I am a runner who is not running. I am staying positive, but truth be told, it isn’t easy for me. When asked (frequently) what marathon I am training for, I react with pain in my gut and try to figure out how to explain my situation. I can’t run, but I am still moving forward.
Maybe this is good for me. I have had twenty years of relatively injury free training. There were three pregnancies and minor issues after each (plantar fasciitis and some hip issues), but I enjoyed years of great running. Now is a time to expand my horizons and also to help me understand just how blessed I have been. So, here is a summary of the injury as I understand right now. I have degeneration in my lumbar spine between L5 and S1 – the Lumbosacral joint. This was discovered with x-rays. There is likely bulging at the disc there, but difficult to determine without an MRI. Since May I have had issues with my left hamstring and glutes. This is likely all due to the spine and the nerves being compressed. My gait is off due to poor nerve function and then muscles are getting strained. Currently I have chronic low back pain; it isn’t severe, but enough that it would be foolish to run and ignore it.
Good news, I am a triathlete as well as a runner! I have alternative sports to keep me going. I also have an excellent chiropractor, Geron Cowherd, who is providing so much insight and advice on how to deal with this injury (next article will be about Chiropractic Care and ART). Lower back injuries are very common, especially among marathon runners due to the repetitive impact and stress of bounding as we run long distances. A combination of genetics (low back issues run in my family), 20 years of running and pushing myself too hard in some complementary exercises (see below) are the underlying reasons for my current predicament. I have a plan and I am confident that it will keep me moving forward. I hope these suggestions can encourage others suffering from an unwanted injury.
How to combat injury and stay injury free:
- Do Strengthening Exercises: It is essential to identify my weaknesses and do the correct type of strengthening exercises to correct my imbalances and deficiencies. I specifically need to focus on core strength to support my back. Planks and abdominal exercises need to be my new favourite activities. My left leg is also significantly weaker than my right (it was my left hamstring and glutes that have been flaring up all year) so I am doing specific exercises to activate my left leg. These exercises include bunkies, bridge poses (activate glues), squats, lunges and slowly adding in more plyometric exercises as I build strength.
- Find a New Outlet for Athleticism: I may not be running, but I am moving! I am throwing myself into swimming, cycling and strength training. Rather than approaching injury as a time to give up, see it as an opportunity to learn a new sport and get good at something new. I am now planning on doing a 10km open water swim next summer. This is something I have never done and it will give purpose to my swimming. I have also joined a gym, something I have not done for years. Spin classes and weight training will keep me energized and fit.
- Invest in Regular Chiropractic Care: Regular chiropractic adjustments restore spinal motion and alignment. ART (Active Release Therapy) works the muscle tissues and ligaments to break up scar tissue and restore proper movement. Currently this is a more acute problem for me, affecting nerve functioning. Regular adjustments can help prevent imbalances from getting severe and keep nerves functioning properly. It often takes an injury to see the value in treatment.
- Focus on Deloading and Elongating of the Spine: The issues I am having are due to compression in the spine. To reverse this I am hanging upside down in an inversion machine at the gym and doing headstands at home. I haven’t yet resorted to hanging upside from the monkey bars at the playground! The inversion therapy is a great idea after a long run or ride. When running, using the 10 and 1 approach (run 10 minutes and walk 1 minute) is a great way to give the body a break from the bounding throughout a long run. It is effective in deloading the spine every 10 minutes and allowing for a long run. I will use this technique when starting to run again.
- Approach Complementary Exercises with Caution: Yoga, cross-fit, strength training, Pilates…are all excellent activities, but in my case they are secondary to my focus on triathlon and running. When approaching these complementary activities I must remember to approach them with caution. As an athlete it is easy to think I need to always push myself. It is easy to create an injury in these secondary activities that will interfere with the primary sport. Not being as proficient in these secondary activities, it is easy to overstretch or tear a muscle. This is definitely a contributing factor to my current injury situation. One yoga class I felt compelled to try the “bird of paradise” pose that was being demonstrated. I pulled my leg up as high as it would go….not a good idea for the hamstring. Definitely caused some tearing. Another day last spring I was in a fitness class and did Box Squats and I jumped as high and squated as deep as i could possibly go. Again, contributing to tearing in the hamstring and glutes. More is not always better.
- Focus on Nutrition: Proper nutrition is needed to repair and build muscle tissue. I needed to add more protein to my diet. I also need to supplement with essential fatty acids: linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). These oils are found in fish, flax seed pumpkin seeds sunflower seeds and soya oil . I do not consume enough seafood, so in my case a supplement is the easiest way to ensure I am getting what I need. Essential oils help to decrease inflammation in the body; this is essential for every athlete and especially necessary for me at this time when I am fighting inflammation in my spine.
It is incredibly encouraging to talk to many of my friends who have experienced injuries in the past and are back to doing the sports they love. I will never take for granted the ability to swim, bike and run.