Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Just What the Dr. Ordered (or the Physical Therapist, anyway)

I saw my orthopedist this morning at The Hughston Clinic in Columbus. This guy is a character, and aside from his unparalleled ability to cuss the paint off the walls, I really enjoy talking with him on occasion. We have actually built up a pretty decent working relationship. He knows my typical aches and pains that I present to him on occasion and I am usually pretty sure of what he is going to do for treatment. It's a symbiotic existence.

Since the marathon last Sunday, I had been able to pinpoint the exact location of some lateral knee pain that I have experienced during the past 12 months or so. Actually, I used a Sharpie to mark an "X" on the side of my right leg for reference. This proved to be helpful since I have been unable to pinpoint the exact location of the pain since it subsides as soon as I stop running. Being able to narrow it down to a certain spot helped the good Dr. determine that my problem was not ITB after all, but rather an issue with my achilles tendon as it attached to the head of my fibula. Being able to actually have a specific diagnosis is a great, great relief to me.

As he directed me to Physical Therapy for some treatment to relieve the inflammation as well as a consult with a PT regarding how I can best stretch and strengthen the Achilles, I felt such a sense of relief at having a name for my lingering knee issue that has plagued me the last 3 marathons I've competed in.

George, my PT, did a workup on my physical activities, training habits, regimens and previous medical history. Following the info gathering, he decided to perform a range of motion (ROM) exercise on me. As he had me stretch, reach, bend and touch, he actually used a protractor-looking device to see what degree of flexibility I exhibited. It felt like a Geometry lab.

After the measurements were completed, he said that my entire problem was completely due to having tight hamstrings. When he asked if I regularly stretched them, I had to say "No". After all, runners are typically not very disciplined at things other than running, so he wasn't the least bit surprised. I felt stupid though. If my last 3 races were sabotaged because I failed to do something as simple as stretching, I felt like an idiot. I'm not unfamiliar with that feeling, either.

George, my new best friend, then proceeded to show me how to PROPERLY stretch the calf muscles. He explained to me the physiology of what stretching is intended to accomplish, and it was fascinating. It made complete sense to me. He explained how my tight hamstrings likely made my quads feel much stronger and tighter after long distances (which is absolutely true) and why my running form isn't as efficient as it could be with hammies stretched properly and on a regular basis.

Needless to say, I've stretched them out more since 11:30am this morning than I have stretched them in 32 years. George says that 2 weeks will yield a noticeable difference, and I am confident that he is right. For now, I'm just excited to be doing something constructive that should improve my race day performances going forward.

I'll try to give some additional detail later about how to Properly stretch a hamstring. It's a beautiful thing !

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