How to recover from an injury and get back to running?
Published: 11 September, 2023 | 5'
Once we know why sports injuries occur and what are the most common ones, and how to prevent the most common injuries in runners, it is important to learn about what comes after an injury.
With the help of Dr. Yaiza Acosta, sports doctor, and the head of the Scientific Information department at MARNYS, Maria Mercedes Sánchez, we learn about the main recommendations for optimal recovery if we have suffered a sports injury. Especially in the case of runners.
What should we do if we suffer a sports injury?
The main sports injuries are generally related to soft tissues: sprains, strains, tears, and bruises, which affect muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints.
In general, as explained by the head of Scientific Information at MARNYS, Maria Mercedes Sánchez, if you suffer a sports injury, the first thing is to seek immediate medical assistance, taking into account 4 phases14:
- First aid for a sports injury: During the first three minutes, an initial assessment of the injury is made and afterwards, medical specialists will determine the procedure to follow.
- Treatment: In the following three days, keeping in mind the RICER framework (as it applies to the type of injury): (R)est, (I)ce, (C)ompression, (E)levation, and obtaining (R)eferences for appropriate medical treatment.
- Rehabilitation: In the following three weeks, rehabilitation is usually carried out. Depending on the type of injury, it may require active rehabilitation with controlled exercises and activities that will expedite the recovery process.
- Conditioning: Finally, in the following three months after an injury, and always depending on the type and severity of it, a gradual process of returning to training is implemented, selecting exercises that help prevent a recurrence of the initial injury.
Who is the specialist responsible for diagnosing a sports injury?
Both specialists agree that it should be a qualified sports doctor and/or orthopedic surgeon or professional physiotherapist who helps obtain a more precise diagnosis of the injury, in order to design and initiate a specific rehabilitation program.
Treatment and recovery of the most common injuries in runners
Generally, as explained by Dr. Yaiza Acosta, sports doctor: “the 4 phases described above are repeated for different sports injuries, but the treatment and rehabilitation of injuries, logically, is not always the same, it must be personalized.”
We can see the main differences in the treatment and recovery of the most common injuries among runners:
Recovering from Runner’s Knee
Runners can suffer from degeneration of the articular cartilage due to overuse, abnormal force on the knee, or traumas. They feel pain and patellar tenderness, especially when sitting for long periods, getting up, or climbing stairs.
Rest, ice, anti-inflammatory therapy, and limiting activity until the pain subsides are recommended, followed by a gradual return to activities. Stretching and strengthening the quadriceps should be implemented, avoiding any movement or exercise that increases tension in the knee.
This injury responds very well to therapeutic treatment and rehabilitation. However, improper management can cause cartilage degeneration, resulting in a scar that rubs against the bone and increases friction, limiting mobility and delaying the return to sports activities.
Recovering from Achilles Tendonitis
This injury occurs in runners due to repetitive tension on the tendon, causing a lot of pain and inflammation. It can also be caused by inadequate running shoes or untreated calf injuries. It limits the contractility of the muscles, hindering movement.
The immediate treatment is rest, reduction or cessation of activity (at least 5-10 days), cold/heat, massage, and anti-inflammatory medication. After the rest period, activity can be resumed with gentle stretching and strengthening exercises, applying heat to the tendon area, and also exercising the calf muscles.
Rehabilitation for tendinitis can last a few weeks, and if done properly, it usually does not leave long-term effects.
The repetitive impact of running can cause small fractures in the bone and they often occur mostly in the shin. Some other causes can be low bone density and muscle fatigue. There is localized sensitivity with inflammation and pain when bearing weight or engaging in physical activity.
In case of suffering any of these fractures, the RICER scheme previously described should be applied, and anti-inflammatory therapy; if there is dysfunction, consult a sports doctor immediately.
Rest should be taken for 4-6 weeks (according to evolutionary control), and then the rehabilitation phase should be initiated with strengthening of the calf muscles, low impact activities (such as swimming, elliptical, and/or stationary bicycle), and proper warm-up to limit bone impact.
A stress fracture that is not properly managed can end in a complete fracture and damage to adjacent nerves.
It is a very common injury in runners when accelerating or sprinting, causing a tear in the hamstring muscles due to excessive muscle loading. There is pain, muscle tenderness affecting mobility and weight-bearing capacity.
The initial treatment is “rest, cold/heat, reduced inflammation, and an ultrasound will be requested to assess recovery weeks and then the sports massage“ can be started, explains Dr. Yaiza Acosta.
Rehabilitation is based on stretching and strengthening the hamstring muscles, with special care in performing proper warm-up, gradually increasing intensity.
Hamstring sprains with complete rehabilitation rarely leave persistent effects, however, if not properly rehabilitated, they can cause problems in the lumbar area and hip.
What are the consequences of a sports injury?
As we can see, depending on the type of injury and the extent determined by the specialist, both specialists also agree that the sports consequences will be analyzed. A very important aspect, according to Dr. Acosta, is that “once the injury has occurred, it is important to bear in mind that poor management of recovery can lead to greater consequences“.
Some of these consequences range from a relapse in the injury, to other situations derived from poorly healed injuries, such as: decreased mobility, loss of strength and flexibility, especially in tendons and ligaments, muscle hernia, chronic subluxations, alteration of articular cartilage, poor ossification after a fracture, hematoma calcification, formation of painful scars, problems in the lumbar and hip area, etc.
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Content elaborated with the responsible of the Scientific Information area of MARNYS and the collaboration of Dr. Yaiza Acosta. This article is informative and does not substitute the consultation with a specialist.
About the specialist
Dr. Yaiza Acosta @dra_saludable
The Dr. Yaiza Acosta is a medical doctor, specialist in physical and sports medicine from the University of Barcelona, and specialized in nutrition and applied dietetics. Additionally, she contributes to the dissemination of a healthy lifestyle through her social media channels as @dra_saludable.