6 Steps to Return to Running After Injury

Oh, the roller coaster ride that comes with running injuries and the return to running. I’ve been injured after partially tearing my hamstring for more than a year and slowly building my mileage after taking close to four months off. And, my return to running has come with many detours (also known as setbacks). 

These detours have arisen in large part to me being in a hurry to get back to my former self. But, if you truly want to return to running quickly, you need to listen to your body over your mind. When in doubt, take extra time to rest and make healing your priority–not miles or pace. 

Related: Lessons Learned from My Running Injury

To help you on your return to running journey whether it be post-injury or post-baby, I have rounded up 6 principles that will help you get there safely. 

6 Principles to Return to Running After Injury or After Baby

Here’s what I’ve learned are the best ways to safely return to running and start building your base before getting ready to tackle those goals:⁠ 

Have patience.

If you run, it will come.
The runner still lies within.

This is the bedrock of all running, especially when coming back after having a baby or running injury, or anything else. Take your time. Let your body adapt. Don’t rush progress. If you run, it will come. I promise. Being patient is perhaps the hardest part about being injured.

But letting go of where you were and where you want to go can help you focus on where you are currently. Several times throughout my recovery I would get stuck on a number of miles I should be running or pace and it only led to a step back. Be in the moment. It’s a good life lesson for everything. 

Related: Expert tips to diagnose & prevent running injuries

Increase mileage slowly.

Aim to increase mileage by 30 percent every three or four weeks. Every month or so, I would also take a “down week” where I would cut my mileage by close to half to allow my body to absorb the work. It’s also important to have a mileage cap. You can’t increase ten percent every week without stopping.

Truly listen to your body to know its limits. Does your injury flare up after 12 mile runs? Cap it at ten miles for a few weeks then add a mile. Do you need an extra day off during the week to aid recovery? Take it. Cutting corners to get to the start faster will only put you back on the sidelines. 

return to running
Your return to running may not have a linear progression but you will move forward.


Walk breaks are legit! Many runners are hesitant to walk because, honestly, we are too proud. “We aren’t walkers! We are RUNNERS!” But walking has been a saving grace for my recovery.

The first couple of months of runs, I walked every quarter mile. This helped strengthen my body without irritating my injury. I also walked hills because it was aggravating to my leg. ⁠I still walk whenever my leg STARTS to feel “upset.”⁠ I have found that these intermittent breaks allow me to run faster and longer in the long run. 

Related: How to Get Your Running Motivation Back

Add a variable at a time.

This is kind of like when you start your baby on solids: start with avocado. Stick with it for a few days to make sure your babe is doing okay before introducing bananas…You remember the drill. That same philosophy is good for your return to running. Just like feeding your baby, keep it simple.

Start on flat surfaces like a track. Keep the runs super slow. Don’t add speed, distance, or different terrain until you’ve mastered where you’re at for 2-4 consecutive runs without pain. ⁠

Alternate run days.

For a couple of months, I would not run 2 days in a row. I alternated run and walk days to allow for recovery and time for my body to acclimate. Then, I began jogging a mile on my walk days and slowly worked up to running consecutive days. Also, I found walking to be the best crosstraining exercise. It did not irritate my injury and it is the most similar to running as far as mechanics go. Thus, it helped reintroduce the compression and lengthening running requires to my injured tendon.

Related: A Proven Guide to Injury Prevention

Don’t freak out.

Running is a tough exercise and because we did it for a long time, we forget that when we started running things hurt. It is totally normal. Don’t worry! It’s not another injury cropping up. Your body has to strengthen under the new stress. Your injury may hurt too. That’s okay as long as it goes away soon after you stop and also isn’t a super sharp, intense pain.

Many people may tell you not to run until you are fully healed. That is not the case for many injuries. Running is a strengthening exercise and is especially important for soft tissue injuries after a period of rest. You just need to be careful not to overdo it. ⁠

View my Google Web Story for this post here and my other web stories here.

PS-I’d love to help you reach your running goals whether it be to run your first 5k or run competitively! Email me at whitney@themotherrunners.com with questions or check out my Coaching Services page!

13 thoughts on “6 Steps to Return to Running After Injury”

  1. I’m coming back from injury right now and I can relate to all your good points.
    I like the 10% rule. I have just been increasing my mileage by feel, but to have a strict rule really makes sense.

    Today I’m doing my first short speed unit – a one mile run at best effort. I’ve been running for over a month now, so it feels comfortable.

    • Thank you for the article. Im coming back after overuse injury. Is it better to do a short jog and keep increasing or walk/run method?

      • Thank you so much for reading this. It is better to start with a walk then run/walk gradually increasing your run and decreasing your walk time—ensuring rest days & several days at the same distance before increasing. Good luck with your recovery & reach out any time with questions!

  2. i have an A bony thorn injured in my foot so much pain and i want to run but i can’t so how long it will take should i stop completely until heeling ?

  3. Thanks so much for this article. Common sense advice that makes me feel much better in my return to running after an injury. Like I now have permission to walk during runs and the frequency of walking, as well as running every other day.

    • Thank you for reading, Ann’s! I’m glad you found it helpful. I truly believe walking is the best cross training you can do to prepare the body for running!

  4. Omg – Thank you for this. I have/had plantar fasciitis on and off for four months! I was never a competitive runner, but there was nothing like my morning run to start my day. I had to quit running for 3 months. I did it poorly, without any constraining. I JUST got back from my first run so disappointed in myself. This article has made me feel better and helped me come up with my game plan. THANK YOU!!!

  5. I just got back into running after having a thigh strain. I rested for about 6 weeks and had a few set backs the few times I started to run before my body was ready. I started with 2 miles and was increasing 10% each run twice a week but I would have good days with zero irritation and days with some irritation that went away after 24 hours or less and others like today where the irritation has lasted for a few days. (Irritation in inner thigh, NOT where the thigh strain was) I’m thinking about scrapping my original plan and really starting from the beginning. It feels right to do but at the same time I’m worried because it would have me doing only a few minutes of running combined with walking and starting at only 10 minutes total of running for the first level. The last level does end with 20 minutes running 1 min walking 3x. The goal is to do each level twice with no pain symptoms before progressing. Does this sound TOO easy to start? Or do would starting from ground zero be the best way to progress?

    • Hi Haleigh,
      I am sorry to hear about your injury! But glad you are on the mend. I think you are right to trust your body. Do you have access to an alter G treadmill? If so, you can expand the time you run while off loading bodyweight. Many PT offices will have them. The running is like a strength exercise so doing a bit each time before progressing plus another XT activity will continue to move both your musculoskeletal and cardiovascular fitness forward


Leave a Comment


Download my FREE FULL MONTH of strength workouts for runners!

You have Successfully Subscribed!