Use the following tips to get through a nagging injury, or better yet, avoid one all together.
In February of last year I went out for a run and remember my right glute feeling really tight. I remember every once in a while it felt like someone was stabbing me in the butt. I remember it almost always went away after I was warmed up a couple miles later. What I don’t remember is when I tore my hamstring almost completely off my pelvic bone.
Now, it sounds a lot worse than it was, considering I don’t even remember when I actually tore it, and I continued to run 50 miles a week, racing in two half marathons, a sprint tri and a marathon over the next few months until I finally decided the pain in my butt was more than just a tight glute. Going through the process of finding out what injury I had and then rehabbing back to running injury-free, well, that’s another story. It sucked.
The best part is that my injury is now in the past and overcoming it was an enlightening experience that I learned a lot from. I encourage you to learn from my mistakes. Use the following tips to get through a nagging injury, or better yet, avoid one all together.
1. Get a second (or even third or fourth) opinion.
After running for four months with this pain in my butt that I just could not shake I finally caved and went to the doctor. And when they didn’t know what was wrong I was sent to another doctor who sent me to a sports doctor who sent me to an internal medicine doctor who sent me to physical therapy. Finally, I thought I was in the place I needed to be, but they still didn’t know what was wrong. Bursitis they thought. Or might it be piriformis syndrome? Inflamed tendons? It wasn’t until I finally got an MRI (which is nothing like in the movies. It was loud and small. And why are all of the available appointments at 6:15 in the morning?!) that I found out exactly what the pain in my butt was—a torn hamstring. This was never a diagnosis that was on the doctors’ minds previously because I didn’t tear the muscle in a traditional sense. Instead, I tore it a little, ramped up my training and ran a few races, tearing the muscle little by little away from the bone until I just could not stand it any more. After finding out I had more than just a minor strain, I knew that I needed more than the geriatric PT I was receiving, so I moved on to yet another PT, aka my saving grace. After a few months of bouncing around I was getting the aggressive PT I needed and yearned for, and was getting stronger again. After almost a year of endless doctor’s appointments I was finally headed in the right direction. Lesson learned: Be proactive. If you aren’t getting the treatment you think you need ask for another doctor or physical therapist’s opinion.
2. Stop running.
The biggest mistake I made through this entire injury fiasco is that I kept running. If I had stopped running and went to a doctor when my glute first started hurting, I wouldn’t have gotten benched for a year and a half. Your body knows when something is up so listen to it. Getting an appointment might be a huge hassle, and trust me I know how much money seeing seven different doctors, physical therapists and chiropractors can be, but seeing one when the problem is small is a lot less out of your pocket than seeing three or four when the problem is much bigger. Lesson learned: Stop running, and if the problem doesn’t go away, schedule an appointment with a doctor or PT instead of scheduling another race.
3. You will get back into shape.
When I first tore my hamstring I was the fittest I had ever been. Not only was I running 50 miles a week, but I was also teaching four or five group fitness classes at the gym. I am not the type of instructor who tells the class to sprint or squat while I sit back and eat grapes. I do everything with my class, even hundreds of squats and lunges when it feels like someone is stabbing me in the glute. I was in shape, and I wanted to stay that way, so I didn’t want to stop because I felt a little pain. After I stopped running last July I hardly ran more than a mile or two every few weeks just to test out the injury, and with my decreased mileage came decreased motivation to do anything active. I wanted to run. I didn’t want to ride my brand new, shiny road bike, hoping that it would make up for my lack of running. My ridiculous amount of moping around and not running took away a lot of the fitness I had built up and I gained almost 10 pounds — and for someone at a staggering height of 5 feet, 0.5 inches, 10 pounds does not pack on unnoticed. (Side note, and maybe the best lesson I learned through the whole thing, is that I am in fact 5 feet, 0.5 inches tall. I have gone my entire adult life thinking I was 4 feet, 11.75 inches, but one day at PT the physical therapists thought it would be funny to play a little game called “Let’s Measure How Short Linzay Is!” and I measured up to be a whole three quarters of an inch taller than I thought I was. Best. day. ever.) But now that I am running again and getting back to doing all the active things I did before, which also includes riding my shiny bike, I’m starting to feel fit again and I’m losing the weight I gained. Lesson learned: More than likely an injury will not last forever and you’ll be back running and feeling as fit as you were pre-injury.
4. Don’t compare yourself to the runner you were pre-injury.
Now that I’m back to running and have been for about two months, I decided on a goal race and got a training plan to go with it. My goal for the race is ambitious—a PR, and I know this is a little ridiculous considering what I’ve gone through, but I want to see what I’m capable of. Some of the runs on my training plan seem impossible to complete, and some actually are impossible. It can be really disappointing to look down at my GPS to find out I can barely hold the pace I used to run a marathon at for no more than a mile, but then I remember that six months ago I couldn’t even do that and I get excited to just be running again. Goals aside, I’m running and that’s all that matters. Lesson learned: You cannot compare yourself to the runner you were pre-injury. Instead, look at how far you’ve come and how much farther you can go.