some level of cardio fitness. Before I went into the doctor, I was trying to stay off my knee all together so I didn’t do more damage. Once I was cleared to walk, I tried to get back into the swing of things with power walking. I started with 30 minute walks and slowly increased distance and intensity. I found that I was able to get my heart rate up to a moderate level most days, even to the point that I was winded! I did try hiking, but the tougher terrain and downhills started to cause some soreness, so I had to stop!

It felt really silly to not be running, but the running motion was what was really causing my pain. Some other ways to practice cardio fitness without running would be a bike (or stationary bike), or elliptical. Some things might feel okay or not based on your injury.

I had a unique injury that allowed me to focus on these different activities to occupy my time and keep me active. Obviously each situation is unique, but the advice that I would give is to focus on what you CAN do, and really embrace how you can get better at it. Letting your body heal will get you back to running faster, and you can even come back stronger if you are strategic about it!

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