Injury Recovery for Novice Runners

3 min read Chris Zibutis

Chris Zibutis
Written by
Chris Zibutis
Head Running Coach - that one person on earth who loves interval runs 🥵

Professional runners have physical therapists, massage specialists, nutrition coaches, and a myriad of other specialists that can help them with injury recovery to keep them at the top of their running game. Meanwhile, on most cases, novice runners rely on the internet to learn how to treat minor injuries. Obviously, serious injuries need to be discussed with your healthcare provider, but minor ones can be treated at home accordingly.

What Is the Most Common Injury in Runners?

The most common injury among runners is called patellofemoral pain syndrome, commonly known as runner’s knee.

This condition presents itself as a dull pain in the front of the knee at the patella, usually due to a structural issue, or biomechanical issue from one’s running form. Since novice runners typically don’t have a perfect stride yet, this injury might be even more common among beginners than advanced trainees.

Other common injuries spawn from some of the same causes, which include:

  • Unplanned training programs where you go all-out too often
  • Being overweight/obese
  • Bad running surfaces and/or shoes
  • Lack of priority for flexibility, mobility, and recovery
  • No cross-training to keep your body balanced and avoid overuse injuries

New runners are typically too excited to worry about boring things like mobility drills, recovery techniques, cross-training, and proper gear. They just want to hit the track or trail and log some miles. This over-enthusiasm can present itself in the form of injuries if you aren’t careful with your program design and recovery needs.

How Do You Heal a Running Injury?

The healing process from a running injury depends on the location and severity of the injury itself. Some minor strains can be healed within a couple of days, while muscle tears can take months to heal fully.

Each injury is unique and needs a proper diagnosis from a professional to truly know how to heal the injury. Everybody has different recovery rates as well due to nutrition, age, gender, and many other traits that depend on their genetics.

However, most running injuries require some degree of the same treatment. Here are a few techniques to help heal from almost any minor running injury:

  • Rest
  • Ice and heat therapies
  • Compression
  • Anti-inflammatory medicine

Beyond these generic recommendations, the treatment that a running injury will require depends on the exact injury itself, which you can discuss with your healthcare provider.

How Long Should You Rest After a Running Injury?

Rest is the best medicine for almost every running injury. If you still feel pain, you haven’t rested long enough. It’s better to over-rest than under-rest. Too much rest may cost you a bit of stamina, which is easy to regain due to muscle memory. But, too little rest will put too much stress on an unhealed injury, which can lead to more severe consequences.

The risk-to-reward ratio is much too small, so if there is any doubt at all, rest longer. The track or trail will be waiting for you when you are healed and healthy!

How Do I Start Running Again After Injury Recovery?

The one thing you shouldn’t do is try and jump right back into your running program where you left off. While the rest period may have given you plenty of built-up energy and motivation and your fitness levels didn’t decline, your injured area isn’t the same.

Instead, you should go slow and lower your distance for a period of time. Ramping up your running sessions over a few weeks is the best way to recover from an injury. The longer you are out, the longer your ramp-up should be.

Let’s see an example to clarify what this might look like. Before the injury, a runner was running 5 miles in 35 minutes (7 minutes per mile). Here is a basic ramp-up schedule to get the runner back up to speed in 4 weeks:

Week 1, Session 1: Run 1 mile – 10-minute pace

Week 1, Session 2: Run 1 mile – 9-minute pace

Week 2, Session 1: Run 2 miles – 9-minute pace

Week 2, Session 2: Run 2 miles – 8-minute pace

Week 3, Session 1: Run 3 miles – 8-minute pace

Week 3, Session 2: Run 3 miles – 7:30-minute pace

Week 4, Session 1: Run 4 miles – 7:30-minute pace

Week 4, Session 2: Run 4 miles – 7-minute pace

By week 5, the runner is back to 5 miles with a 7-minute pace. This example shows how a ramp-up program can work and isn’t meant to be a program for every runner coming back from any injury. It’s simply an example of what it could look like.

Key Takeaways:

  • Enthusiastic novice runners are too-quick to run for their best time and distance, and therefore, many experience injuries regularly.
  • Runner’s knee and other common injuries are caused by many of the same habits of a runner.
  • Many running injuries involve the same treatments, with rest being the main method of recovery for most.
  • Following a ramp-up program when coming back from an injury is the best way to get back into running safely. Patience is key!

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