Training while injured: To run or not to run

small dog running on old wooden bridge on rainforest trail

Part of my impetus to get “back” in shape – what initiated this Keep it Moving Project – was the fact that I was dealing with both illness and injury. I had surgery for an umbilical hernia (my second surgery) in October 2019, and I also have a chronic knee injury (related to running, but now turning into arthritis).

Besides injury and illness, I was in my mid- 50s – a time of life when it is both increasingly difficult to stay fit and strong (it takes more and more effort, and you are no longer actually likely to improve at much!) and increasingly difficult to heal from injury. So you must be much more cautious in your training!

Should I even be running with my knee injury?

Deciding whether or not to run with an injury will be different for every person. Everyone’s injury is unique.

Also, each person’s goals, and their acceptance of risk, will be different. An elite athlete may consider the risk of further injury worthwhile if they know they have the chance of winning gold, and train through an injury in the hope it will be OK. Whereas someone like me, who is not in the running to win anything, and who values having a healthy and active outdoor lifestyle for a few more decades, probably doesn’t want to risk much at all.

First of all, you need to listen to your own body. You can probably tell (even if you don’t want to admit it!) whether your training is aggravating your injury or not.

Then, also, listen to your doctor, and to any other medical professionals who are treating you. If they recommend time off, they probably have good reason to advise that, and you should listen.

Training with a chronic injury

In the case of my knee injury, it has been on-going for over ten years now. It started as classical “runner’s knee” (properly known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, or PFP), and then into a rare injury called popliteal tendinitis (both of these ultimately from me pushing too hard – oops).

Now it is probably mainly arthritis caused by those old injuries.

So I know my knee injury well. It is old, it is chronic, and I know what aggravates it. Luckily for me, the main thing that aggravates it is NOT exercising. This is the case for a lot of chronic injuries! Sedentary living makes things worse.

So I know that if I keep my muscles working – both strong and balanced – through regular exercise, my knee actually works great! (And – with age comes wisdom – I also know not to push it TOO hard).

Training with an acute injury

An acute injury is a completely different story. An acute injury is one that is new and recent. (What is recent? It could be something you did yesterday, or a few weeks ago – but not on-going and chronic).

In most cases, an acute injury needs rest – at very least for a few days and, depending on the injury, maybe for a few weeks. If you start using the injured joint or muscle too soon, you risk (at best) slowing the healing process down, and possibly even turning that acute injury into a lifelong, chronic injury.

That’s why I am not running this week. My training has gone well so far. I am feeling fit and strong, and I have been pushing to run some of my regular trail loops a bit faster. But now my ankles are hurting!

I don’t know what’s up with my ankles, but that’s an example of an acute injury. So I am taking a little break from the running, to make sure that they don’t get any worse – and so this issue does not become chronic. Instead of running, I am continuing my training by doing some fast walks on the trails with the dog (always fun!) and then coming home to do some squats, to keep building my muscle without causing impact on my ankles.

My Keep it Moving Project is all about motivation to be the fittest and strongest you can be. If you want to keep in my info loop, then sign up for updates on my Contact page – I promise I will never spam you!

Published by Jacqueline Windh

I'm a writer, photographer, and radio broadcaster who is concerned about our planet and how we live our lives - hoping my work helps people to find new ways of thinking about issues such as personal health, wilderness, the environment, food security, thinking about the future. These things are all connected, you know...

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