By Emily Popoff, PT, DPT
Through all my training for this half-marathon, this is the week I’ve been waiting for: Taper Week! The final seven days prior to any race, most training programs start to taper your runs, backing off your mileage so that you’re still running and moving, but not at the same intensity. For example, a week and a half ago I was running 30 miles that week, which included a 12-mile run on Saturday. This week I have 13 miles total prior to my race. Despite the ups and downs, I have found that my endurance and running ability has markedly improved. I’m no longer sucking wind at anything over 4 miles and my right knee and I are in a better place. I’m taking this week prior to my race as an active recovery week, because as much as I like the taper, I can’t have a week of no activity.
You may have noticed that I mentioned my right knee feeling better. Well, a combination of PT-recommended changes, as well as consistency in my stretching routine, and increased butt activation and strength during running has resulted in a significant decrease in my knee pain and stiffness. I’ve been able to easily go up and down stairs for weeks and my squats are getting progressively back to their original depth. While it’s all feeling much improved, I felt like there was still some room for improvement prior to race day. To that end, I started adding some acupuncture interventions in to my routine last week that I will keep up through the week following my race.
Whenever I mention acupuncture, I get one of two reactions; either someone will be curious and ask more, or they’ll have open skepticism. While not an expert by any means, there are two things I know about acupuncture: first, it’s one the best studied and validated eastern medicine techniques by western medical institutions, and second, it’s worked for me before. Without getting in to too long of a story, three years ago I was having left shoulder pain that wasn’t improving much, even with physical therapy, so I decided to try some acupuncture. Long story short, it significantly decreased my pain and maintaining a PT exercise routine has kept my left shoulder in fighting shape. To that end, I decided it was worth a shot for my knee.
While there are many wonderful acupuncture practitioners, I opted to go to a local college of eastern medicine and be treated by an intern. I was fortunate that my practitioner had been an aide in a PT office in a previous life, as well as a personal trainer, and was well versed in the demands of both training for a half-marathon and my job requirements. I not only received acupuncture to address my right knee pain and thoracic and lumbar tension, but some cupping to assist with soft tissue release. And while I looked like my back was attacked by a drunk octopus for a week, I must admit, physically and mentally, I felt a lot better after my appointment.
I am a physical therapist and I truly believe in the power of physical therapy to address any physical ailment that a person could experience. But I also believe in the power of collaboration, and that sometimes it takes multiple types of interventions to address an issue. Things like physical therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, medical intervention, they’re not either or; rather, they’re more powerful when used to compliment each other for the patients’ benefits. To that end, I also believe in working with students and interns. As a clinical instructor who is often working with physical therapy students, I know that while they may not have the same experience as a veteran clinician, they are up to date with the most recent research and techniques, and they are always supervised by a more experienced provider (at least, they should be). And, let’s be honest, it would be a bit hypocritical of me to ask my patients to work with and trust my students if I’m not willing to do the same.
As the countdown continues to Sunday, I’m both anxious and excited to see the culmination of all my training come to a head. You all will have one more blog post after the race to really see how I fared, but know that, while I still don’t like running, I’ve enjoyed the increase in energy and improved cardio endurance, and I’ve even grown fond of my quiet morning runs when it’s just time to myself. So much so, I may keep up a couple days of running a week but sticking to lower mileage. And I’m reallylooking forward to the post-race, Super Bowl Sunday menu at my parents (including donuts, chicken wings, nachos, and burgers) as my tangible reward for this training journey.