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Everything I Thought I Knew Was Wrong: My Eventual Return to Running

Last April, after achieving a PR at the Iron Girl Half Marathon in Clearwater, I suffered foot pain that, little did I know at the time, would keep me sidelined from running for 10 months. Today, I can finally say that the foot pain is gone. Through working with a chiropractor, Dr. Travis Mohr, on releasing the tight muscles in and around my foot that were gripping and pulling on the metatarsal heads in the ball of my foot, I was finally able to get relief from a condition I feared would plague me for the rest of my life, keeping me from ever running again. My journey to this freedom from foot pain was filled with frustration, fear, and constant disappointment. Here's what I learned throughout the process:

  1. Rest and immobilization are not always the answer. At least not longterm. In seeking medical care for my foot, I consulted with and received some form of treatment from a podiatrist, a sports therapist, three orthopedists, and three chiropractors (eighth time is a charm?). The majority of these very knowledgable and well-reputed practitioners wanted to treat me with orthotics and other stabilizing devices. One even had me wear a fracture boot for two months, based on an inconclusive MRI. While I understand the abundance of caution that was exercised by these practitioners, it seemed they were all, except the last one, guessing at what was wrong and essentially putting a bandaid on the problem, hoping it would just heal with time. It turns out, though, that time and rest, with no physical treatment, only made things worse for my condition. After serving my time in the boot, my foot hurt in new ways because of the adverse effects of prolonged use the boot on a non-fractured foot. Further, my foot and ankle grew weaker, and I developed hip and back pain from the lopsidedness caused by wearing a boot on one foot. (This is not to say boots are not helpful, or even necessary, with fractures, breaks, and post-surgical recoveries.)
  2. Anti-inflammatories should not be a solution. As a recommended course of treatment from three of the doctors, I was prescribed high amounts of anti-inflammatory drugs, including Naproxen and Prednisone. Further, I received two separate cortisone shots in my foot. None of these ultimately helped, and I experienced very unpleasant side effects from the drugs (upset stomach, mood swings, insomnia). Further, I instinctively felt that these courses of treatment were not addressing the core cause of my pain, which was yet to truly be determined. I'm not one of those people who just doesn't believe in anti-inflammatories--ibuprofen is my good friend; but I do not believe in their longterm use for treating an injury when the root problem is not being treated.
  3. Doctors don't know everything. This should go without saying, but I was a person who tended to put all of my trust in a a doctor, believing that because they said something was true, or at least very likely, it must be. But I've learned that doctors have a lot of requirements to fulfill that can sometimes get in the way of optimal patient care. They have quotas to meet, electronic records to fill in, pharmaceutical companies vying for their attention, and various other demands on their time. Sometimes I felt the brunt of these demands more than other times. Private versus group practice also made a difference in my experiences (but not always). What I found to be most irritating, though, is that there was no real consensus among the many doctors I saw as to what was wrong with my foot, and subsequently none as to how it should be treated. How, in this day, with all of our diagnostic technologies and decades of research-informed practice, can there not be better collective understanding of a running-induced injury to a body part that literally has little depth (though is quite intricate)? I remain baffled by this question.
  4. All "Dem Bones" really are connected. And so are their associated muscles, tendons, connective tissues, etc. What I eventually learned from Dr. Travis is that my ball-of-foot pain was caused by muscle tension (seems so simple, right?). To treat me, he used a method trademarked as the Graston Technique (more generically called soft-tissue instrument-assisted mobilization). When I went in for my appointments, first twice a week and eventually just once a week, he used a Graston tool on the bottom of my foot, essentially scraping it back and forth across the arch area, loosening the soft tissue there. At first, I could hardly breathe, and I wanted to scream. It hurt like hell. The sensation was intense. He also placed kinesio tape from my calf to my heel. And as for my part, I was assigned regiment of calf stretching and trigger-point release on the bottom of my foot, via a golf ball, for a total of 40 minutes a day. Together we were able to reverse the course of my condition after about six weeks (compare that to the 10 months I spent not running; if only I'd known sooner). 
  5. I survived, despite myself. I whined a lot last year, especially after trying new things got old. But I was also forced to challenge myself athletically and psychologically (the latter I didn't need). And even if I wasn't actively recognizing the progress I was making in new areas because I was so focused on not being able to run, I made the progress nonetheless. That can never be taken away from me, despite my sometimes defeatist attitude. And my friends and family, bless you all, held onto hope that things would turn around for me. In fact, when I thought I never wanted to see another doctor again and pretty much resolved to live with my condition, my friend Lyle told me about Dr. Travis, and also told me I needed to have more faith. It took me a couple months to even schedule an appointment, as I'd felt so low and skeptical. But I'm so glad I did eventually see him. I can't help but think, what if I hadn't had that connection? Or, alternatively, what if I'd known about it sooner? It's scary that chance has played such a significant role in my journey. And this is just my foot, and it's just about running. I can only imagine what others go through, with more serious medical conditions, who never find the help they need. Why is does there seem to be such disconnection in our health system? Why aren't more people on the same page, sharing the same knowledge about effective, patient-centered practices? Isn't that what doctoring is all about? I'm afraid that, for many practitioners, it has come to be something different.

Since I first started feeling some improvement from my chiropractic treatments, I started running, a little bit at a time. First two miles, then three. I'm up to five now, but I've experienced some knee pain lately that has set me back a bit. I guess my body is telling me to slow down; don't rush the progress. So I'm working to find the source of the pain this time so I can treat it. A lot of things have become tight and rusty after 10 months out of the game. IT bands, calves, quads, hamstrings--they're all yelling at me for attention. So I'm stretching, rolling, rubbing, trying to get back into running shape. Here's to a year of more doing, less whining.

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