Return to Running

This is a guide to help you navigate how to improve your tolerance to running.

Will I hurt myself?

In rare instances, pain is alerting us to more critical problems like a stress fracture. It is important to be checked out by a healthcare practitioner to rule out rare but serious conditions.

Pain Doesn’t Always Equal Damage

Most of the time, it is safe to move despite ongoing pain. A protective pain buffer gives us a safety cushion between when we first feel hurt and when damage would occur. This buffer allows us to use movement as an important stimulus to adapt and grow more resilient with less fear of causing harm.

Pain Buffer Zone

Pain Buffer Zone

In the diagram above, our pain trigger line is when we first feel pain and the actual injury line is when damage would occur. A protective buffer separates the two providing a safety cushion between hurt and harm where pain acts as a warning signal. Reach out to your coach for examples of this in action!

Running as Rehab

Running can be a part of the rehab process even as you continue to experience pain. Including running earlier in the rehab process increases our bodies’ tolerance to return to running more successfully. Follow the rules below as you get started with return to running.

Rules for Running Rehab

These rules can help guide your return to running.

  • Some pain is fine! Don’t push through unacceptable levels of pain.
  • Your running form should not change due to pain, unless using gait modifications.
  • Start slow and gradually increase distance, speed, days of running or elevation gain.
  • Monitor your 24 hour reaction to running. If the pain does not settle within 24 hours after run, reduce running distance, speed, and/or elevation gain.
  • Exercise therapy can also be important to increase running tolerance.
  • Choose running shoes that are comfortable. Type of shoe matters less.

Manage Load

These variables are important to manage as you return to running.

  • Distance/Time: How far/long do you run at one time?
  • Speed: How often are you running fast? How often are you running easy or slow?
  • Distribution of Workload: Do you do all your running in a couple days or do you distribute it more throughout the week. How might you add in 5-10 minutes more running during the weekdays?
  • Elevation change: Have you increased the amount of uphill or downhill training too quickly?

Gait Modifications

These changes aren’t meant to be permanent changes to your running form. There is no one right way to run. When you have pain with running, temporary changes to your running form can allow symptoms to settle while you continue to retrain your pain system and grow more resilient. Try only one modification at a time, and only try 1-2 per run as needed.

  • Land Softer - A natural way to reduce the amount of load you are exposed to as you start running.
  • Increase Cadence - Increasing your steps per minute can naturally reduce forces through your body.
  • Change your Footstrike - Some injuries may be aggravated more by a forefoot strike, midfoot strike or heel strike. Try changing yours to see if it helps reduce your pain.
  • Slow Down - A great and easy initial strategy to reduce your pain.
  • Run Wider - Some runners with pain on the side of their knee or hip (ex: IT band syndrome) might find this strategy helpful as they return to running.
  • Run/Walk - Start by doing short jogs of 20-30 seconds followed by 1-3 minutes of walking. Slowly increase your run time while decreasing your walk time.
  • Stop and Stretch - After a few minutes of running, try stopping and doing some stretches or skips before continuing running.
  • Cool-Down with a Hinge Health playlist.