Today is my one month anniversary of not being able to run due to this mysterious injury plaguing my leg. I celebrated by going to the doctor. Ok, not really, but this is how I got to where I am today.
I first visited with Coach Matt to get a plan of action for the leg and making the judgement that any knowledgeable person would make given the information I supplied, we started icing and heating as one does for any case of shin splints. The only problem was that the normal time for shin splint recovery came and went with no progress in healing. Something deeper was at hand and Matt expressed concern that I was actually harboring a stress fracture, and although I did exhibit some of the symptoms the definitive pain test came up with nothing. That almost ruled out a stress fracture, but the pain remained. We upped the plan with shoe inserts and massage while trying to maintain fitness any way possible, but I won’t lie, my mental state was starting to deteriorate with my leg.
More time went by and the pain remained, but now spreading more noticeably around my entire lower leg, going from the shin, to anterior muscles to the ankle, to the foot and seemingly everywhere I had nerve endings. This despite running only very periodically just to test my recovery and see how my leg was doing. Each time out ended up with the same response, pain, inflammation and soreness. My mental state sunk even further.
By the graciousness of Chris Galloway at ProWellness Chiropractic, they offered massage services for my tightened leg muscles and I was enthusiastic to add one more tool in my recovery toolbox and started visiting every few days for focused muscle massages, which temporarily alleviated the tightness in the area, but I was still unable to run. I began suspecting that maybe this wasn’t as simple as shin splints or even a problem with my lower leg, but that maybe the root of this issue lay elsewhere. But where really? My quads? My hamstring? My groin? Who knows…but my mental state took an even greater turn for the worse and I lost motivation to keep up with bicycle fitness or core workouts. I became a miserable sourpuss around the house and felt terrible that I couldn’t be a positive and exciteable partner for Michelle. But I was done sitting around and waiting for this thing to finally relent and right itself.
I have a great community of friends who have taken a mild interest in my running and I’m always grateful for their attention. This past winter, when I was dealing with my groin pain, a friend of mine emailed me and said he sees me running on the downtown canal often and that he works with a trainer who has dealt with elite athletes and their injuries. He suggested I talk to him about my pains. I didn’t at the time, but decided to email him recently and see if I could get some more insight from him about what might be going on with my leg. He gave an involved and encouraging email response and although he couldn’t pinpoint what was going on with my leg, he referred me to the St. Vincent’s Sports Medicine facility and gave me the email of Darrell Barnes, (MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS) the performance medical coordinator at the facility. I was told he worked with Amy Yoder-Begely when she was suffering from mysterious injuries and helped turn her around into a Nike sponsored world class athlete. He also worked with american 5000 meter record holder Bob Kennedy. And hell, I just want to run races again. I figured I should send him an email.
I told Coach Matt that I was setting something up with Darrell and he was very enthusiastic that I was taking this step as Darrell had helped a number of his athletes and his highly recommended. I emailed Darrell about what was going on, my goal to qualify for the marathon trials, and he expressed that he was very happy to help me out. Today was my appointment and I wasn’t sure what to expect except a more thorough investigation of my leg issue.
I sat in a many chaired waiting room entirely by myself flipping through a National Geographic. After a few minutes I looked up to see an incredibly tall athlete walk through the door and I instantly recognized the Bulldog logo on his jacket. It was Gordon Hayward of Butler Basketball, the athlete who is not only the talk of the entire city right now, but quite possibly anyone in the country interested in college basketball. It was just announced that he is getting set up for the NBA draft. Admittedly, I don’t follow basketball and his celebrity status meant nothing to me except for one thing, if an athlete of his status and desirability is coming to this place for treatment then I must be doing something definitively right. After a few minutes I looked up to see him staring me dead in the face. I’m guessing he was wondering what my skinny ass was doing there and what sport I might be involved in. I only say that because I was guessing everyone as they walked by as well. Soon after Gordon and his freakishly tall framed was walked away Darrell met me with enthusiasm and a solid handshake. Then the fun began.
We started off by discussing the history of this leg pain and how it worsened. I pointed out the areas it has hurt, when it hurts, who I have seen for help and what I have been doing for treatment to no avail. He kindly explained how he was going to go through a number of motions to figure out what’s going on in my leg and what might be the underlying cause of all this. He started with the shin area, trying to invoke pain with certain points of pressure, but ended up with nothing. He took a tuning fork, banged it on the table and began moving it around my leg trying to bring a wince out of me. Nothing. The purpose of this is to locate a stress fracture, of which the vibrations of a tuning fork will bring out with force. Fortunately, nothing came of it. Along the same lines he used an ultrasound machine to vibrate around the bone, but again came up with nothing. Short of a definitive x-ray, he was convinced I am not suffering from a stress fracture.
