CAN I RETURN TO RUNNING AFTER INJURY?

One of the most common topics we are asked about is running – Can I run again? Is running bad for my recovery? Can running lead to other injuries?

Running is a great activity for cardiovascular fitness, strong bones and muscles, healthy joints and weight maintenance.

A common concern is that running will lead to ‘wear and tear’ of the joints. A recent review of 25 studies which included over 120,000 individuals found that only 3.5% of recreational runners developed hip or knee osteoarthritis, compared to 10.2% of non-runners and 13.3% of professional/elite runners (1). We think this is because running causes the joint structures to become more resilient to load over time.

Running has also been associated with increased strength and height of the intervertebral discs in your spine (2). Similarly, the spinal discs seem to become stronger when they are repeatedly exposed to the forces associated with running. 

It is important to discuss running with your surgeon/specialist and physiotherapist before returning. Most injuries and surgeries don’t preclude you from running, however a gradual exercise program is vital to condition your body for the forces of running and develop an efficient and safe technique. 

Studies of professional athletes have found that 88% of those who underwent lumbar microdiscectomy (a lower back surgery) (3) and 81% of those who had lumbar disc herniations (4) successfully returned to professional sport. Anecdotally, we’ve certainly found that non-athletes can return to running and sport safely too if they commit time and dedication to the rehabilitation process. 

Aspects of running technique have been closely associated with risk of common running injuries (5). Your program will include training for components of running such as the fast push off created by your calf muscles, efficient cadence (steps per minute), arm swing and foot contact area to minimise the load on your joints when you run. You have a very efficient set of shock absorbers in your body, you just need to learn how to use them! 

Once you have your rehabilitation plan in place, consider having a footwear expert help you find a great pair of runners. Then look for a relatively soft surface to run on initially, such as a dirt or gravel track or level grass. Princess Park and The Tan are some of our local favorites. 

Talk to us about starting the return to running process and we can set you on the right path. 

References

  • Alentorn-Geli, E., Samuelsson, K., Musahl, V., Green, C. L., Bhandari, M., & Karlsson, J. (2017). The association of recreational and competitive running with hip and knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 47(6), 373-390.

  • Belavý, D. L., Quittner, M. J., Ridgers, N., Ling, Y., Connell, D., & Rantalainen, T. (2017). Running exercise strengthens the intervertebral disc. Scientific Reports, 7, 45975.

  • Watkins IV, R. G., Williams, L. A., & Watkins III, R. G. (2003). Microscopic lumbar discectomy results for 60 cases in professional and Olympic athletes. The Spine Journal, 3(2), 100-105.

  • Hsu, W. K., McCarthy, K. J., Savage, J. W., Roberts, D. W., Roc, G. C., Micev, A. J., ... & Schafer, M. F. (2011). The Professional Athlete Spine Initiative: outcomes after lumbar disc herniation in 342 elite professional athletes. The Spine Journal, 11(3), 180-186. 

  • Bramah, C., Preece, S. J., Gill, N., & Herrington, L. (2018). Is there a pathological gait associated with common soft tissue running injuries?. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 0363546518793657.