Return to Running

You were cruising along with a running routine and seeing great results. And then life happened. Maybe you got injured or sick, had a family obligation, a trip, or some other setback that kept you from running. How do you safely get back to your movement routine? Read on for some helpful guidelines on how to return to running and continue making progress after an exercise pause.

Will I Hurt Myself?

You might be afraid of injuring yourself when you return to running after a pause. Most of the time, it is safe to move despite ongoing pain. A protective pain buffer gives you a safety cushion between when you first feel pain and when damage would occur. Plus, movement is one of the most important ways you can reduce pain and build resilience.

In rare instances, pain can be a sign of a serious problem like a stress fracture. If you were injured recently or have a history of stress fractures or osteopenia, you might want to see your doctor to rule out these rare but more serious conditions.

Guidelines for Running 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 your body’s tolerance and sets you up for a more successful return to your running routine.

  • Some pain is fine! But don't push through unacceptable levels of pain to maintain a previous intensity level.

  • Your running form should not change due to pain, unless you are using gait modifications.

  • Start slow and gradually increase your distance, speed, days of running, or elevation gain.

  • Monitor your response to running. If pain becomes unacceptable or increases in pain last longer than 24 hours, reduce your running distance, speed, or elevation gain.

  • Exercise therapy can increase your tolerance for other activities, so keep doing your Hinge Health exercises.

  • Choose running shoes that are comfortable. Comfort matters more than the type of shoe.

  • Some ups and downs are normal and an expected part of the recovery process.

Manage Your Running Load

Running load takes into account the time you spend running (duration) as well as how hard it feels (intensity). Factors to consider when managing your running load include:

  • Distance. How far do you run at one time?

  • Time. How long are you running?

  • 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 throughout the week. How might you add in 5 or 10 minutes more running during the week?

  • Elevation changes. Have you increased the amount of uphill or downhill training too quickly?

Gait Modifications

There is no one ‘right’ way to run. But when you have pain with running, temporary changes to your running form can allow symptoms to settle. These changes to your running form aren’t meant to be permanent. Try only one modification at a time, and a maximum of two modifications per run as needed.

  • Land softer. Focusing on landing more softly is 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 while running.

  • Change your foot strike. Some injuries may be aggravated by a forefoot strike, midfoot strike, or heel strike. Try changing your foot strike to see if it helps reduce your pain.

  • Slow down. Cutting your speed is an easy initial strategy to reduce your pain.

  • Run wider. Some runners with pain on the side of their knee or hip (e.g. IT band syndrome) might find this strategy helpful as they return to running.

  • Run/walk. Start by doing short jogs of 20 to 30 seconds followed by 1 to 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.

Key Takeaways

  1. Most of the time, it is safe to restart a running routine despite ongoing pain.

  2. You can resume running by following a few guidelines, including monitoring your response to running and making modifications to your running load.

  3. Gait modifications like increasing your cadence and changing your foot strike can help your symptoms settle while you gradually return to your full running load.