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A guide to runners on
coping with injury

Keeping our head right when our body breaks down

and how to deal with not being able to run

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Getting past the why me

The emotional and behavioural responses to getting injured

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Coping Strategies

How are you going to cope with being unable to run for a period of time?

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Social Support

Do you get through this on your own?

Or do you have friends, family or teammates helping you

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Returning to Running

Your body is ready

but is your mind?

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Why ME 😞 

It's always the first question we ask when injury strikes. Well it's not just you, some reports have suggested at around 50% of runners will get an injury that requires time off running every year, and as many as 80% of runners will get injured at some point.  So it's more a question of not how to deal with an injury IF I get injured but WHEN.

 

It has been suggested that when we get injured we go through stages similar to that of the grief process.

 

Only when we arrive at acceptance can we truly move forward, so it's important to understand that these stages exist, and that we need to work through it, but they don't always happen in this sequence and we can move back and forward through them.  

A positive outlook can lead to a positive impact on rehab and recovery.  We can separate our response to injury to two categories, 'EMOTIONAL' and 'BEHAVIOURAL'.  

emotional response to injury

Denial

We try to deny the injury is a problem and we can keep running.

Maybe the physio said it is ok to keep running, after all its what you wanted to hear wasn't it

Anger

Why me?

Why do I have to be injured?

Why now?

Anger and frustration at being injured when we have a race coming up that we've trained hard for, or 'not again'

Bargaining

"Maybe if I only stop running for a few days it will be fine" or "Just let me do this one race then I can be injured" 

Depression

We run for many different reasons, whether its to compete, for the social aspect of it such as parkrun or running with club mates, or for our mental health, when we can't run it can be mentally hard to deal with.  Studies have linked poor mental health, including depression, with exercise withdrawal

Acceptance

The final stage, but this can takes weeks to arrive at, but it's only now that we are truly ready to deal with the injury, do the rehab, and move forward

Positive thinking can lead to positive outcomes, thinking positively shapes how we view stressful situations, and helps to determine our coping strategies, leading to successful health outcomes.  Studies have shown that  a positive attitude to the injury rehab process results in a faster healing time, maybe because we are more likely to do the rehab if we feel positive about the outcome.

Negative thinking leads to catastrophising which focuses on the negative aspects of the situation, whilst filtering out any positive thoughts and magnifying the problem making it potentially a bigger deal than it really is.  

behavioural response to injury

When we have stopped asking why me? then we can decide our behavioural response, hopefully this will be a positive response.

Our behavioural response to injury depends largely on

  • the severity of the injury,

  • location of the injury,

  • timing, is it a season ending injury, is there time to get over the injury before my big race

Given these factors we can respond in two ways...

Positive Response

  • Adhere to the rehab program

  • Seek out social support

  • Setting goals

  • Making a plan for how to return to running gradually

  • Identify your strengths

  • Adopt new practices and habits

Negative Response

  • Not doing your rehab

  • Not getting help and going it alone

  • No goal setting

  • No plan for the rehab

  • No plan for the return to running phase

How are you going to choose to respond?

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Coping Strategies 🤔

“My attitude is that if you push me towards a weakness, I will turn that weakness into a strength”
- Michael Jordan

Going through the rehab process alone can be hard, particularly with staying motivated to do the rehab exercises.  Finding ways to cope with no running can be difficult, even for a few weeks.

 

Coping strategies come during all of the above stages and not only when we arrive at acceptance.  

 

  • Seek out support - talk to family and friends, other runner, people who know you either as a runner or in other areas of your life.  Suppo​rt could be either emotion focussed support or problem focussed support, it could be that both are needed and from different sources. someone who can offer good emotional support may not be the best person for fixing problems such as creating plans or actions to resolve stressful situations 

  • Stay connected - If you're in a running club see if you can help out on coaching nights, staying involved and seeing your friends suffer on hill sprints can help you stay positive, especially when you see other runners who have come back from injury themselves, if you can't run then you can at least talk about running.

  • Have an alternative activity -  other activities such as cycling or swimming, that you haven't felt you had the time for, can give new focus as well as helping to maintain fitness.

  • Use it as an opportunity - instead of running at Parkrun you could volunteer instead, it's not easy watching other people run when you''re injured but there is still some pleasure to be had from it.

  • Reflect - This could be a time to reflect on your running goals or your training routine.  Perhaps identify new goals

  • Sleep - We all feel better when we sleep well, indeed sleep is an important part of the injury healing process, as that is when your tissues can do most of their healing.

  • Set clear & realistic goals - This gives you a chance to measure your progress, achieving goals however small makes us feel more positive about the next step

Is being 'a runner' the thing that you identify yourself to be? If so then be aware that runners with a strong athletic identity usually fail to develop good coping skills for dealing with injury.  Being aware of this can help you to not fall in to that trap.

