I ran. I RAN! I ran.
It was only a mile – 1.09 if we’re bring specific – but it felt so, so good.
Actually I’m lying. It felt terrible. I’m so out of shape.
I survived the mile with no pain, really. Honestly, my back was a little off that day, so after the run I did my therapy and hoped for the best. My legs and hips are sore, good feelings that mean I challenged my body in a way it hadn’t been challenged in a while. My back is feeling…okay.
To back up a little bit here, this was my first run since January, when I finally hung up my running shoes because the sciatica was too painful. I went straight to an orthopedist, where I learned that sciatica isn’t really a diagnosis; it’s a symptom being caused by something else. In my case, that something else was a herniated disc.
Few things make you feel old like having a herniated disc.
My journey to wellness has been a roller coaster of frustration, small victories that didn’t last long, and painful setbacks that did last long.
I visited a chiropractor regularly for several weeks. She told me that by visiting her x number of times per week, I could get better in several months. I eventually stopped going because I was busy and stressed (LTYM season), running around to doctor or therapy appointments or meetings almost every day. I needed a break, and the regular adjustments didn’t seem to be helping anyway.
I started physical therapy with the orthopedist’s PT branch in March, where I learned about McKenzie method. I usually left there feeling pretty good, but even just sitting in the car on the way home was enough to put me right back into pain mode.
In April, with no end in sight, I relented and went in for a steroid shot. I laid face down on the table, and the doctor injected me with a shot of cortisone right in the lower back. And the pain was gone. It was like a miracle. I kept expecting my left side to be weak when I walked, or expecting pain to start shooting down my leg, but there was none. I was all, “Did you see that? I got up from that chair and didn’t want to cry!”
Seriously, it’s the little things.
But alas, it wasn’t meant to last. I got the shot just days before I left for the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop, and I can tell you that I never would have survived that trip – flights, hours sitting in sessions – without that shot. It was a godsend, but a short-lived one. Within weeks I felt the pain creeping back again. Like that psycho ex-girlfriend that just won’t go away.
And honestly, I felt like this pain was never going to really go away.
Here’s the frustrating thing about this injury, and probably any injury. You don’t know what’s really going to work for you unless you try all the things. And that takes a lot of time, and before you know it’s you’ve been living with this pain for months. Everyone has a different opinion on what will help you. And a lot of the time, those opinions contradict each other.
The orthopedist said I’ll likely have flare-ups the rest of my life. They seemed to think PT would help, but if that didn’t work, “You should get a steroid shot.” And if that doesn’t work, come back and get another one. They didn’t seem to think I should ever run again.
The physical therapist said that I could be better in 6 – 8 weeks. He seemed to NOT want me to get a shot, because although that would alleviate my symptoms chemically, it wouldn’t really solve my problem. But I would run again someday.
The chiropractor was all for getting a shot if it helped manage my pain, but she still wanted to see me 87 times a week for the rest of my livelong days. (I’m exaggerating.) (But not by much.)
When the physical therapist cut me loose after 12 weeks or so, waiting to see what the orthopedist would say at my follow up, it was just kind of a “Well, good luck to you!” send off.
That’s when I really started to feel helpless.
Some days I felt better, some days I didn’t, and the fluctuations weren’t consistent with any of my treatments. Around that same time, a friend who was suffering from a similar issue recommended her therapist, who specialized in Active Release Therapy. I was no stranger to the name Dr. Wag, since a few of my other running friends had also waxed poetic about him for their various injuries. But the most enticing part? This friend was feeling loads better and was back to running and CrossFit.
When people ask me how ART differs from regular physical therapy, the only way I can think to put it is, “Well, it’s kinda like a good, old fashioned butt rub.” Also it’s important to note that I am not a doctor.
When you’ve been in pain for so long, sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re improving, or if you’re just so used to being in pain that you’ve kinda grown accustomed to it. Me and pain, best friends forever!
Twice a week I would go in and lay on a table and move my leg around while Dr. Wag tried to convince my stubborn muscles to let go of that nerve and give my poor aching rear end a break already. Over time the ART, along with some Trigger Point therapy and me doing about a million McKenzie press ups per day, really started to work. After maybe 3 months I was able to say I was at 85%, then 90%. Unlike the other doctors and therapists, I felt like here they treated ME, not my symptoms. Dr. Wag knew that getting back to running was important to me, and from the beginning, that was our goal.
I went from feeling like I would never get better – and I’m not being dramatic; I really did think that – to actually feeling better.
And then I was given the okay to slowly start running again. Slowly. I haven’t run since January. I am extremely out of shape. I started off slow, to see how my back held up. And it felt so damn good, until my legs got tired and my breathing was off, and my brain was confused because it was accustomed to leisurely strolls to the voice of Ira Glass and now there was music coming from my earbuds and the expectation that my body was supposed to move faster.
Dr. Wag thinks I will definitely be able to train for a half marathon in the spring, “Or maybe even a full!”
Slow your roll, Doc. I don’t plan on running a full marathon until, well, never.
But for now, I hope my body is indeed ready to run. Because my mind is more than ready.