Sunday, April 6, 2014

Injury Doldrums

It's been awhile since my last post, obviously because I have been doing some intense workouts...working out my self-pity muscles, that is. For those keeping score at home, there are 20 days until my next marathon. More importantly, my four marathons in 49 days block starts with that race. The goal was to get to the first starting line healthy and fit and take it easy from there. Unfortunately, my body had some other plans. 

Three weeks ago I started running again after taking a week off for illness. I capped that week off with a 16 mile long run. I was tired and sore afterwards, but that was to be expected. I assumed the extra soreness was just my muscles complaining about the shift in workload. I spent the next week hobbling around and convincing myself that everything was totally fine (stairs were always super painful, right?). I realized it probably was something more serious when multiple coworkers started to ask why I was walking so funny. (Maybe also when I couldn't get shotgun in the lunch carpool because I couldn't hobble fast enough.) Both my quads felt like I had destroyed them.

I finally broke down and did what a sensible person would do - I rested. Then I did my planned 20 miler. Whoops.

The problem was the rest didn't help at all. Not as in, it started feeling better and got worse again because I came back to soon, as in I did nothing for four days, and the stairs were just as painful. I tried yoga and swimming, which helped a bit, but it did nothing to come close to solving the problem. Any time I attempted a running motion, I felt like I was going to fall flat on my face and only made forward progress with sheer willpower. It was no fun.


I know I complain about running, but I do love it. I could have forced myself to keep running sure, and even did so on multiple occassions, but I could never get into the zone and just enjoy. I caved and asked a running friend for advice, and she suggested massaging it with a tennis ball. After picking up dog-themed tennis balls from the pet store (I was already there and was too lazy to make another stop), I tried it out. I could feel quite a bit of tension releasing from my quads. I started getting hopeful, but it still wasn't enough. I could finally walk mostly normally and use the stairs without pain, but I had the same problem when I tried to run.

Last week I knew I had to do something, anything, to try to solve the problem. I headed to urgent care on my lunch one day. It seemed like all the stars were aligned to find a solution - the urgent care is run by the University of Michigan (I know I trash on UM, but even I will admit they have excellent medical facilities), attached to a major hospital, and I got to see a sports medicine MD. Do you know what he suggested - rest. The whole point of going was to resolve an issue that didn't respond to rest, and he just prescribed more of it.

Honestly, the kicker was when he prescribed a blood test to check my calcium level, even though he outright admitted there's no evidence cramping and calcium levels are related. He also recommended PT to strengthen my quads, but considering I regularly lift to do that already, I wasn't about to do that either.

I was getting desperate at this point, so I went to my last resort - I called a chiropractor for a sports massage. There's a clinic in town that's an official Ironman partner and advertised various athletic services, included ART. I called and got the nicest receptionist ever. She even took the time to look up what my insurance would cover and explained how the visit would go. (I've never been to a chiro before.) She was apologetic that the soonest they could fit me in was the next morning.

This is probably going to sound like an ad for the chiro, but it was so amazing I want to share with everyone. Seriously, if you need sports-related help and live in mid-Michigan, check them out. The facility was clean and fresh, and everything was running on time, and they had no problem letting me change there, since I had come from work.

I first went with the doctor to a consult room to discuss the problem. As soon as I said it didn't respond to rest, he was concerned. Already miles ahead of the dude the day before. He also got infinite bonus points because, as soon as I said I had a marathon coming up, he said our goal would be to get me to the starting line ready to run. A++, sir.

Our second order of business was to do a range of motion test. I knew there was some sort of problem when he had me do overhead squats and repeatedly asked if I was going as low as I could. (I honestly had no idea I should have been able to go lower.) We wrapped up with leg lifts, where he seemed shocked with how not-high I could lift my leg. Apparently a normal person can easily lift their leg completely vertical, I could barely get it halfway.
This picture is super creepy, but the best illustration I could find.
The doctor then immediately diagnosed me with extreme hamstring inflexibility, which means my quads are constantly overloaded. He said our goal is to give me normal range of motion in the hamstrings. I never realized there was something I could do about my inflexibility, I assumed it was innate and could never really be improved.

We then did about 20 minutes of ART. I knew it was going to hurt, but DAMN, did it hurt. The worst was when he separated out each muscle of the quad and applied pressure as I moved my leg. I almost cried on the first one, but I knew it would be worth it. I even got to experience the sudden sweats when he worked a few particularly terrible spots.

As soon as I got up, though, I immediately noticed a huge improvement. That man was like a magician.

I'm scheduled to go twice a week for the next two weeks, and then we'll re-evaluate. I'm really excited that the problem was properly diagnosed and is being addressed. I was told to keep to my normal routine as much as possible. I've decided to replace my lifting days with swimming, since lifting just sounds too painful right now. I've even found a great new swimming program I'm excited to try.

Other than turning my speedwork into easy runs, mostly because I physically can only go one speed right now, my goal is to get back on schedule starting Monday. I've promised myself to cut back if it's excruciating, but my quick (actually very slow) two miler yesterday was so much better than any run has felt in a long time. I'm definitely going to be undertrained when I get to the starting line, but as long as I take less than 6:30 to finish, I'll be a happy camper.

See, there's even a game named after me!

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