Brandon Laan’s recent post 7 ways to improve while injured was of timely relevance to me as I had recently sustained a low-grade Achilles tear and, like many runners who’ve been in a similar situation, could not help but be concerned with how I might return to running as quickly as possible without letting myself become “unfit”. I heeded Laan’s advice and decided that the time I typically dedicate to running each day would have to be prioritized first to rehabbing, and whatever time remained would be put towards maintaining my cardio on the bike, elliptical, or pool.
I assured my wife Maura Connolly-Wieczorek, PT, owner/operator of Bluenose Physiotherapy on Hollis St. in Halifax and 2:58 marathoner, that I would be her most diligent physio patient and follow whatever rehabilitation program she prescribed. Fortunately I was able to return to running within a few weeks, optimistic that certain muscle imbalances had been corrected in order to prevent a similar reoccurrence in the future. I asked Maura to explain some of the common tendencies that non-compliant physiotherapy patients exhibit that is counterproductive towards their recovery. My hope is that, should you find yourself in a therapist’s clinic, you don’t inadvertently prevent yourself from getting back on the roads as quickly as possible.
One of the first questions Maura Connolly-Wieczorek will ask a patient during a follow-up treatment is “How did you find the exercises I provided you?” If the response is “umm, I didn’t really do them”, then chances are it will be a prolonged recovery. A major reason for patients not performing their recommended drills or stretches is because they fail to see the correlation between the exercise and their injury. They think “how can this possibly help?” I’ll admit that I wasn’t able to make the link between the stretches I was doing and how they would mend my Achilles, but I trusted Maura’s expertise. The wall of your therapist’s office will display various diplomas and accreditations that indicate they’ve dedicated years to studying their craft. Combined with their ongoing professional development and clinical experience, they are well versed in how to diagnose your problem and treat it accordingly. Don’t think that you know more than your therapist. Put the same trust in them as you would your mechanic, plumber, accountant, or any other specialist.
Soliciting information from every source possible
“When somebody comes into the clinic for the first time and they’ve already done extensive online research, asked numerous people within their running group for advice, and have been to see several therapists before me, I know I’ve got my hands full,” Connolly-Wieczorek continues. “Inevitably sources will conflict, leaving the patient overwhelmed with information overload. Although the patient has the best of intentions, this increases the likelihood that activities will be performed that are detrimental to their recovery”. Similar to the previous point, put your faith in a specialist that you trust, rather than throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the problem. Oftentimes “less is more” and it’s better to obtain a fewer number of sounder treatment approaches and give them a fair chance before trying something different.
Having a defeatist attitude
If you enter a therapist’s clinic with the preconceived notion that you are beyond repair, you’ve already created a self-fulfilling prophecy for yourself. “I have much better outcomes with patients who maintain a positive attitude throughout their treatment,” says Connolly-Wieczorek. “Recovery times vary depending on the extent of the injury, but it’s important to believe that you will get better. Focus on the small incremental gains that you’ve been making: Can you perform exercises today that you couldn’t perform two days ago? Has your range of motion improved noticeably? Let these indicators provide encouragement that things are progressing in the right direction. Patients with an optimistic mind-set are generally more likely to follow their rehabilitation program and get better faster.”
Too many miles, too fast, too soon
If you want to frustrate your therapist, perform some hill repeats when you’re nursing a strained hamstring, hammer out a set of fast intervals on a bad Achilles, or get that 20 miler in when you’ve been told you need two weeks off running. This will likely exacerbate your problem and delay recovery. The optimal approach is to gradually transition back into running in a safe and conservative manner. Below is an excerpt from my training log for the week I was given the green light to resume running:
|5 mile recovery jog + 20mins pool running||5 mile recovery jog + 30mins elliptical + 30mins stationary bike||30 mins elliptical + 30 mins stationary bike||6 mile recovery jog + 30 mins elliptical + 30 mins stationary bike||6 mile recovery jog||1hr30mins elliptical + 1hr stationary bike||9 mile recovery jog + 40mins pool running|
So rather than jumping right back into the 100+ mile weeks I was accustomed to pre-injury, I introduced some easy running amongst my cross training activities. I built on these 31 miles the following week and gradually phased out the cross training at a rate my body could handle. Being injured is no excuse to take a holiday, but doing too much running, too fast, too soon is a sure way to extend the life of your discomfort.
There is a degree of risk involved when you continue to push your body to new levels of fitness. Even the most prudent of athletes succumb to injury from time to time. An expedited and successful return from injury, however, will depend on how you approach it. If you one day find yourself engaging the assistance of a therapist, the best thing you can do for yourself is to enter their clinic with an open mind, positive attitude, and willingness to put as much effort into recovering as you do training.
About the Author: Greg Wieczorek is a Chartered Accountant and 2:25 marathoner residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has coached his wife Maura from a 4:17 marathon debut to a personal best of 2:58 and helps others maximize their road race potential through his online coaching service Project PB.