By Emily Popoff, PT, DPT
I still dislike running, and now everything seems to hurt. I just had to get that off my chest to start with. I have been able to maintain my schedule of running five times a week and taking strength training classes three times a week, and more often then not running before strength training had me feeling much more warmed up and ready for class than I had before I started running more. Overall, I felt like I was able to maintain a good balance in my work outs and that I was taking care of my body appropriately. Sure, I wasn’t the best with stretching, but I was doing more than previously, so that had to count for something, right?
Apparently, my body had different ideas. After my long run a few weeks in to my training (7 miles, in case you were curious) I got home and immediately went to make a delivery to my upstairs neighbor. To make a long story short, going up stairs was fine, but I found that coming down using my right leg wasn’t going to happen. I stretched, I foam rolled, and I iced up a storm that weekend, but going down stairs was still not happening. Fortunately, I work in a physical therapy clinic, with co-workers who are nice enough to check me out and work on my leg. I definitely felt a lot better after some PT intervention; not fully back to normal, but better. I went on my run as usual the next morning before work (4 miles, FYI) and was fine during my run, but hurting a lot more in my right knee afterwards. Again, I got worked on at work, and again I felt perfectly fine the next morning.
I’m sure, dear reader, you see where this is going. I felt perfectly fine, with no pain during my morning runs, but afterwards doing things like going down stairs and standing up from sitting were a major production. One of my co-workers finally sat me down and we had a “Come to Jesus talk,” where they wanted to make sure I was aware that I had given myself Runner’s Knee. Now, of course I was aware of this, but just like many of you and several of my patients I felt that if I had no pain while running, I was fine, and I’d deal with the daily activities that were causing me pain until after my race. Of course, I, too should have known better that just because I was hurting now didn’t necessarily mean I needed to stop my activity completely. So, with my PT (wink, wink), we worked together to come up with a plan to get me back in shape.
First, I started taking anti-inflammatories daily for a week to get the swelling in my knee down. After the first day I already felt 75% improvement, just from the swelling being dealt with. And since I’m being honest, I’m not against taking anti-inflammatories when necessary, I simply would just forget each night when I got home. Second, I became much more diligent in my stretching and foam rolling after finishing each run, and I would have immediate release of tension with just ten minutes of time spent on my flexibility. Third, I was reminded that ice is always my friend. After I’m done with a run, but before I get ready for the day I spent 15-20 minutes with an ice pack on my knee to help reduce superficial swelling and ease any pain from that day’s run. Fourth, I check in with one of my co-workers at least once or twice a week and get a quick manual session to ensure I’m not missing any critical areas with my stretching.
All the steps I took were extremely helpful, but I think it’s the fifth point that’s the most important: I gave myself permission to not work out when I was hurting. I think all of us are more aware of and in tune with our bodies then we give ourselves credit for, we just ignore what our bodies are saying. When I finally got over my competitive stubbornness and took a Friday from all activity, my 8-mile run the next morning was so much more effective and I didn’t hurt afterwards. Training for events and working towards goals are great, but if you’re ignoring how your body is feeling while you’re working out, you’re not truly taking care of your body and health. Rest is just as important as activity, and sometimes we need more of one to help us be our best.
My right knee is still more sore than it usually is and I’m not as ready to do squat sets with my patients as I usually am, but I know that it’s not in any danger of immediate injury. I’ve made a promise to keep up with my stretching, icing, and PT, and in return I fully expect everything to return to normal quickly after my race. Especially since I’ll be fully embracing the rest part of my recovery come the first full week in February.