This is a bit of a “how long is a piece of string?” type question. It depends on the type of injury, the severity of the injury, the duration of the injury, the running history of the athlete, the athletes sleep, diet, stress level, the list goes on!! So it is always best to consult with a physio before returning to running, however there are some general rules.
Gone are the days where rest was compulsory and in fact it is almost the opposite. Apart from a few injuries, we do try to keep people running or get them back ASAP, as time off can actually cause more of a problem with general deconditioning and then runners trying to get back too quickly.
Here are some general guidelines around return to running and acceptable pain levels for some common running injuries….
Achilles Tendon Injuries…..
If it is an acute injury then a little rest and calming down period might be needed. However if it is a more ongoing issue then rest certainly is no help. Generally I would allow 2-3/10 pain during running but what I would be more concerned about is MORNING AFTER pain. If pain is worse the morning after, then you have done too much and need to drop the distance, speed or make the run flatter etc. If the morning after pain was the same or there was no pain, then that level of running was safe to do.
Calf and Hamstring strains/tears……
A patient can return to running as soon as a functional test is a pain free. For example if they can hop on the spot 20 times without pain then this means they can return to a walk/running program. Generally a little bit of pain is OK but should NOT get worse during the activity.
Anterior knee pain/Patellofemoral Pain…..
Again I would try to keep patients running but with no more than 2/10 pain, so they may need to modify the running or start a walk/running program to keep the pain level down.
Bony Injury/Stress Fracture
Bone injuries are the main group of injuries that actually need proper rest. Bone healing varies between 4-12 weeks but patients should be completely pain free in day to day life and with functional tasks like hopping and squatting before even considering any running. I would always grade them very slowly into a walk/running program and allow NO pain during. Bone healing is really important and so this is an injury that requires a lot more patience.
Again these are basic guidelines and everyone is different so be sure to consult a physio!