Ask a PT: Our Most Popular Question Answered!

What is the most popular question  ever asked to PT’s (and athletic trainers) around the world, including myself? If you have ever been injured, I bet you have already asked it.  “When can I ____ again?” And the most common activity asked about? I may be biased, but really I’m sure the most common is RUNNING! Since running is the basis of nearly every sporting activity, it really does cover a bevy of activity questions. You may be surprised that for most patients, the answer is founded on common sense more than on medical research. The exception I’ll put right up front is if you are recovering from surgery. Then this question is most appropriately answered by your surgeon and through his/her surgical protocol for rehab. In the case of an ACL reconstruction, for example, there is a tissue-based timeline based on research, versus a functional rehab based timeline for returning to running that we need to respect. So even if you feel good, like you could do it, please follow your surgeon’s specific instructions. For the rest of us folks, recovering from an injury like a strained muscles, low back pain, or a sprained ankle, the answer really is common sense. You need to be able to say yes to the following questions, and not have pain after each activity, to introduce some jogging to your walking program.

  1. Can you walk without pain?
  2. Can you squat without pain?
  3. Can you ascend and descend stairs without pain?
  4. Can you do all of the above activities without pain after performing those activities?

If all the answers are “yes,” you can safely return to running. Now don’t go out there and try 5 miles the first day. That would be a big mistake and lead to a huge set-back! Start with walk/running a mile, on a track or imagining you are on a track, the advice would be to run the straightaways and walk the curves. Progression beyond this (assuming pain-free during and after this activities) is at 10% per week, whether distance, time, or intensity of your running to safely return to your prior level of function. Did you have pain with your first run/walk DURING the run/walk? It’s too soon then, ice and try it again in a week. Did you have pain AFTER the run/walk? Ice, and stay at that level for a week, taking rest days between run/walks. Still not sure what you should do? Half of our job as physical therapists is guiding injured athletes back to full sports participation. Our best advice is to have your physical therapist guide you all along the way. Don’t have a physical therapist? Call MotionWorks today at 920-215-2050 for an appointment; we are happy to assist you returning to all of the activities you love!

Have an Ask a PT question for us (or maybe even a STUMP the PT question?  Don't be shy!  Bring it on at, and your question may just be included in our next newsletter!