I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time now, in response to a few runner friends wanting to know how I finally beat an injury that kept me from running for months. Long story short, I wasn’t able to run more than a couple of miles without experiencing sudden pain. One or both my calf muscles would cramp while running, and lock up in spasm.
After seeking opinions from a few different practitioners (who mostly agreed that the absence of muscle, ligament, or tendon damage suggested referral pain), I opted for ongoing therapy with a holistic physio/massage therapist.
During our initial sessions it became evident that my muscles were in a fixed state of tension; what I was asked to do to help remedy that was completely unexpected, but I was at my wits end and willing to try anything.
My therapist, it seems, was quite intuitive, and picked up on things about me that I had not revealed but which she somehow knew. She was also from Europe, and according to her, culturally conditioned to not hold back the punches!
In her opinion, I needed to let go of “internal junk!” My muscles, she said, were in a fixed and constant state of tension because it had become a defense mechanism. It was, she believed, my way of subconsciously protecting myself from getting hurt, hence the resistance she met with each time she attempted to loosen my overly tight muscles. I had been tensing them for so long that I no longer recognized when they were not relaxed! From her practitioner’s point of view, massaging me was like trying to undo the most stubborn of shoelace knots!
There were a few specific things she suggested I do on my own, outside of the physical therapy applied in-clinic:
- Meditate…… although for me that happened on my runs, since honing in on my state of awareness while staying still is something I struggle with (one day I’ll try working on that).
- Journal my thoughts and emotions, especially those that came up while running, as that’s when my deepest self-reflections typically surface.
- Read, review, then later address my journal entries! I had become skilled at getting stuff out of my head, but that’s where it ended. My therapist suggested that the same toxic emotions kept resurfacing because I never really attempted to address them. Until I was willing to do so, she gambled that I would remain “stuck,” with my muscles unable to loosen and relax.
- Learn to differentiate between actual and perceived pain; in other words, I had to unscramble the messages in my brain that had me believing my pain was real. Laugh if you will, but my therapist encouraged me to “talk to the pain!” I was to acknowledge it whenever it appeared, but no longer accept it as a threat. I was to talk it down, so to speak, and say things like, “Thank you for letting me know that you’re there. You’ve done a great job at trying to protect me, but actually I’m fine, and nothing bad is going to happen. So for now, I’m going to keep running.”
Sounds a bit out there, right? But I can say with absolute certainty that the day I first ran without any pain at all, was also the day I instinctively knew that my calf issue was a thing of the past.
I could, if I wanted to, attribute my recovery to the physical therapy applied……….which by the way included:
- Postural awareness and correction, with a specific focus on fixing an anterior pelvic tilt and rounded upper back
- Lower back/core strengthening
- Deep tissue and trigger point massage
- ART (Active Release Technique)
- Temporary adherence to a Walk/Run training plan
………however, none of the above techniques were any different to those I had already tried. What was different, was the shift in mindset that occurred after following all the mind-therapy “stuff.” Once I became aware of that shift, I somehow knew that my runs would be pain-free.
There is a lot of new and fascinating stuff coming out now on the web about psychosomatic pain and what one might subconsciously be doing to “feed” such pain. Running Coach David Roche, for example, wrote a very insightful article in which he said:
The body is complicated, which makes sense because life and the universe are complicated. If the body handled stress in a straightforward, predictable way, it would be entirely out of character for what we know of existence. The unpredictability is especially evident if you zoom in and view training on the small-scale. Great workouts can come out of nowhere, as can injuries and three-hour crying episodes and the worst runs of your entire life. There’s a lot of noise mixed in with a little signal.
If you’ve been struggling like I did, and your injuries haven’t responded to conventional physical therapy treatments, then maybe it’s time to consider that your injury is a physical manifestation of accumulated stress, and if so, then perhaps it’s also time to look at alternative forms of treatment. I did, and it’s now nine months that I have been running without pain, just saying…..