Sunday, January 4, 2015

Trial and error

Today is a better day and I have to write about it before the feeling goes away. Nobody likes reading endless complaints, or so I think. But if you stumble on a pity party like in the previous post, every once in a while, you may feel compelled to comment, to help, to share your story, to empathize. However if you've heard the same story for more than 6 months, I suppose that it's starting to become annoying and you may even find yourself saying "shut up and do something about it already". But as I said, I have been trying and it hasn't been easy, mostly because of all the conflicting expert information that is out there. When you don't know who is wrong or right, you have to be open minded and go through trial and error. Unfortunately for you, my readers, I share (almost) everything as I document all my attempts to returning to a pain-free state of being. Every day I tell myself the same thing - wouldn't it be WONDERFUL if today my knees and hips stayed quiet? I can't wait for that day to arrive, but in the meantime, you have to bear with me as I go through the motions of experimenting with things that make sense to me in a particular moment. Only when one avenue has failed, I move onto another because there is method to my madness.

Let me give you an example: foam rolling. First and foremost, I have to admit that I am lazy. Any good reason not to roll and I'm game. For many months last year I went to see a massage therapist named Antonio. I loved Antonio - his specialty was myofascial release and he knew how to make my aches go away, even though I'd come back home with bruises all over my legs. Yet he always said that I could help myself by rolling more often. And I would always reply... sorry, not today. Eventually I ran out of money and I stopped going. Then my ITBs became more and more problematic, and the pain in the knees followed. But don't get me wrong, I am not necessarily implying that it was a cause and effect - just that I could no longer give my legs as much TLC as before and maybe, just maybe I could have delayed the knee pain if I had continued going to see Antonio regularly.

Anyway, back to foam rolling. My massage therapist would tell me to roll, my coach would tell me to roll, my husband would tell me to roll, and so would many of the people I know - but then I'd come across expert opinions such as these "Your IT band is not the enemy (but maybe your foam roller is)" or "ITB or Not ITB... That is the question" and then my brain would go into a deadlock: what to do, what to do?? It also did not help that I was sent to another massage therapist/acupuncturist and this guy told me that he didn't believe in foam rolling either, especially for ITBs. I respect and trust many of the health professionals that I see and I know that there isn't ONE solution to all issues. But there it was, another reason to NOT roll. And I believed in it 100%. I also believed that the key was in releasing the TFLs and hip flexors and stretching the glutes etc.
Alas here's where I failed because I didn't do those things either.

When I wrote the previous post, I received many pieces of advice and of course some were conflicting. I am always happy to receive suggestions, don't get me wrong, but I ended staying awake until past midnight weighing pros and cons and reading hundreds of opinions that you can find on those websites' comment sections. All articles are interesting, and all opinions carry their weight, but at the end of the day, I have to look at what I already tried and worked (or not) vs what is left to be tried even if some people are passionately against those ideas.

So here I am, holding another list of TODOs in front of me and looking forward to the process, or rather to a different outcome. Someone once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, but as I consider myself sane enough to see the difference between approaches and the value in each of them.

After the initial shock that my IT bands/hips/knees combo is still not operating pain free, I skipped my bike workout because I was scared to make things worse given that my hips were somewhat achy and the rubbing of my left knee cap was puzzling. Just to make it clear, so far I have not experienced the kind of pain I was in last year during the Ironman training months, but the same tightness, pulling and rubbing that I would feel at the beginning of every run. In the past, it would only go worse from there, hence my erring on the side of caution. However today I decided to make another attempt at running, but a little differently. I also bought a new pair of shoes which I wore during my 4km walk earlier this week. I didn't choose the pink but they were $72 so I can't complain.
I went to Cassie Campbell Recreation Center where they have a nice gym with a track and started with dynamic stretches and the usual ABCs of running warmup. Only then I went to the treadmill, where I did 1km of run/walk alternating 1 minute each at 1% incline. Nothing violent and I am not even sure that I ran 1km, but I could not feel anything "wrong" at the end so to speak, so I take it as a win.

Then I did my strength workout, followed by the famous "couch stretch" and foam rolling. Because why not. These are the tools that I'll use in this new trial because I also trust my friends and coaches who I know have been through similar experiences. If it worked for them, maybe it will work for me too. Out of this exercise, I did find a possible causal relationship between my left knee pain and tightness on the hip/leg/whatever.

Let me explain the "couch stretch" with a few images from the very useful book "Ready to Run" by Kelly Starrett.
On the right side, which didn't present any symptoms so far, I can go to step #6 and hold it for 2 min, while on the left side, I can barely get into #3, and then only hold it for 30-45sec at a time with my arms raised on a block. The difference between sides is dumbfounding, but it definitely explains why the left feels tighter than the right, and why it may affect my ITB/knee. Because it freaking IS tight.

So what if this whole mess is not an injury, but just tightness that I need to get rid of to become a "supple leopard"? One inch at a time - poke, listen, address weakness, imbalance, stiffness. There must be a way and I'm gonna find it. I have tools, I have plenty of support and I'm working on my patience every single day. Can I have a yay?


  1. That is a yay for sure! And here's another suggestion to add to the mix - dry needling. I did it for super tight muscles, and it was incredibly effective.

    1. Yikes, anything with a pointy sharp end sounds like torture!