The Mental Side of a Physical Injury

The Mental Side of a Physical Injury

Mark Kennedy
Founder of None to Run
October 9, 2023

It’s not that running is bad for you. But, as with any activity, especially an activity that’s new to your body, there is a chance for sustaining an injury of some sort. If you’re following the None to Run training plan which gradually increases your run segments with walking, then the chances for overuse injuries are lower than they’d be with a more aggressive plan.

So, good job there!

Even with the best-laid plans, we can become sidelined for a handful of reasons. If you’re new to running and just getting in your groove, being suddenly unable to run, walk, or run-walk due to injury or sickness is a real bummer. The worst case is if the time off you have to take off due leads to leaving running behind.

Sure, some may occasionally be relieved that an injury or sickness means no running for a while. But if you’ve gotten into the groove of becoming a runner with a healthy, happy relationship with running—or even, a love-hate relationship with running—than those physical setbacks can do a doozy on your mental/emotional well-being.

There’s the feeling of going stir crazy, the worry of losing fitness, a loss of a social outlet if you run with friends, a loss of identity—it can all create a real mental struggle.

I’ve been through all sorts of setbacks in the decades I’ve been running. I’m grateful to have written about this a couple of times because it’s allowed me to dig in and research the topic, interview some great sports psychologists, and put some wise words of experts into practice.

A few strategies have helped me get by those off-times, and a few, I plan on tapping into down the road.

Here are some ideas I’ve gleaned from sports psychologists, research, and my own experiences that may help you get through any forced down time:

Allow yourself to be bummed.

Acceptance is key.

Being injured or sick and not being able to use your body in the way you want really sucks, and it’s okay to acknowledge that and be bummed for a little while before trying to focus on survival strategies.

Just jumping to “it’s fine” could leave you with emotions that will bubble up down the road, so it’s best just to feel them head-on.

Focus on the things you can do.

Oftentimes, injuries or sickness still allow us to do some kind of activity. Maybe it’s swimming, aqua jogging, cycling, yoga, weightlifting, or walking. Place some positivity on the things you can do and take advantage of moving in one way or another.

Work on physical weaknesses.

I’ve had injuries in my feet or ankles in the past that kept me from running, and I enjoyed working on core strength when I’d usually be running. I thought of the core work as something that would make me an even stronger runner once I returned. (And it did.) 

Appreciate “bonus” time.

Running takes up time. Utilizing the time you’d usually spend driving to and running a trail, or heading out to any sort of run, to do other things can be looked at as bonus time.

Maybe you get a lot more work done for a few weeks, or can get some things done around your home that you’ve meant to for months.

Pick up a new hobby.

Bonus time is also a great time to pick up something new, like playing a musical instrument, tapping into your artistic side, or writing that novel you’ve been meaning to start. Make the most of the time and dig in.

Do things for others.

Helping other people can make anyone feel better about themselves. Try to be hyper-aware of those who may need your help in any way and make yourself available. You’ll both get an emotional boost from your efforts.

Volunteer at a race or running event.

This falls inline with the “doing things for others” point above, but also taps into staying connected to your local running community in a way that you can while injured.

Some might find it hard to be at a race if they can’t run themselves, but you may be surprised at being happy you’re there (and you may very well be happy you’re not suffering like the competitors…at least not on that day!).

Have appointments lined up.

Especially with long-lasting injuries, I always find it helpful to have an appointment of some sort—to see a doctor, a physical therapist, a masseuse, etc.—lined up.

Having an upcoming appointment can give you hope when you otherwise struggle to keep positive.

Do what doctors/PTs/your body tell/tells you.

Once you do see that expert, make sure you follow their advice. Stay off whatever is hurt as long as they tell you to. Do any exercises you’ve been prescribed: they really work!

And they can be another source of hope while giving you some control over your healing and overall well-being. 

Practice patience.

This may be the hardest piece of the whole puzzle, but patience is usually the most important virtue in getting back to running. Hopefully, tapping into some of the above strategies will help you get there.

And keep the faith: You will get there.

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