Physical Activity Levels in Runners After an Injury

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As a runner, an unexpected injury can be disheartening. Running is an important part of many people’s lives, so the inability to participate can be a significant setback.

After sustaining an injury, it’s common to wonder about the best course of action. Should you take time off completely or seek out alternative forms of exercise?

Research Findings

A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise analyzed the behavior of 49 recreational runners over a one-year period. Participants were equipped with activity monitors to track their daily physical activity levels and completed weekly surveys about running-related pain and modifications to their training schedule.

The study found that during injured weeks, runners engaged in significantly less moderate to vigorous activity compared to uninjured weeks (14 minutes per day less). This suggests that most runners did not replace their lost running time with other forms of exercise.

The study did not explore the reasons behind this behavior, but researchers speculate that factors such as lack of access to alternative activities or disinterest may have played a role.

Expert Insights

Allison Gruber, Ph. D., assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Indiana University Bloomington, believes runners may embrace the time off and grudgingly decide to take it.

She also noted that many runners appear to “run through the pain,” despite reporting pain that could potentially lead to an injury.

Potential Implications

Gruber suggests that the increase in sedentary time observed in the study may not necessarily be harmful, as it provides much-needed rest for the musculoskeletal system.

However, she cautions that runners may face challenges in returning to their previous fitness levels and performance if their cardiorespiratory fitness is not maintained.


The optimal approach for runners recovering from an injury is still being researched. However, staying active while injured seems to be beneficial for returning to pre-injury levels with minimal setbacks.

If you find yourself unable to run due to an injury, consider incorporating alternative activities such as walking, cycling, yoga, or swimming into your routine. These activities can help maintain your fitness while allowing your injury to heal.

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