700 Children's Blog

Returning to Running After an Injury: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Oct 01, 2019
Two athletes running

When fall sports are in full swing, we often see an influx of running-related injuries. Most often, these include stress fractures, strains and sprains, or inflammation of the growth plates. The common denominator is often increasing running intensity (mileage or speed) too quickly.

As physical therapists, we strongly urge patients to follow a return-to-running progression if they have taken an extended break from sports such as soccer, cross-country or track. Allowing for a gradual ramp up period is crucial if coming off a recent injury, or starting a new sports season after taking an extended break from running. Even just two weeks off can reduce a runner’s tolerance significantly. A return-to-running progression is a great way to safely increase running distance and speed while decreasing the risk of injury or re-aggravation of a previous injury. 

The best return-to-running progression is one customized by a physical therapist. If an athlete isn’t currently being seen by physical therapy, here are some general tips for getting started.

  • Start running only when there is no pain with day-to-day life and tasks
  • Begin with a combination of walking and jogging and incorporate breaks
  • Slowly increase distance, taking into account any noticeable pain

Any increase in pain will often require a pause or step backwards in the progression to ensure the body has enough time to adjust to the increased demands. Lastly, a good program should encourage at least one rest or cross training day with different activities such as biking or swimming, to encourage the body to rest and repair.

After an injury has healed, most athletes are anxious to start back into their sport at full intensity. However, slowing down and following a return-to-running progression may prevent re-aggravating or sustaining a new injury. Additionally, if there has been an extended break from sports, taking time to work back into running a week or two before practices begin may help prevent an in-season injury.

Return-to-running progression is considered complete once an athlete is back to full participation in practice, or after achievement of goal mileage or speed for running.

If you would like more information on return-to-running progressions, or to schedule a running analysis by one of Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Sports and Orthopedic physical therapists, click here.

Featured Expert

Mindy Deno
Mindy Deno, PT, DPT
Sports and Orthopedic Physical Therapy

Mindy Deno, PT, DPT, graduated from the University of Cincinnati DPT program in 2015. Immediately following graduate school, she began a one-year Sports and Orthopedic Physical Therapy Residency here at Nationwide Children’s. Following the completion of the residency, she plans to sit for, and obtain, her Orthopedic Specialist Certification.

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