Running Injuries – No Coddling for “Owies”

In a recent post, I described how I dislocated my finger. The wisdom of the Internet said that it would take 1-2 months to heal. Maybe longer.


I’ve had my share of injuries. In the mid-‘90s, I sprained an ankle in a manner so grotesque that I’d be arrested if I described it.

It was the fifth sprain in six weeks. All were bad, but the last one was a zinger. The ankle swelled to grapefruit size. X-rays revealed a hairline fracture.

I learned a lot from that ankle. I learned that “owies” get better faster if we give them tough love.

Looking for ways to treat my mega-sprain, I tried the standard remedies – ibuprofen, RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), etc.

The results were mediocre. But then I did two things that really kick-started the healing.

The first was a therapeutic massage from a woman who specialized in treating injured dancers. After 30 minutes, she had the ankle reduced to normal size. Her massage technique was amazing: painless, gentle, and – I swear – infused with healing vibes.

The second therapy was running an 8K race (4.97 mi).

The morning of the race, the ankle was still a long way from healing. I wore a cast, and I wasn’t sure I could run any faster than a shuffling jog.

The race was part of the 50-Plus Fitness Association’s annual get-together. If you’re visualizing geezers, you’re right. I hobbled off, trailing the over-80s.

As the ankle warmed, the pain gradually lessened, and by mile 3 I was cruising. At the finish, I dipped under 7:30 pace.

The sequel: after the race, the ankle began to heal a lot faster.

About that time, I discovered an interesting book at the library: Myotherapy: Bonnie Prudden’s Guide to Pain-Free Living.

Bonnie Prudden
Bonnie Prudden showed injured athletes the path to rapid recovery.

Bonnie Prudden is a fitness pioneer. (The link is to her personal website.) In the 1950s, it was her report, “The Shape of the Nation,” that inspired President Eisenhower to create the President’s Council on Physical Fitness.

Bonnie’s ideas are radical and timeless. For sports injuries, she recommends active recovery – emphasis on “ACTIVE.” If you can move it without acute pain, she says, then by all means, move it!

Partly as a result of Bonnie’s work, post-surgical patients are now encouraged to begin walking as soon as possible.

It makes sense. Action – movement – brings energy to the affected area, along with a flow of the chemicals the injured area needs to heal.

For these reasons, I decided not to baby my dislocated finger.

I enjoy doing deadlifts. They work my whole body and leave me feeling energized.

The thought of missing my weekly hook-up with the barbell was anathema, so I took my fat finger to the gym.

To make a long story short, I loaded the bar with a weight I felt I could handle and removed the finger splint. I cautiously heaved the weight – no pain, nothing broken, no re-injury.

End of story: I lifted four sets with increasing weights, followed by bench presses with dumbbells.

Afterward, the finger felt great – more flexible, energized, and strong. I’m sure the weights set the finger on the fast track to healing.

Since that awful ankle sprain in the mid-‘90s, I’ve had many positive experiences with active recovery.

  • I cured piriformis sciatica by literally working my butt off. A gym instructor put me on the leg-press machine and had me do 12 reps with gradually increasing weights. Over the weeks, I raised the weight to 605 lbs, and my misbehaving piriformis gave me no more trouble.
  • I fixed repetitive strain syndrome in my wrist, again with weights. Nothing fancy, just bicep and tricep work with dumbbells and machines.
  • I healed various lower-back strains with cautious, gradual strengthening.
  • I fixed severe shoulder tendinitis in a very strange way. Ishani and I were out walking, and we took a path that dead-ended at a chain-link fence. Rather than turn around, we climbed the fence. On the way down, I slipped and painfully wrenched the shoulder.

You guessed it – the shoulder felt better immediately, and whereas it hadn’t improved for months, it began to heal quickly.

My spiritual teacher never coddled his disciples. One young monk had double curvature of the spine. Before he could get out of bed, he had to perform 30 minutes of stretching and twisting. The teacher gave him hard physical labor, and the young monk thrived. Unfortunately, he began listening to the sympathetic murmurings of a fellow monk. He asked the teacher to give him an office job, and from that point he developed self-centered attitudes that eventually led to his leaving the monastery.

Another monk, a big, robust man, stuttered badly. The teacher had him give lectures. I attended a major public lecture with an audience of 300. The scheduled speaker got sick, and the stutterer took his place with two hours’ notice. I remember how he marched on stage with great determination and began his talk unhesitatingly – it was a great talk, delivered with much less stuttering than usual.

Starting in my senior year of college, I was paralyzed from the chest down (a benign tumor was compressing my spinal cord). When I started to recover, I had already entered the spiritual path that I follow. At one point, a senior monk told me, “The thought occurs that you might not be getting enough exercise.”

What did he mean? In 1968, I hardly ever saw anyone running. I prayed for guidance, and the next day my supervisor at work walked up and pressed a book in my hands. It was Kenneth Cooper’s original Aerobics. “George,” he said, “you’ve got to read this book. I’ve been on this program for six months and it’s done wonders for me!” I began running. After several months I told the senior monk what I was doing. He said, “Our teacher recommended running as an ideal exercise – the monks are encouraged to run daily.”

I still have mild spasticity in one leg, and mild paralysis in the other. No coddling! With my teacher’s guidance, I’ve run marathons and mountainous 50-mile races, done hard speedwork, plyo, and weight-lifting.

An interesting thing happens when I run. I’ll often start with a dead feeling in my legs – the right leg (“Gumby”) drags a bit, and the left leg (“Spaz”) feels uncoordinated. But as energy starts to flow, I’m able to run faster and faster. Often, on my long runs I’ll finish with 20 minutes at an exhilarating sub-tempo pace, and I’ll end with two or three uphill accelerations. No coddling – just healing work that gets energy flowing!

Don’t baby your injuries. Some owies, like knee pain, may require special intervention, e.g., orthotics. Do seek expert advice, but then start moving!

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