Time is running short to prepare for the nation’s largest half marathon, the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon.
There are roughly 30 training days left before the Indianapolis race that usually attracts an estimated 35,000 runners.
But what if you’re injured? Do you have time to recover? Should you forge ahead – no pain, no gain?
Doctors interviewed by Gr8Health say one of the best solutions to overcoming an injury before a big race might also be one of the hardest things for runners to do – rest.
If you’re like me, rest is really hard when you’re juggling work, life and training for a big race.
But when an injury has sidelined you temporarily, having patience, physicians say, will actually make you a better patient and aid in your recovery.
More than a week ago, I suffered a concussion.
Here’s what happened:
I was swimming backstroke as part of a warm-up for a master’s water polo game at Notre Dame when I hit my head on the pool wall. Typically, flags that hang overhead help serve as guide to backstroke swimmers, giving them some indication of how close they are to the wall. But on this day, the flags had been removed. What followed was a chain reaction of my wrist first hitting the edge followed shortly thereafter by the thud of my head hitting the pool wall.
I’ve done this before. No big deal. So, at first. I didn’t think much of it at first. I felt okay. A little sore. I knew my name and address. I never lost consciousness or got sick. I even played in the game.
But the next day, my head was hurting. I was feeling tired, light-headed, and just stuck with a general sense that something wasn’t right. Two doctors would later confirm that I suffered concussion.
What I’ve learned from subsequent interviews with additional physicians is that post-concussion syndrome and those same symptoms can linger for days and even weeks.
That can be very frustrating and leave you with a sense of helplessness and even anxiety over the injury.
Every doctor said the same thing, the best treatment – rest.
Doctors recommended that I take time off from work, avoid computer screens, televisions and cell phones, and try not think about my symptoms.
It can actually make them worse, they said.
Moreover, I needed to take time away from running.
A little bit of exercise is a good thing, one said.
“See how you feel,” one said.
Another said I should avoid working out altogether into all the symptoms disappear.
So, should I run? Not run? It was confusing. Not doing anything felt horrible. And running did take my mind off my injury.
But I am helping myself or hurting myself?
Dr. Thurman Alvey, DO, an osteopathic physician with Methodist Sports Medicine in Indianapolis, said recovery time from injuries really depends on the individual.
“Everyone is going to heal at a different rate. By running you are not going to get another concussion, but you could prolong the after effects (of post-concussion syndrome),” Alvey said.
“You want to feel as close to normal before you start running again.”
But Alvey said rest is equally important for more common running injuries like IT band soreness or plantar fasciitis. Those injuries, Alvey said, can stem from “aggravation of an old problem.”
“Once that’s inflamed, some runners don’t want to take time off” to recover because their concerned about maintaining a training regime.
Dr. Alvey, a self-described “reformed runner,” says you shouldn’t overlook the importance of rest.
“There’s no magic number, everybody is a little different,” according to Alvey, who says he encourages his patients to engage in “active rest” like yoga or getting a massage, but also cross training through exercises like swimming or cycling.
Alvey says running five days a week can often leave runners prone to issues that may become worse over time, like stress fractures, an injury that can become serious if not cared for properly.
Alvey also said he encourages his patients who might have shin splints or another running-related injuries to actively engage in the RICE process. RICE is an acronym for: rest, ice, compression, elevation.
Dr. Stephen Hartsock, with IU Health, suggests that running-related injuries may require some athletes to either back off their mileage, cross train with various exercises, or require additional treatment if the race is just around the corner.
“I’m getting more people coming in this time of year,” Hartsock said. “We do get people who are little more nervous with the race (coming up), and we can be a little more aggressive with certain treatments, like getting an MRI if they need it.”
Both Hartsock and Alvey echoed the necessity of listening to your body, and not trying to muscle through aches and pains for the sake of training.
“You don’t want a six-week injury to turn into a six-month injury,” Alvey told GR8 Health.– Bennett Haeberle is an investigative journalist with I-Team 8.