How to prevent injury

3 running injury myths that are holding your recovery back

Posted by for Wellbeing

Think that rest is the best policy when it comes to running injuries? Not everyone agrees…

Picking up a running injury can be hugely demotivating. Just when you’ve found your stride, you’re then forced to stop – ruining your training streak. And anyone who’s rolled their ankle, developed a knee niggle or twinged their ACL will know only too well that these injuries often drag on for weeks and weeks.

A 2021 study by the University of Gothenburg found that almost half of recreational runners injure themselves at least once a year, regardless of age, sex, experience or weight. Most of those issues crop up in the Achilles tendons, calves and knees. 

Given how common it is to do yourself a mischief while running, it’s important to know how to manage injuries when they do happen. The go-to rehab techniques may not, however, be as useful as you may think. Physical therapist and run coach Dr Victoria Sekely has been warning runners against falling for common rehab myths that could be halting progress. 

Myth one: rest is the best treatment for injuries

Who’s grown up with RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) as the main go-to injury advice? Probably the most common advice for dealing with injuries (running or otherwise), rest is often wheeled out as the be-all and end-all of rehab. But Dr Sekely says that often, rest isn’t the best policy. “Most running injuries will not require you to stop running and will actually make it harder for you to return to running if you do stop,” she explains.

Think about it: you pick up a knee injury, give up running for a few months and two months later, the knee might feel better but your fitness is at an all-time low and the cause of that injury hasn’t been addressed. Obviously, if you twist your ankle, you’re going to want to give running a break for a couple of weeks – but taking the weight off entirely won’t help. 

A 2018 study looking into injury recovery found that the key thing for novice runners is to graduate load to prevent injury, and reduce load if recovering from an injury. Go for a daily, gentle stroll. Keep doing your core work. Increase your strength training and then gradually build easy runs back into your regime. If it’s knee, hip or back related, get assessed by a physio who can diagnose the root of the problem and set out an action plan for strengthening whatever muscle is letting you down.

World-renowned coach Ben Patrick previously told Stylist: “Rest is an important part of the process but prolonged rest to handle pain often makes things worse because the muscles and tendons responsible get even weaker. So you rest for the pain… and return for major injury and surgery.” 

Obviously, this doesn’t mean training through pain. If your ankle is swollen and painful then you won’t want to run on it – but it won’t do you much good sitting with it elevated after a day or two. 

Myth two: stretching and foam rolling are long-term solutions

Dr Sekely claims that while both stretching and foam-rolling can be great for short-term relief, they aren’t long-term solutions for pain or injury. If you find that running is causing you chronic lower back pain, for example, doing some daily yoga may help to ease the tightness, but really, you need to go to a chiropractor, osteopath or physio who can assess why that pain is happening. 

We’ve spoken before on Strong Women about ‘referred pain’ – the idea that the initial site of injury may not be the place you feel pain. A sore back, for example, may be caused by weak glutes.

We already know that the science doesn’t quite stack up when it comes to foam rolling and pain reduction; claims that foam rolling can help with muscle alignment, reducing inflammation and flushing out lactic acid (which isn’t actually a ‘thing’) simply aren’t true according to the current research

There’s more evidence to justify foam rolling being used as a warm-up technique than a recovery or rehab tool. Stretching too has no clinically-found benefits when it comes to recovery but we do know that it can help to build strength, balance and flexibility – all of which are going to make you less injury-prone as a runner. So while yoga might not speed up your recovery, it will help to protect you against rolled ankles, weak under arches and lazy hamstrings in the first place.

Myth three: rehab exercises shouldn’t get tougher

When it comes to regular exercise, you want to progress moves so that they get tougher as you get fitter/stronger. It’s no good sticking with squatting 20kg, for example – you want to increase the weight to challenge the body as it adapts. When you’re injured, it’s still the case that your rehab exercises should be getting tougher.

As you rebuild strength in the injured area, you want to increase the challenge. When a programme gets tougher will depend on you and your injury (which is why you need to work with a rehab specialist) but in general, the plan should be to progress and help you get back to pre-injury fitness.

Of course, your best bet when it comes to injuries is getting checked out by a medical professional and being guided by their advice. 

For more injury-prevention tips, visit the Strong Women Training Club

Images: Getty

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Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.