Recovering from joint and tendon injury

I have wanted to write this post for a long time, ever since I suffered a common running injury last summer and into last fall. So hot on the heels of last week’s post about injury prevention, I wanted to talk more in depth about injury recovery. In a lit of ways, the recovery is more important than anything, as it makes you aware of your body’s limitations, and forces you to pay far more attention to what is going on at any given time.

A recent yoga instructor pointed out that runners, as a rule, are more hard core and less likely to practice what they preach about stretching, rehab, and taking care of themselves, and I think this is very true. We can eat what we want, as we will just run it off. We can drink what we like, a run will clear it. Got a head cold coming on? A run will scare it out of your system. Feeling pain and tightness? Run it out. You will be fine.

I have unfortunately suffered from two non-traumatic joint or tendon injuries in the past 12 months, although both were minor in comparison to what many suffer from.  The problem is that these can often go untreated and unchecked, and can lead to an aggravation that you were not expecting.  Here are some simple tips on how to deal with the minor, day-to-day injuries that can plague you.

Profile of an injury that slowly creeps up on you

Last summer and into the fall, I started to feel the onset of a nagging injury. It ran along the bottom of my foot and was slow to progress. I know exactly when it started, so I know exactly when I started to ignore it. It built up over time and within two months it was so painful that I could not run for 30 minutes straight. Not only that, I had by that point spent weeks having to stretch the bottom of my foot each morning just so that I could get out of bed.

I started to look for reasons.  It can’t just be because of my running.  There had to be another reason, my running is good, my form is fine.  It must be the ankle brace I wear at badminton, that’s it.  It wraps around the bottom of my foot to immobilize lateral movement, it must be that.  Of course, it wasn’t.

The pain was somewhat debilitating and affected many aspects of my life. But I was stubborn and I was arrogant. I thought that there would be no problem, I could just work through it. Of course, no such luck. The injury knocked me out of running for about 30 days, which was a real eye opener for me. It turns out that it was none other than plantar fasciitis, and it is a very common running ailment.   To say that the pain was extreme, especially in the mornings, would not be an exaggeration at all.

Profile of an injury that happens suddenly

This summer, I had a much different experience – and fortunately, not very serious. While I was away in Calgary, I developed a pain in my right ankle which prevented me from running.  Actually, develop is the wrong word.  When I tried, I got 160 metres before I had to stop.  It was debilitating and humiliating at the same time, as it seemed like a very simple pain at the top of the ankle joint.  I attribute it to one of two things – either back to my plantar fasciitis, which was starting to feel like it was acting up, or to an oddity of how I seemed to ride my bike.

I had taken my bike with me while on a long term work assignment, and was riding about 12km every morning, and some evenings as well.  When at a stoplight, or when not pedalling and just coasting, it seems that I would always place my right pedal straight down, flexing that ankle.  I believe this may have contributed to my problem.  Either way, impact exercise really hurt my ankle.

How to recover properly

So the one thing I will stress over and over – and this is from the school of hard knocks – is that if you’ve been injured you likely can’t run it out.  Doing that has only ever spelled further injury for me.  If you have something slowing you down, my suggestions are as follows:

  1. Stop any activity that aggravates it.  The best thing that you can do is the hardest, in my opinion: take it easy.
  2. Go see someone about it.  I’ve found a fantastic physiotherapy clinic in Vancouver that helped me out, and I encourage you to find one as well.

I went in with a bunch of preconceptions about physio, namely that to be truly effective it had to be active physiotherapy with resistance training, rather than using passive modalities.  I made a deal with my therapist that I would absolutely do the exercises, and I lived up to that.  After just one week, he wasn’t satisfied with my progress.  He decided he would use two passive modalities – electro-stimulation, and ultrasound.  I was totally sceptical, as is my nature, until the next morning when I could get up without having to stretch my foot.  It was like a complete revelation.  I only needed two more of those treatments before the tendon completely relaxed, and I didn’t have any flare up whatsoever until I was in Calgary in July, where I got a mild flare up.  That was easily treatable with some exercises provided by both my therapist and my yoga instructor.

The other part of the recovery is rest.  In both the case of my plantar fasciitis and my ankle issue, I had to take time off from running and other major impact activities.  With the ankle issue, I was lucky enough that the time off actually was all the healing that I needed.  With the PF, I was completely unable to consider impact sports of any kind.  That injury really put me back quite a bit, but once I was healed, I was able to recover full bore and get back to everything I had been doing.

One of the best things I did, in both cases, was prepare and educate myself about my injuries and my recovery, and can impart some quick advice.

1.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Go and see a physiotherapist or your family doctor.  Consult with a sports medicine specialist.  If you know that seeing a chiropractor or a herbalist works for you, do it – just do something to actively participate in your own recovery by asking the help of knowledgeable professionals.

2. Do your research.

Researching your injury beforehand will help your therapist to quickly narrow down what the problem is.  I joked with my therapist that he must hate self-diagnosis via the Google Machine, but in fact he said he has a much more educated clientele as a result.  He finds that education breeds acceptance, and acceptance breeds active participation in his rehab program.  So, by all means, look up what’s ailing you.

I was also able to self-diagnose my ankle injury and form a plan of action on the recovery for it.  While it was a very minor injury, it was to an ankle that had suffered major trauma several times before in my youth, and I had already been focused on strengthening it; I had therefore done a lot of reading and research already, and only needed a little more knowledge to put forward my game plan – one which turned out to be successful.

There are great resources on-line for researching treatment that you can do on your own, such as the injury treatment page at Runners World Magazine.  However, there is also a lot of great information about maintaining your fitness while injured, specifics on recovery for each type of injury

3.  Be bloody minded and Follow through

You are working to repair what’s wrong with you – working to fix an injury.  Not everything will magically disappear through the application of ice or heat, and you may need to invest time in changing your exercise program to one that is geared to healing from an injury.  It’s ultimately up to you to heal yourself, even if through your own obdurate will and determination.

If you are injured, and reading this, I wish you all the best for a speedy recovery.  Take the initiative, though, and put your recovery in your own hands.  Educate yourself.  Work hard.  Exercise what needs to be exercised to heal what needs to be healed.  Take it upon yourself to work hard so that you can get back to however it is you liked to work hard.  I wish you all the best.

And to all the other runners out there – may you never, ever, have to suffer from PF.


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