How to Make a Strong Comeback After a Running Injury

If you’ve been a runner long enough, you probably have your own comeback story.  

It usually goes something like this: you pick a badass (lofty) goal, start training for said badass goal, make rookie mistake (veterans are guilty too) and find yourself with a running related injury.  

Maybe it’s plantar fasciitis from inappropriate running shoes or increasing your mileage too quickly or IT Band Syndrome from poor hip motion and weak glutes.  Whatever the case, it’s not uncommon for runners to experience injury at some point for one reason or another.

For me, my first real injury was a year or so into my running journey.  I made the mistake of increasing my mileage too quickly with unsupportive running shoes and nearly missed my first half marathon.  Thankfully, along with chiropractic treatment, rest and non-impact endurance activities, I was able to make a comeback quick enough to finish my half marathon feeling speedy and strong. 

That was nearly 4 years ago and was quite the lesson on the importance of patience in regards to training, recovery and making a comeback. 

It wasn’t until this past year when I got sick (non-running related) that my patience was tested for a second time. Since my lesson had been learned, it proved to be a bit easier – I respected my body enough to listen to it when it said “NO” and find productive ways to bide my time while working my way back to where I was before.

Although my most recent setback wasn’t due to a running injury, it still has sparked quite a handful of conversations over the last few months with other runners who all asked me the same question: how do I safely make a strong running comeback after injury? 

My initial response is always that they need clearance form their doctor first to do so.  That being said, in general there are a few suggestions I offer that I have found helpful and have worked for me.

How to Make a Strong Comeback After a Running Injury

Work with a specialist.

If your injury was serious or nagging enough, you probably already consulted a professional like a physical therapist or chiropractor to help you rehab.   Problem is that most people start to feel better then ditch their doc thinking they no longer need them.  Depending on you injury, this isn’t necessarily the case.  If you have been working with a PT or chiro then be sure to come up with an ongoing treatment plan to help get you back where you need to be.  

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On the flip side if you haven’t consulted with one then it might be a good idea to do so.  Did you know that chiropractors can treat a host of ailments with adjustments including plantar fasciitis and nagging knee issues (I have even had my lateral meniscus adjusted before). 

Build up mileage gradually.

Just because you’re feeling better doesn’t mean that you should go run 10 miles because you think you can.  Once the injury is healed, the key is taking it slow.  Start with 10 minutes to see how you feel then try 15 minutes the next time then try 20 then 30.  Gradually test out your body to see if it’s good to go then you can get back to your target weekly goal.  

Stick to your training plan.

That being said, don’t just run for distance, it’s important to come up with a training plan that includes a variety of runs and workouts – like speed work and strength training.  Aside from gradual progression of mileage, your plan should also include steadily increasing fast paced running as well.  Come up with a training plan that gradually progresses both and stick to it.  

Don’t forget to strength train.

Whether you love it or hate it, strength training is crucial to becoming a stronger runner and preventing future injuries.  Weak hips, quads and glutes are often the cause to a host of common running injuries such as PF, IT Band Syndrome and muscle imbalances can cause hamstring and knee issues.  

In order to properly rehab it and prevent a relapse, you NEED to include strength training specific to the muscles you’re using.  Doing unilateral and single leg work is vital – think sprinter stance squats, split squats, single leg deadlifts and lunges.  

The workouts don’t have to be hours long, they just need to be effective.  Examples include: 

Don’t neglect recovery.

Just because you’re feeling better doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to recover.  Schedule in time to cool down and roll out after each run or workout.  Your training plan should also include rest days but that doesn’t mean just laying around.  Here are some helpful tips on how to maximize your recovery time.  

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Pay attention to fueling.

Heading out for a long run or hard workout without fueling proper can lead to exhaustion and cause your form to breakdown.  It might be hard to get back into a healthy eating routine if you slacked a bit when you couldn’t run but being hydrated and fueling smart before and after a run can make a world of difference.  Choose whole foods over processed foods and be sure you’re taking in the appropriate balance of calories including protein post-workout to repair damaged muscles.  

Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Coming back from an injury (or illness) takes time.  You won’t be able to hit the same pre-injury pace right away.  There will be days that you feel like a million bucks and days where it all seems impossible.  Set mini goals to accomplish each week and work toward your over all goal slowly.  If your injury starts to nag you again, find ways to adjust your plan – maybe scale back on running and find other ways to cross train so you don’t feel like you’ve gotten off track.  

Whatever the case is, try to keep a positive perspective.  This is just a temporary set back. Be grateful for each mile you can run and have faith that you’re capable of whatever you set your mind to. 


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About me

Annmarie is a self proclaimed foodie, avid long distance runner and functional fitness coach. A DVRT Master Trainer, HKC Instructor and food allergy sufferer, she writes about strength training for runners as well as shares allergy friendly recipes for busy athletes.   She is also the owner of Strength In Motion Studio, mother of two sassy sisters and wife to a chronically busy chiropractor.   Subscribe by email for updates to get the latest workouts, advice and recipes straight to your inbox!


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Reply September 27, 2017

All great steps to coming back injury-free!

Susie @ Suzlyfe
Reply September 27, 2017

Definitely don't be too hard on yourself! Don't blame yourself from past mistakes, but do your best to learn from them, and SLOWLY

Angela @ happy fit mama
Reply September 27, 2017

I've had more than my fair share of injuries. The biggest thing for me is clearing my race schedule. When I let go of the deadline to get back to running x miles by this time, it's so much easier.

Kimberly Hatting
Reply September 27, 2017

Isn't it crazy how everything you mentioned is common sense...but a lot of us get so excited at the first sign of progress that we ditch all that knowledge LOL Thanks for all the great tips!!

Kim G
Reply September 27, 2017

All great tips, especially not forgetting to strength train. When all I was doing was running, running, running, I got injured. The strength training is SO important, especially for making the hips and glutes stronger.

Julie @ Running in a Skirt
Reply September 27, 2017

Such great tips girl! I've been there too....

Reply September 27, 2017

I have a lot of experience here, sadly! The one thing I did that helped me a lot when I was walking was to listen to my running playlist. I still got that lift from the music, even though I was walking.

Laura @ This Runner's Recipes
Reply September 27, 2017

Great tips! Don't be too hard on yourself is so true - any comparison to pre-injury is going to do more harm than good.

Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner
Reply September 27, 2017

Recovery and fueling are so important. Glad you are feeling better!
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Nicole @ Fitful Focus
Reply September 27, 2017

Proper rest, strength training and fueling properly are key for me. Also listening to my body. If I feel like something is off, I try not to push through pain. Pain usually means something needs to be rested and evaluated.

Reply September 27, 2017

Great tips! It's easy to come back too quickly... I'm guilty of that and had to learn the hard way.

Reply September 27, 2017

These are all great tips to remember! Gradually building back mileage is so important and of course strength training to keep running strong.
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Chrystal Rose
Reply September 27, 2017

I love all these tips and steps. There is so much more to it than just getting back into your old daily running routine. Thanks for your honesty and keep up the awesome work!

Janelle @ Run With No Regrets
Reply September 27, 2017

Really great advice. I've been hearing that chiropractors are amazing...I used one years ago and had a bad experience so I've been avoiding them ever since. And really, the best way to come back strong is to be patient and accept yourself where you are!
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Marina @ Happy Healing
Reply September 27, 2017

Love these tips! I just ran for the first time on Monday after taking three months off - so it's great timing with this post :)

Reply October 1, 2017

I've never really had a bad running injury that put me on the sidelines (knock on wood). I remember getting shin splints in high school track and was actually thankful because it meant I didn't have to run for a few days. My, how times have changed!

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