He then talked to me about other symptoms and correctly guessed that “like any good runner, you probably have googled every running injury known to man.” I have. The interesting thing about it is that everything I have read I seem to have symptoms of. Stress fracture. Shin splints. Compartment syndrome. Syphillis. Oh…ok, not that last one. Still, it seems like my leg has everything, but not definitely anything. With a handful more questions and certain range of motion and pain-free stress tests, he then also ruled out Compartment Syndrome, which was a huge relief for me because I’m told the only way to alleviate that is through surgery.
So, we weren’t learning what I had, but we were certainly learning what I didn’t have. This is at least a step in the right direction!
Then as I was lying on my back doing more strength and alignment tests (my right leg is longer than my left) another trainer came up and told Darrell that he needed to take care of me, because “he is a DINO guy.” He then shook my hand and introduced himself to me as a fellow runner and DINO series racer from last year. Suddenly his face looked familiar. From that point on we continued with various considerations, motions, strength tests and whatever else the two of them could think of, but I could sense a confusion in all their sentences. They were stumped.
Then during a little more conversation Darrell says, so I was talking to Rebecca Bahn the other day when she called me up and says, “You need to take care of this guy. He’s a fellow vegan!” I’m humbled to be connected to such an interested and concerned group of people in my circle.
Interestingly enough, as we continued working on my leg they were moving higher and higher near my quads, then my glutes, my back and sometimes uncomfortably close to my private bits! Whatever it takes I guess. There was a lot of biology and medical talk being tossed around so I wasn’t quite understanding everything perfectly, but the confusion stemmed from tightness in some areas, but strength in others. Rotation in some areas, but over-rotation in others. Flexibility in some areas and frozen muscles in others. The assessments jumped from either leg, further confusing both of them. The only thing they were really deducing was that what was happening down in my shin and the side of my leg was somehow linked to the rest of my leg, maybe significantly higher up. It might involve a compressed nerve, a severely tightened set of muscles or a combination of the two.
Even more baffling, they noticed my right leg (maybe my calf area?) was “significantly atrophied”, which is to say much weaker and less muscular than my left. This could mean a number of things, that maybe my left leg is my stronger push off leg or something completely different, but they felt that this might have led to the underlying problems that are screaming themselves known out my shin. So, to connect the dots. Quite possibly I have a specific imbalance that has been sacrificing my leg in ways, possibly over-stressing some muscles, possibly over-stressing a nerve or two, possibly neglecting certain leg muscles and have finally screwed things up down there to the point that my leg is howling in pain, telling me to fix whatever the hell I broke (not literally…fortunately).
I was incredibly relieved to get this assessment, if only because we got MUCH closer to finding out the root of this problem than I have been so far. Sure, I don’t definitively know what is going on yet, but we have a greater deal of information to dig through from here on out. I could tell Darrell was mildly frustrated that he couldn’t give me a definitive answer during this visit, but I tried to convey that I was very appreciative with the information and that he certainly helped me out, mentally if not yet physically. Regardless, he wasn’t done. He suggested I see a running-specific doctor who also comes highly recommended by a handful of people I know. His name is Dr. Karey and I have an appointment Thursday. Darrell showed great enthusiasm for Dr. Karey and personally made the call for me to give him a rundown of what we just went through and where we need to go from here.
So, I’m still on this wild goose chase, seemingly getting closer and closer to a specific diagnosis that will give us a definitive and unwavering plan of action for recovery. Before I left the office Darrell gave me a stretch to focus on, a strength and balancing exercise that involves holding a tennis ball between my heels and a pressure releasing stretch that involves sitting rather uncomfortably on a couple of fingers in an attempt to loosen a nerve in my buttocks.
After my appointment Thursday I’m to call Darrell again and schedule another visit to work on more focused strength, balance and loosening muscles and nerves. Of course, in hindsight, I wish I made this appointment 4 weeks ago. I could have been so much further along in recovery than I am now, but hey, you live and learn. And although this injury knocked me out of a number of races I was really looking forward to running, and at such a high point of progress, I’m grateful this showed its seemingly inevitable face now instead of a much more inopportune time, like right before the Chicago Marathon in October.
So here we are again, undiagnosed, but filled with more information as to what I’m NOT suffering from and the knowledge that something more than simply waiting needs to happen before I get back to running. I can emotionally ride this through to my next couple of appointments. I think Michelle will be relieved to know that.