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Returning to Running After Stress Fracture

So just what is it like, returning to running after stress fracture, particularly of the back? What is my plan for returning to my old self? What are my plans, how far will I go? 

Returning to Running After Stress Fracture

Linking up with Wild Workout Wednesday and Running Coaches Corner (see my post for Coaches Corner here!)

Coach Suz's Plan and Advice for Returning to Running After Stress Fracture. Suzlyfe.com @suzlyfe

I have been able to do weight bearing cardio for the past 2.5 months and have been working with a top PT for the past 2 months (since I could do the elliptical without pain). I am also lucky to be a running coach specializing in bringing injured runners back to health and running. Now I have to be my own client. So here is how I am planning on returning to running:

(but if you are injured and returning to running, do what is best for you! Email me if you want to talk!)

The Emotional Side of Returning to Running After Injury

Let’s start, first and foremost, with the feels. I want to thank you all so, so much for your support over the past months and, finally, for your congratulations yesterday. I know that, for many, going for a run might not be a cause for celebration.

MY FIRST RUN BACK after sacral stress fracture.

For myself, returning to running after stress fracture feels like I am being released from a sort of purgatory–not just because I am running again but also because I am able to work through many of the fears associated with such an injury. I am, with each run, not as scared to move.

However, that first run will not feel so liberating. My first run on the Alter-G felt liberating, but I was running at 65% of my body weight, so I got to just enjoy the unadulterated joy of the range of motion. I still had pain when running across the street, etc. The first time of “real” running, honestly, is not fun.

You question every step. Each little step is potential for everything to fall down around you; each step might take you right back to square one (whether the threat is real or imagined). It doesn’t help that even if you are healed, you are still going to have little pains as you body adjusts to the impact and movement again. 

After you think you can't realize that you can! Suzlyfe.com

The second run? Still scary, but less so. The third run? Still less scary. The first run after you return that has any semblance of pain? You will return to square one. And then the next run will be a bit less scary. Rinse and Repeat. 

Get Your Support System in Place

If things are going well, make sure you are surrounded by people who will celebrate with you (like you all!). If things don’t go well, make sure you have emotional support. Keep your objective support crew from when you were injured around to help you move forward (this is your team of PTs and coaches) and enlist expert help to help you figure out what to do next.

Do Your Homework

What got you where you are? Too much volume? Too hard and fast running? Bad shoes? Not enough rehab exercises? 

Figure it out, fix it. I know what I did wrong. And believe me, I am paying the price.

Pretty sad to be missing out on this.

Pretty sad to be missing out on this.

Start Slow, Stay Slow, Break It Up

Throw pace, duration, and volume out the window. Run walk intervals are your friend, and you should plan on running at LEAST a minute slower than your previous paces. That is both because of changes in fitness as well as in order not to stress your bones: doing too much too soon is a recipe for disaster, especially with bodies prone to stress injury.

Also, remember, that just because the injury is healed, that doesn’t mean that the rest of your body isn’t vulnerable! You will be focusing like crazy on that single recovered injury–you might miss something else or cause injury due to compensation.

Patience, Diligence, Vigilance

You might feel right as rain. You might not. Either way, stay patient. You are dealing with reactivating muscles, restressing bones, and mentally getting over the trauma of the injury. Be patient with yourself.

Walking it out in Nike Zoom Elites, Tiux Compression socks, and my favorite running gear! Suzlyfe.com

Feeling good? STAY PATIENT. Again, don’t do too much, too soon, even if you are feeling FAN FREAKING TABULOUS. Stick with your prescribed intervals. I know it is hard, but trust me.

Don’t neglect your rehab exercises, strength training, and other preventative measures. Feeling great has a tendency to give us all amnesia: we forget that we have to do our work, we forget how terrible being injured feels. Stay diligent, stay vigilant. 

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Breathe

Regardless of whether or not your recovery and return to running is going beautifully, breathe. Stress will only cause you more mental and physical stress, and that won’t do you any good, mentally or physically. So breathe.

How @suzlyfe is returning to #running after her stress fracture #runchat #fitfluential Click To Tweet

Good luck! Feel free to email me or leave questions in the comments!

Have you ever had a significant injury? Tell me about your recovery.

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67 Comments

  • Reply Sam @ See Sam Run

    Bravo, Suz! I think you captured it perfectly, especially emotionally. My calf injury last summer wasn’t as bad as your injury, but I was so terrified to run again. Even now with every twinge or muscle knot I roll out I’m paranoid that it’s coming back. But if you work your way back the right way you’re less likely to endure the same thing again!

    April 5, 2016 at 5:34 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Hey, fear is serious, regardless of what causes it. And better to be vigilant than to risk another injury!

