One of the things that connects runners of all abilities is the simple desire to run. It gives us something that nothing else does. Without it we're tetchy and irritable, with it we're glad to be alive. So when someone is told not to run it's A Big Thing. Sadly sometimes this is the only advice people are given when facing a running injury, I have to admit it's advice that makes me angry!…
Don't make me angry!…
In just the last few weeks 5 runners I know have been advised not to run when they could have continued. One was told to stop cycling and swimming too because of low back pain (a condition where the evidence fully supports ongoing activity). He was advised to replace this with weekly spinal traction which is expensive, unecessary and largely ineffective. One case had just one physio session, no rehab and was told he shouldn't run again, “it'll wear out your knees”!
Now clearly there are times when a rest from running is advisable. This is usually fairly common sense stuff, such as after fracture, serious injury or illness. Sometimes it's less clear and guidance is needed from your physio. However, in the vast majority of cases, we usually suggest temporary rest and ideally give advice on cross-training.
A common situation where I may suggest rest from running would be when pain is too severe or irritable. Some conditions (such as reactive tendinopathy or acute bony stress reaction) can be really aggravated by continuing to run. Usually I suggest a week or two of replacing running with comfortable cross training to allow symptoms to settle. During this time patients work on rehab exercises to build strength and control then gradually introduce running while being guided by symptoms. These time spans vary a great deal but the long term aim is always the same, to return to running with minimal symptoms.
If you see a physio or health professional and their first advice is to stop running that doesn't mean they are wrong but it's helpful to ask them some of the following questions;
- What is the benefit of stopping running?
- Could I not just cut down to a comfortable level for a while?
- Roughly how long will I need to stop for?
- What do I need to do to manage this injury? What exercises, self-treatments, medications etc are required?
- What can I do to maintain fitness?
- What is the long term plan for my rehab?
If a health professional wants you to stop running but has no good explanation of why, no idea of how long and no clear plan to help you return it may be worth seeing someone else!
There are a lot of myths around running and many are perpetuated by health professionals that aren't up to date with current practice. Running isn't damaging to your body and it won't 'wear out you knees'. Running is available to everyone, and, providing you build up gradually, can be safe and enoyable for all. So if a physio or health professional tells you to stop running because you're 'damaging your joints' or says, 'people like you shouldn't run' I strongly recommend a second opinion.
As with every situation in health there are grey areas and nothing is set in stone. There are situations when long periods of rest may be needed, and, in some cases, where it may even be advisable to stop running altogether but there needs to be clear reasons for this. I don't believe it is a health professional's choice to make, we can only give people all the information they need to help them decide. As with everything it depends on the individual and their situation.
What I'm trying to get at with this piece is this; I'm fed up with the bad advice and sub-standard treatment that some athletes receive. I don't want runners to be told to completely stop doing what they love because of mild knee pain or a slightly achy tendon. I don't want people frightened away from running by outdated advice or having their confidence drained by being told they shouldn't be a runner.
Runners, you deserve more than bad advice and a fob off. Expect more. Much more.
More information here on whether you should run or rest and the importance of treatments that address the underlying cause of you injury.