Throughout my life as a runner I would have to say that I have been pretty lucky as far as avoiding major injuries. Most of the time when something started to hurt I could just back off for a couple of days and the pain would go away. That being said, I’m currently dealing with a knee problem that had me sidelined for over 4 months. On April 19th I did a hard, very hilly 21-mile run during which I felt great. However, over the next couple days my left knee started to swell. The following weekend I ran a 5K, my knee felt tight and a bit swollen before the race but seemed to loosen up as I ran. The following week it was swollen so much I could hardly bend it. That’s when I finally gave in and decided to go have it looked at.
I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of doctors. Over the years I haven’t had much luck finding any that actually seemed helpful. So this was the first time in about 15 years I went to a doctor. I ended up getting both an x-ray and MRI done on my knee and then seeing an orthopedic specialist here in Bellingham. His diagnosis was to find some other way than running to exercise. It’s a good thing it wasn’t my lungs that hurt or he might have told me to find some other way besides breathing to get oxygen. This doctor was definitely not a runner and didn’t understand how strong the need to run can be. I still had no idea what was going on with my knee and no idea how to make it better. At this point I was really feeling depressed and quickly loosing my motivation to get back to running. Then my friend Stormy Shouman (Club Northwest runner and winner of the M35-39 800m at the 2008 USATF Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championships) suggested I go see Dr. Michael Allison.
Dr. Allison is a member of Club Northwest and a highly competitive masters runner. In fact at this year’s USATF Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Spokane he competed in the 800, 1500 and 5000 finishing 6th, 2nd and 3rd respectively. When I went to see Dr. Allison I was very impressed with how much he listened to what I had to say about my knee. Also, instead of having the attitude that if something hurt you just don’t do it, his main goal was to figure out how to get me back running again. There was never any discussion of not running anymore. When I left Dr. Allison’s office I was excited again about running even though it was going to be a long slow process to get back to where I was before my knee started swelling.
I now had a plan of attack for how I was going to get back into running. I needed to start by strengthening my quads and the muscles around my knee. Then once the swelling was gone I would begin adding in some running, building up very slowly. When it comes to training I like to have a very specific schedule so I can keep track of what I’m doing and make sure I’m heading in the right direction (I’ve been told I’m a bit anal about this sort of thing). Now that I had my schedule to follow I started to believe that this injury was just a temporary thing and that at some point I would be back to 100%, something that in the previous weeks I had doubted. I think that simply because of this improvement in my attitude towards dealing with my injury my knee was already starting to feel better.
My plan was to start doing a set of exercises to strengthen my legs as well as begin riding a bike. Neither of these were things I had ever incorporated into my training before. Also, as luck would have it, Dr. Kevin Rindal (Northwest Chiropractic Clinic) had recently joined our Fairhaven Runners Racing Team Tuesday evening track workouts. Kevin offered to help me out using the Active Release Technique® (ART). Within just a few weeks of beginning my exercises and bike riding I was able to see some improvements in my leg strength. And following just my first session with Kevin my knee was noticeably stronger and the range of motion was greater. (In a future post I will go describe the specifics of routine that I have used to rehabilitate my knee in greater detail)
I have started adding some running back into my schedule and am back up to about 20 miles a week. As I continue to slowly increase my mileage I am sticking with my biking and strength exercises, I have even begun to enjoy doing both. In the past I was never able to motivate myself to even try any sort of cross training. Now I’m not only looking forward to getting back to my old level of fitness, I actually think I will come back stronger and faster than I was before the injury. So while I wouldn’t say I’m glad I got injured, I have to admit that this one has definitely had a silver lining.