In the course of our training it’s not inevitable, but it is pretty likely, that we’ll pick up some injuries. We can minimise the chance of this happening by ensuring that we take care of recovery, build up our training consistently - and without over doing it -
and keep working on our mobility, flexibility and foam rolling etc.
But whether from an accident, imbalances in our bio-mechanics, doing too much too soon, or some other cause, niggles sometimes develop and taking action to stop that niggle turning into a full blown injury can save us a lot of pain and lost training days in the long run.
There is no one size fits all answer on how to deal with injuries - everybody’s body is different and will respond in different ways, but here’s my golden rules and do's and dont's for dealing with an injury.
The first step is learning to listen to your body, and not just hearing, but listening and remembering! we’ll often feel various niggles and different sensations when we’re training. We’re putting our body through stress and asking it to adapt to the demands of training and sometimes it’s going to grumble back at us. But just like with a small child, learning to differentiate between a bit of a moan vs a ‘no really, it properly hurts this time’ comes with experience. Some key factors here are ‘is it a reoccurring niggle or one-off’. Unless it’s actually painful, I’d not worry too much about the one-off niggle, but make sure you remember it so that you can be sure that it is just a one-off. Adding a note in your training plan (which side, what triggered it etc) not only helps you keep track and spot patterns, but is also really useful information if you do end up seeing a physio or similar.
If something becomes more than a one-off niggle then you need to start being a bit more proactive. Sometimes it’s because something has got a bit tight and is pulling something out off alignment so a bit of mobility work, stretching or foam rolling around the affected area can help (it’s often not the area itself that’s the source of the problem e.g. a sore knee usually stems from a problem above or below it – so the ankle or hips/ glutes) but don’t go mad and overdo it, or you might do more harm than good (if you had a small tear in a muscle then stretching it could just exacerbate that tear).
If you’re not increasing your training load then some foam rolling, especially if accompanied by strength and conditioning to address any imbalances, might be enough to keep an issue at bay. Sometimes a short break from training can be enough to let it settle down.
And in the case of running injuries, taking a walk-break within your running, such as 30 secs walk every km, can also help. Generally your form will deteriorate the more fatigued you become, increasing the chance of triggering an injury. The walk break helps you overcome the effects of the fatigue and reset your form, reducing this probability.
But be aware that rolling, stretching and walk-breaks are only dealing with the symptoms, not addressing the root cause. If you’re increasing the distance or training load towards a big race, and especially if you’ve got quite a tight time frame to do that in, if you’ve already got niggles on your short runs, they’re unlikely to disappear as you build up.
And in this case I would definitely advise going to see someone sooner rather than later. You can either go to your GP and see if they’ll refer you (but generally this will take time, which you might not have) or go direct to a physio or similar. If you have private medical insurance, e.g. through work, check if that will cover you, and if so, make sure you check the conditions (generally certain insurers will only work with certain practices). But again that can take time to sort out.
Often you’ll only need a few appointments if you catch the problem early enough. So where it’s an option, I would just get that first appointment booked and get started on the rehab as soon as possible.
Some do’s and dont's about seeing the physio
Dont just keep on training and ignoring the issue if something hurts.
Do try and see someone sooner rather than later if you have a reoccurring niggle – saying ‘but it only hurt on my longer run’ or ‘it doesn’t hurt too much’ is fairly irrelevant if you’re training for a marathon and already having issues running 10k. If it hurts a bit a 10k, it’s going to hurt a lot more at 42k.
Don’t put off seeing someone because they might tell you that you shouldn’t run (or whatever training is triggering it). They’re professionals used to working with runners and if they tell you not to run it’s because that’s the best way to get you back to running in the long run.
Do ask friends for recommendations of where to go locally
Don’t ask Google / friends who’ve had a similar sounding niggle what to do. There’s a load of cr@p out there on the internet, and even if your friend had a similar sounding issue, it may come from a completely different cause, so getting a professional to diagnose the root cause is key.
Do ask the physio what you should and shouldn’t do – get them to be specific about how to adjust your training going forwards, approximately when you should expect things to start feeling better, and what’s an acceptable level of pain when you’re training.
Don’t just expect them to wave a magic wand (usually in the form of a massage or some needles) and fix everything – usually the issue is stemming from some sort of imbalance and they’ll give you some exercises to correct this. If you don’t do the exercises regularly (and carry on, even if the pain stops) then you wont correct the imbalance and the pain will reoccur. Remember how long you probably put off going to see them in the first place? Do you want to go through all that again?
Do make sure you adjust your training going forwards. If you’ve had time off then don’t just jump back in where you were or where you should have been on your plan.
Don’t go and see them, follow their advice for a week and then start rewriting the rules - unless you’re medically trained to diagnose the issue then in most cases they know best.
Do make sure that you are eating enough protein (the building blocks of our body) to help recovery If you’re reducing training then you might need to cut back on hat you’re eating slightly, as you’ll probably be burning less, but don’t decide this is the week to start a weight loss diet. If your body is in negative energy balance then it wont have the resources it needs to get better.
Just like a physio I can’t wave a magic wand to prevent injuries. But I can work with you on a training plan to ensure you build your training consistently and appropriately to your body, and with enough recovery, to try and minimise your chance of injury. And work with you to adapt your training if you do need to take time off for injury.