The Wall

Everything you need to be a smarter, faster runner.

Beating Your Lizard Brain When Injured

04 May

To Run or Not to Run
Time off. Down time. Run jail.

Whatever you call it, there’s no hiding from the fact that you aren’t running. And it’s driving you crazy.

If you’re a Type A athlete like most of us, any interruption of your normal life is incredibly painful.

“Run – Eat – Work – Sleep – Repeat” is long gone. Now life is an unmanageable mess of rest, stretching, physical therapy and strength training.

Bonus — if it’s an injury that’s preventing you from running, you likely feel it every time you move. Great.

That Lizard Brain

But here’s the rub — you and I both know it won’t get better without your time and attention.

But your tiny exercise lizard brain doesn’t want to talk about that. It just wants to scream WE AREN’T RUNNING every time you think about your situation.

Your internal running voice is most likely what got you into trouble in the first place. It’s not going to help you out. At least not willingly.

So we have to create conditions that will engage your runner brain. It wants to be binary: I am running. Or, I am not running.

But the return to running is going to take much more nuance than that. And for longer. So the best thing to do is create a schedule with milestones, movement and a desired outcome.

Your Return-To-Running Path

See what I did there? I put running in the name of the plan itself. If you’ve read this far, then we know you aren’t looking for short cuts or cortisone shots. But you are ready to work if the message is right.

Having a defined timeline or path for your recovery is really helpful. Mainly because it’s really hard to feel progress when your daily “homework” is really nothing like the training you once did.

Just like training for and executing a race, following this path will require work and discipline. And you got that.

Here is how I suggest you look at the flow of an injury and recovery process:

1. Settle Things Down / Treat the Pain
2. Identify the Cause / Research + Specialist Time
3. Begin Fixing The Source / Fixing Your Foundation
4. ReIntegrate Run-Like Training / Returning to Activity
5. Return to Running

1. Settle Things Down / Treat the Pain

So…running hurts. And it hurts when you aren’t running. You know you are in trouble.

The first thing you need to do is stop running. The last thing you want to do is make the situation worse. After all you have no idea how serious the situation is — or if you are making things worse.

You know the R.I.C.E. protocol: Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation.

Your top mission here is (1) to end the cause of your pain and (2) to reduce the manifestations of that pain.  This could be swelling or tightness, etc. Whatever it takes, do that.

If you have Achilles pain, don’t wear 5-inch heels to work.

If your hips are tight, don’t sit at a desk all day long (take breaks).

Think simple changes that can instantly have an effect.

2. Identify the Cause / Research + Specialist Time

As soon as you have pain, reach our to your Primary Care Physician. Depending on your situation, you may have to wait some time to see them. So the early you can go the better.

Level One

Your PCP is the gatekeeper to your Physical Therapist via the prescription process. Any delay on the front end will only cascade into further problems and delays down the line. So act quickly.

Ideally your PCP understands your athletic body (and personality) and can provide a diagnosis. It might not be the final word, but hopefully it’s got you pointed in the right direction.

Level Two

You’ll take the PCP’s advice to the Physical Therapist (or Orthopedic specialist, etc). This is when things get really specific — you move from general issues (hip pain) to the specifics (the sacrotuberous ligament).

The more specific you can get, the higher likelihood that the recovery / rebuilding protocol will be more effective.

Other Options

Depending on your situation, you might end up at a Chiropractor. Or a podiatrist. Or a massage therapist.

Do your homework and ask around. Does anyone on your Team know this individual? Can you get a recommendation or background on them? The more you know, the more input and influence you can have on the situation.

3. Begin Fixing The Source / Fixing Your Foundation

With clarity as to the source of the issue, your Running Lizard Brain should be pretty happy.

Having a problem and knowing how to treat it is INFINITELY better than just having pain.

Problem details = Rehab plan of action.

You will have to start off very light, focusing on proper form. Your goal here isn’t to hit a certain number of reps — it’s pain free, quality movement.

But there will be reps. And this is where you’ll need your over-achieving Run Lizard Brain.

Because if your PT wants you to do two sets of 1o reps per day of a specific exercise…you’ll want to do four sets. All with good form,  of course. But I don’t want you to accept anything less than your best effort for this session.

Treat it like you are training for a race. If one is good, two is better. If two is better, four might be possible. Challenge yourself here; the only way you are going to make it back out on the open road is to get stronger.

4. ReIntegrate Run-Like Training / Returning to Activity

Depending on your situation, you may or may not have the opportunity to workout right away. But that’s okay, because in many cases you will need to re-learn proper movement patterns.

This means standing and sitting with good posture. It means learning to fire your muscles in the proper order. It means staying balanced and coordinated.

For many, this process is harder than the earlier rehab. Because your body is just used to doing things a certain way. It’s like a cranky old person who won’t change…you’ll find yourself putting up the same excuses (even angrily!) as to why you can’t change.

So start with walking. And then move to incremental steps such as the elliptical machine and pool running. You can then transition to running in a controlled environment, such as the treadmill.

Did I mention that you’ll need to continue your exercises so the Old You doesn’t come back?

Suck it up Buttercup. If it was easy, everyone would be a runner.

5. Return to Running

When you finally have the green light, it will be time to get back to actual running. Real put on your shoes and go outside running. Breathing fresh air. Feeling the wind.

But don’t be distracted — you still need to run well.

Don’t give yourself any opportunities for failure / set back.  Start the return to running by alternating with time on your other aerobic modality (treadmill, stairmaster, bike, etc.).

Take frequent walk breaks to “reset” your running form and stay on track. Be mindful and engaged in your running.

And as you move towards more running than rehabbing, do so intentionally and incrementally. If you need an extra day of rest, then take it.

Staying the Course

There are no rewards for pushing through the pain of rehab. But there are incredible rewards for doing that rehab right. Every time you have to rebuild, you have the chance to come back bigger and better.

This is your time to shine. Can you become stronger? Better? Faster? That’s up to you (and your lizard brain). Let’s go!

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