Recovering From Injury? Avoid Being A Helicopter Parent To Your Body

How it looks to recover from an injury. Image via Flickr user topgold.
How it looks to recover from an injury. Image via Flickr user topgold.

The analogies are endless.

Just as a purple bruise initially hurts and then turns a healing yellow, so too does a running injury.

Just as a cut initially burns but then begins to close up, so too does a running injury.

Just as the storm comes before a rainbow, so too is the process of a running injury.

Just as we may fall down mentally and emotionally, a painful experience often means we are on our way to a breakthrough. Again, the same can be said for a running injury.

But quite possibly the best analogy in such a situation is that of our tendencies to be helicopter parents to our recovering bodies. Stop it, NOW!

Recovering from an injury is not a linear process, much like everything in life. My chiropractor recently described it like riding a roller coaster (heh, another analogy!). As we return to running, we will have some ups and downs. Those are normal. But it’s all too often common to become ultra conservative during this return. We (or maybe just I) think that the littlest of pain means we are about to be injured again. We run with hesitation for fear that letting go will mean the pain will come back. We try to control the area of concern when the reality is that we have no control at all. Each of our bodies have a unique healing process and more often than not, that process will involve a little bit of pain.

As hard as it may be to let go, it's ultimately what we need to do.
As hard as it may be to let go, it’s ultimately what we need to do. Image via Flickr user flequi.

I began a new training cycle this week. I knew to take things slow and keep attune to any major pain as I am recovering from a minor achilles issue. On Thursday, I had felt quite sore all over and had some additional discomfort in my achilles. My first thought was did I do too much too soon?! I did the smart thing and cross trained that day.

Come Friday, I was nervous to try a run again. What if it hurt? What if I ruined my training plans in the first week? What if…

What if is not a fun game to play. I thought back to my previous running injuries and remembered that there was a little bit of pain involved in coming back. I remembered it actually feeling like a bruise or a case of DOMS in the entire area of concern (which were usually my feet). So later on that day, I went for a three mile run and to my surprise, it was pain free. At night, I noticed that there were some aches from my calf down to my foot but it was more like a growing pain. Experts would argue that those aches are the body working to bring blood to the area of concern. Thus, enabling healing.

Returning to Training After Injury Dos

When it comes to recovery and returning to running, there are some helpful tips to follow. Keep in mind that I am not a doctor nor should this be seen as medical advice. In fact, one of the first Dos is to get clearance from your doctor that it is ok to return to running!

  • Get new shoes. Oftentimes we notice that we were due for new shoes after an injury occurs. New shoes bring new life to a recovering body part. Stick to a shoe that you know and love first before making a drastic switch.
  • Continue to do strengthening exercises. Once you return to running that doesn’t mean all the strenthening work you did to recover gets thrown out the window. Now is as good as a time as ever to continue doing foot drills, squats, planks, stretching, and foam rolling. Doing so will support your efforts to increase training.
  • Expect some discomfort. The analogies above say it all. This is a normal part of the healing process. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop listening to your body. This is where the following “Don’ts” come in handy.

Returning to Training After Injury Don’ts

  • Run if it hurts during the entire run. If you are struggling to keep up or hobbling for hours after the run, it’s time to reconsider if you are ready to return to running.
  • Make significant jumps in mileage. Just because you were running 50 miles a week before you got injured doesn’t mean it’s safe to go from 20 miles this week to 50 miles the next. This doesn’t mean you have to follow the controversial 10% rule because at that pace, it would take quite a few weeks to get back up to 50. However, it does mean to first start off conservatively. After a couple weeks of solid training, you should be able to move back up to where you were before the injury. Just be sure to keep doing those strengthening exercises!

Just as it is hard for a helicopter parent to send their child on their first field trip without them, it is often hard for runners to let their bodies be for a while. We think that if we pay all the attention in the world that we will somehow magically control the process of healing. When in fact, the opposite is true. Sure, there is always a chance that it may not be time to return to running but you’ll never know if you don’t let go for a while. It’s ok.

Have you struggled with figuring out when or how to return to training after an injury?



I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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