      April 5, 2016 at 3:19 pm
  • Reply Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious

    Compensation. Something so often forgotten! I’m sure that was some of my issues last year and I like to push myself.

    April 5, 2016 at 6:12 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Compensation is definitely a real risk. You have to be so vigilant, and getting help is so important.

      April 5, 2016 at 3:19 pm
  • Reply Christine @ Two Runners Travel

    YAY! So excited you are back!! I know missing Boston must feel so bittersweet but you’ll be back another year. I have many similar emotions and thoughts on coming back. Lots of timidness early on but I think I’m finally finding my stride again, mentally and physically.

    April 5, 2016 at 6:40 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      If I run Boston, I run Boston, but if I don’t at least I’ll still be running. And that is 1000x more important!

      April 5, 2016 at 3:18 pm
  • Reply Julie @ Running in a Skirt

    I haven’t come back from a serious injury, but I have come back after extended illness and surgery. It’s hard, but baby steps and taking your time is worth it. I found myself setting unrealistic expectations and becoming disappointed when I could not achieve them. So my advice is to stay optimistic, but don’t get overly ambitious until you really get your legs back.

    April 5, 2016 at 6:43 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It is so hard not to go out there and go after it. I am trying my hardest to be good. Writing this down is helping me take my own advice!

      April 5, 2016 at 3:16 pm
  • Reply Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine

    I am sure those first few runs back from a fracture are really scary! I remember it felt so weird to start running outside again after my hip surgery. Even though I had been running onto alter-g it just wasn’t the same!

    April 5, 2016 at 6:48 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It definitely is totally different. There is a distinct lack of fear with the Alter-G, at least for me. The treadmill was real deal!

      April 5, 2016 at 3:15 pm
  • Reply Bri

    Reading about what you went through with your injury was in my head when I decided to slow down at the Phoenix race. Who knows if I would have been sidelined or not, but I’m thankful for you sharing what happened and potentially saving me from pushing too hard and hurting myself as well!

    April 5, 2016 at 6:56 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Hey, if I can help someone from getting hurt like I did, I consider what I am doing here to be a true success. I am so glad that you pulled back and saved injury!

      April 5, 2016 at 3:14 pm
  • Reply Emily @ My Healthyish Life

    Even though I’ve been running for 2 months now (and have run a half marathon since) I still feel like I’m in recovery from my stress fracture. No speed workouts, still running 15-20 miles a week MAX and lots of care outside of running. In a way I feel like I’ll always be extra cautious of my foot, but I hope to not let it stop me from doing what I love!

    April 5, 2016 at 7:14 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      And that is why you are hiring me! To keep you from being stopped again 😀

      April 5, 2016 at 3:13 pm
  • Reply Laura @ This Runner's Recipes

    So glad to hear you are being careful in easing back! I can imagine those first few runs are scary.

    April 5, 2016 at 8:02 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Pretty damn terrifying. But now, so happy 😀

      April 5, 2016 at 3:13 pm
  • Reply Michelle

    So happy to hear you are back at it! xo

    April 5, 2016 at 8:18 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Thank you, darling.

      April 5, 2016 at 3:12 pm
  • Reply Ellie

    All these tips are great Suz. I remember the last time I had an injury and I decided that I wasn’t going to attempt running until I couldn’t feel the pain. I didn’t get checked out or anything so I’m not sure what it was, but I knew I had to stop running until it was at 100% Through that injury I learned how to train smarter and to take recovery more seriously. I also work harder on the mobility stuff outside of running. Through injury, we prosper 😉

    April 5, 2016 at 8:24 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I definitely agree. But it sucks going through it!

      April 5, 2016 at 3:11 pm
  • Reply Kat

    Oh so this is how to properly return from an injury? Yep – I have no idea how to do that 😉
    I’m so glad you have listened to your body throughout this entire process and really focused on getting better 100% before diving back into running!

    April 5, 2016 at 8:27 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I’m glad that I have such an incredible support system to keep me grounded in the right way!

      April 5, 2016 at 3:11 pm
  • Reply Lauren @ The Bikini Experiment

    I am familiar with sports injuries first hand and totally understand. Very important information. Thank you.

    April 5, 2016 at 9:18 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Thank you for reading!

      April 5, 2016 at 3:10 pm
  • Reply GiGi Eats

    I think I would be a bit scared to start up again after an injury – although, I won’t lie – I totally think I have had a stress fracture before but I ignored the horrible pain because I didn’t want to stop working out! LOL! WHOOPS!