Remember, you're not alone, there are plenty of other runners who are also injured, connect with them, and even create a support group and help each other.

What we do depends on why we do it

The reason why we run will shape how we cope with not being able to.  Whatever the reasons for running, injuries can impact our mental health.

Running to lose weight

This is where alternative exercise will be needed.  The time usually given to running needs to be filled with other activity otherwise bad food habits can easily fill the void

Running for mental health

Finding good social support could be crucial, staying active and in the outdoors with fresh air can really help. Try cycling or open water swimming.

Helping out with coaching in your club could also really help.

Running for the social life

Again a good social support could be crucial, Helping out with coaching in your club helps to maintain that social connection.

If you're not in a club then helping out at Parkrun.

Stay connected with the after run socialising is important.

Running to compete

This could be the opportunity to assess your race calendar, Look at you training plan and set new goals for when you return.

Don't underestimate the value of social support, this can be vital for staying focussed and sticking to the rehab

The Past is the past, we can't change it, and we can't live there

The Present is the only thing we have control over, so stay in the now

The Future is unknown so don't worry about it, remember, the future is rarely as bad as we think it's going to be anyway.

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Social Support  👂

“Injury is not just a process of recovery, it's a process of discovery
- Connor McGregor

Family and friends

Well suited for emotional and listening support

Sport medicine providers

Those who work with athletes on a daily basis can be important sources of emotional, information, & motivational support.

Other runners

Teammates and coaches with a shared experience can be good for giving emotional and motivational support.

It is a resource, consider it as a social ‘fund’ from which you can make a withdrawal when dealing with the stress of being injured.​ 

It can help with providing a sense of belonging and assurance, and helping with feelings of being isolated, especially if you usually run with a club or with friends.​

A support network, such as family members, partners, peers, teammates, coaches, and other individuals close to you, may become a source of strength.  Find people who understand what you're going through, if us runners aren't talking about our latest PB then we're talking about what injuries we've had.  There is no shortage of runners we can talk to about injuries and how they coped with it and what helped others.

We are all different and cope in different ways, but knowing that you're not the only one going through this can be a big help.

 

Social support can be by way of…

  • Personal – Advice, guidance, and assistance targeted at problem solving and feedback.

  • Material – Transport to rehab, assistance with household duties, financial support.

  • Motivational – Encouragement with overcoming barriers.

Who Can Provide Social Support?

When considering who is best to help support you through your injury rehab process, look at your relationship with them prior to your injury.  

This might be more than one person, the person who can give you the best emotional support may not be the best person to to give you the motivational support you also need at times, but they should..

  • Understand and be sensitive to your injury, 

  • Be willing to support you

  • Be able to provide support when YOU need it

In the early stages of the injury it may be that emotional support is what is needed most, in time this will likely change to more informational support, such as advice with the best rehab exercises, how much you can do and when. 

As runners, if we aren't talking about the PB or race we just did we are talking about the injury we just had.  You don't have to do this alone, someone else has been there and got the same t'shirt, it's good to talk.

A final point, if needed, athletes with good social support have been shown to have higher levels of rehab exercise adherence, motivation and self-esteem.

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Returning to Running 🏃🏻‍♀️

“The return is one of the hardest shots to make when you comeback from injury”
- Lyndsey Davenport

Going through the rehab process alone can be hard, particularly with staying motivated to do the rehab exercises.

Some of the issues surrounding returning to running after a long lay off concern our confidence to run again and fear of reinjury.  Make a proper plan to ease back gradually.  Confidence will return slowly as long as what we do doesn't cause pain and in turn that reduces the fear of the injury returning.

If we get the other areas of the rehab right then we will be better placed to get this, possibly most important phase, right.

  • Maintain a positive mindset - carrying a positive attitude in to this final phase, a positive mindset leads to positive perceptions regarding your return to running

  • Fear avoidance - the fear factor of what will happen when you start running again can hold you back, 

  • Take confidence - if you have had a good rehab program and it has gone as you hoped, you should take confidence that you are ready to start running again.

  • Set realistic goals - create a realistic date for returning to running, and a realistic plan for progressing your running gradually over time. As you reach each little goal you will gain more confidence to keep going and move on to the next goal

  • Social Support - You created a support network, keep using it, it got you this far it will help with the motivation and adherence throughout the rest of your journey back to running

Positive Feelings you might have

Rehab has gone well, you feel confident about getting running again

You have gained a new perspective about running,

You're excited about getting back out and running again

Looking forward to seeing your running buddies again

Negative Feelings you might have

Nervousness or anxiety over the fear of reinjury

You don't think you can get back to pre injury levels.