A study done by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands that was recently reported by the NY Times showed that 1 in 5 novice runners sustain running injuries and 30-40% of them will give up running entirely as a result. This makes me sad. Did they give up because they didn’t know how to treat the injury? Did their *pardon my saying this if you are a doctor who says this to runners* doctors tell them to “just stop running”? Did they think they couldn’t overcome the injury and keep running? Well, YOU CAN! You can get better and be back on the road in no time if you know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.
Several years ago, I experienced pain in my hip like I’d never had before in my previous 19 years of running. It was just this one spot on my hip that was super-tender and hurt when I walked, ran or climbed the stairs. I foam rolled, I rested, I took it easy for a few days and I could not make the pain go away. It was absolutely ruining my workouts. On my 29th birthday, I found myself in an orthopedic surgeon’s office for the first time. At least, I think it was the first time. I’d only sprained my ankles before, but I think that was all emergency-room visits. I digress. I feared the worst.
It was not the worst. Not even close. I am a big scaredy cat.
I had strained my left side glutueus medius, that’s all. I’d worked it too hard and hadn’t strengthened it enough to warrant the amount of work I was asking it to do for me out on the road. I was relegated to the recumbent bicycle and swimming until further notice and given a prescription for physical therapy. Lucky for me, I was given the name of one of the coolest PTs in Manhattan. I walked into my physical therapist’s office and I think the first thing I asked him was, “How long do you think it’ll take before I get to run again?” He was cool (and did not openly laugh at or mock me) and told me that depended entirely on my commitment to the exercises he gave me. I did all of my homework (which includes some of my now-famous hip rotator exercises) and rested my poor little booty.
Miracle of miracles! I was back running in four weeks! Ok, so I was running one mile on the treadmill at four weeks post-diagnosis, but I was running, nonetheless. You know why? I knew when to fold ’em. I couldn’t fix my pain with the usual methods: ice, rest, stretching, etc. I needed to call in the pros and get some electro-stim on those inflamed attachment sites, have someone myofascially release the super-tight tendons of my little hip rotators and teach me to strengthen my itty bitty rotators, not just my big ‘ol gluteus maximus.
**Here’s the dirty little secret that you don’t hear very often: whatever exercises are prescribed to you for your specific injury, you are going to have to do them for the rest of your running career in order to avoid said injury again. Sorry, it’s true. You became injured in that place for a reason, usually because that particular tendon/muscle/ligament is weaker than the others and will always need special attention. Just get used to it.**
Moral of the story? You gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. If a few days’ rest, ice, elevation and a healthy dose of NSAIDs doesn’t make your pain go away, time to call in the experts. Get a physician’s opinion, heck, get two! And then be on your way to healing. If that path includes physical therapy, DO NOT BLOW IT OFF. Treat it like you would any other medication: take it religiously and do everything they tell you to do. If you’ve got a nagging pain, don’t ignore it. Pain is indication of something being wrong inside. Get on it sooner rather than later and avoid being out of the game longer than you absolutely have to be.
Now go out and run!