    April 5, 2016 at 9:21 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Yeah that is inadvisable 😀

      April 5, 2016 at 3:08 pm
  • Reply Suzy

    I’m really glad you posted about the emotional aspect of returning after injury. Jason tore his ACL in a soccer game years ago and got surgery. His surgeon told him most people are able to return to the game but the one thing that will hinder them? Fear. So if they go into a tackle just the teeniest bit afraid then they will re-injure themselves. He suggested psychotherapy that Jason didn’t do, and the very first soccer game he played in? Broke his tibia on the same leg. He hasn’t played in a game since, and probably never will.

    April 5, 2016 at 9:51 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Geez. Alex had a pretty traumatic sports injury from playing basketball, and it took him years before he played again. he got a bit of time back on the court before his knee just couldn’t jump anymore. But I agree–the fear factor is a huge reason for reinjury.

      April 5, 2016 at 3:10 pm
  • Reply Suzlyfe's mommy, Clare

    Anyone who has read your blog knows that I had a very significant injury to my back and pelvis almost 8 years ago…….really, has it been that long?
    For me, the hardest part of recovery was not rehabbing my physical body, it was rehabbing my emotional body—overcoming the FEAR Factor. It still is.
    Regardless of how I’m doing today, how well I feel today, how in control of my physical health today–that fear of reinjury is always there.
    Sometimes, it is just petrifying. At other times, it just looms in the background, but it is always there.
    Having said that—I refuse to live my life in fear, and I go out and do—but I am very aware of the risks, and I work every day on putting one foot in front ot the other so I can move forward.

    April 5, 2016 at 1:13 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      We’ve really worked through this with you, and I know that you have on your own and with others. Support, and taking your time, is so important.

      April 5, 2016 at 3:07 pm
  • Reply Eric Nette

    As you know, 3 years ago I had my left hip resurfaced due to bone death. I had run before it, but it took me over a year to finally get up the nerve to pick up running again. There were several spots where I pushed my walking too far, and I had to sit down out in public because of the pain, even 6+ months post-op. The physical trauma alone was extremely hard, add in some bad doctors (switching to Aleve less than a week post-op isn’t the best move with an inflammation disorder), and traumatic experiences half the country from any family leaves you with a pretty monumental endeavor. My ex also chose that time to cheat on me because “we don’t go out and do anything anymore”, as I was confined to my apartment on crutches.
    It was quite trying at times, but essentially I attacked it the same way I do everything else. I go for it, crash, pick back up, and go for it again. This may be why I get overtraining injuries sometimes…

    April 5, 2016 at 2:09 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      What a life you have had. But you still go forward with enthusiasm, and I think so highly of that. Crash or not.

      April 5, 2016 at 3:06 pm
  • Reply Emily

    I’ve never suffered a stress fracture, and I think it would be so hard to return slowly, because I do love running so much. Kudos for your patience dear friend!

    April 5, 2016 at 2:36 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      No I have to remember to continue to be patient! Patient patient patient!

      April 5, 2016 at 3:22 pm
  • Reply Cailee

    These are such great tips. I’ve never had an exercise-related injury… probably cuz I’m not a runner, but seems like you’ve got some great advice. Starting slow seems so important! Thanks for sharing!
    xoxo Cailee!

    April 5, 2016 at 3:24 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Injury is bound to happen to us all, or at the very least, time away from something that we love is bound to happen.

      April 6, 2016 at 1:48 pm
  • Reply Mike @FitFriend

    “What got you where you are?”

    I think this is a line we should repeat in our heads over and over during recovery. I’ve had so many moments prior to 2013 where I hadn’t figured out what got me injured, only to start training again in the exact same way.

    April 5, 2016 at 5:30 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Seriously. Plus, not knowing only eats at you more, in my experience!

      April 6, 2016 at 1:54 pm
  • Reply Don

    This will probably be small consolation, but hopefully when you do run Boston the colors of the jacket will be less retro Easter pastel and more awesome.

    April 5, 2016 at 7:09 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I’m actually of the opinion that they are fantastic. Don’t hate on my favorite color.

      April 6, 2016 at 1:49 pm
  • Reply Rachel

    Oh, girlfriend. I know all the feels when returning to running. It’s SO SCARY. But SO AWESOME! But DID THAT HURT?! Ack! I want to run FOREVER!!!

    Yeah. Right there with ya. 🙂 Glad to see you’re back!

    April 5, 2016 at 8:13 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I know you have. xoxox

      April 6, 2016 at 1:49 pm
  • Reply lacey@fairytalesandfitness

    I have never had a significant injury. I have had some IT band issues in the past and not being able to run for a few wks to let it heal was hard for me. I didn’t listen to my body right away and tried to do it too soon and it came back right away. After taking the time I needed, I have never had a problem since. Knock on wood!

    April 5, 2016 at 8:44 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Knocking! Good job listening to your injury!

      April 6, 2016 at 1:54 pm
  • Reply Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner

    I know exactly how you feel-excited, scared and free all at the same time. Woo hoo for returning to running

    April 5, 2016 at 9:24 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Thank you! And I know you–you talked about it for your race today!

      April 6, 2016 at 2:00 pm
  • Reply Kristen

    Good luck! I never really got out of that phase where I was done worrying about getting re-injured, until about a week before I got injured again 🙁 I was not expecting it to be so emotionally and physically hard! I know that you are going to take this slow and do what’s right for your body, and I am going to be cheering you on the whole way! You got this!

    April 6, 2016 at 12:03 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Thank you, Kristen! I’m hopeful that your tri training is going to go smoothly!

      April 6, 2016 at 2:00 pm
  • Reply lindsay Cotter

    I’m so happy for you! and i get that fear. I always say…. slow and steady wins the race (in healing and health too)

    April 6, 2016 at 6:49 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Thank you. Hopes and fears for us both!

      April 6, 2016 at 2:03 pm
  • Reply Annmarie

    I would be so scared to start running again after an injury like that! So happy you’re easing back safely, my friend!!!

    April 6, 2016 at 7:17 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I’m trying to! Thank you my dear!

      April 6, 2016 at 2:03 pm
  • Reply Ellen @ My Uncommon Everyday

    Though I’ve never had a “major” injury, my joints are wonky and I’ve had lots of little hiccups that make working out normally a non-option. Feeling normal again is simultaneously awesome and terrifying, but you’re right: it gets easier. So glad you talk about the safe way to do it!

    April 6, 2016 at 8:49 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Speaking of, I need to check in with your hip situation! I’ve been terrible!

      April 6, 2016 at 2:08 pm
  • Reply Lesley

    I know that fear, and I run with it. My recovery always seems to be one step forward, one step (or two) back. I’m sticking with lower mileage races so I have goals, but I don’t kill myself, or worse regress, while training. I’ve adjusted for now down to one run a week so I can focus on all the PT exercises I do at home. At least I got to 4 miles in training before needing to pull back a little bit.

    April 6, 2016 at 9:03 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      That is smart. Taking it slow is the best thing that you can do in addition to focusing on PT–you will comeback stronger than ever.

      April 6, 2016 at 2:06 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Taking time and working on your PT is the smartest thing that you can do. Have you tried intervals?

      April 6, 2016 at 2:08 pm
      • Reply Lesley

        Running intervals? Yes, all the time. During this training cycle, I shortened my running interval to 1 minute, walk 1 minute. I like running 2 or 3 minutes, but that’s pushing it right now.

        April 7, 2016 at 8:16 am
  • Reply Larissa

    Hi Suz! I really enjoyed reading this as I am at the end of my recovery from a stress fracture in my sacrum. I will start running in a couple weeks and I am so terrified. I would love to chat with you about your recovery, cross training during recovery, and how it was when you started running again!

    April 6, 2016 at 9:37 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Larissa! Thank you so much. Let’s definitely talk. Shoot me an email at coachsuztraining (gmail)!

      April 6, 2016 at 1:41 pm
  • Reply Nicole @ Fitful Focus

    YEY YEY YEY for running again!!! I remember the first time I ran after being out for 3 months due to a calf injury. I was so nervous at every little thing I felt in my calf. Even now, if I feel a bit of a twinge I slow down or stop – it’s not worth not being able to run. I’m so happy you’re getting back to it! Slow and steady wins the race – well… the race of life at least.

    April 6, 2016 at 9:57 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I totally agree! Thank you!

      April 6, 2016 at 1:39 pm
  • Reply Kristy @ Southern In Law

    Getting back into working out after an injury is always so hard! On one hand you can’t wait to get moving again but on the other hand you’re so scared of injuring yourself again that it’s hard to make that first step.

    Last year I had some pretty nasty IT band issues (which turned out to be a result of the orthotics I was prescribed which I really didn’t need!) and I was definitely scared to get back into workouts because I knew how much pain I was in before! Even now I’m so careful to not injure myself again that I only feel the slightest twinge and I’m like “hold up! We’re stopping here!”

    April 6, 2016 at 11:52 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Yep yep yep. I hate the dance!

      April 8, 2016 at 10:54 am
  • Reply jenni

    Do you feel like you lost a significant bit of fitness and/change in body shape, loss of muscle? I’m 3 weeks out with an ‘unidentified’ injury at the moment but I haven’t been able to do much and I’m eating terribly equating to feeling – and looking – way out of shape.

    April 9, 2016 at 7:32 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I lost certain muscles, but I focused on what I could do–upper body, certain lower body moves. Focus on what you CAN do, and take care of yourself. Establish routine, get your veggies in, and you will feel so much better!

      April 10, 2016 at 8:18 am

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