I went to physical therapy yesterday. It was humbling. There were all sorts of exercises that I couldn’t do or could do with marginal efficacy on my right side but simply failed when I tried on the left.
For example, one legged squats were hard on the right side and I had all sorts of balance problems. On the left, I could only drop down about two inches. Same results when I tried to go up on my tiptoes using only one leg at a time.
It was a wee bit scary too. I hate going to doctors and have an irrational fear of hospitals — mainly the fear was of the unknown. Beyond the balance boards, stretch cords and various weights, the doctor vibe was pretty strong when I walked in the door. I expected him to tell me that I had some sort of defect that could only be corrected with major surgery.
It was also uplifting. There is a path forward. Though I’m only supposed to run twice this week for 15-20 minutes each, he said I should be “doing triathlons for a long long time.” I’m scheduled for follow up appointments each of the next three weeks. But I’ll come back to that in a moment. First let’s revisit what brought me to the point of seeking help.
My left hamstring is strained. Not pulled, not torn, not debilitating — but tweaked. It feels tight about half of the time I’m awake. It is worse after a run. The issue surfaced in November about a week and a half after my first track workout. I tried more stretching. I tried rolling. I tried heat. Then I tried a week off with no running. After two runs and more soreness, I went three weeks off. The strain persists.
So I went to a doctor. He is a PhD doctor and he definitely knew his way around the human body.
He pushed and prodded. He demonstrated simple exercises that flummoxed me. He watched me walk barefoot then took video of me running on a treadmill from several angles. He was calm and thorough and strikes me as the kind of guy who would be extremely good at Scrabble — he was curious and willing to look at a hundred things in various combinations before he made any comments or committed to one diagnosis or another.
We talked about my training load, weight, foot strike, shoes and past injuries. He was thorough — and nice — and painfully honest about inadequacies. Even if he had not been so clear, the videos were irrefutable. We watched them before and after drills. Side by side. In slow motion. From the rear and from the side. My form is not pretty. I run ugly.
My gluteus muscles are far too weak. As I land with each footfall, my ankles drop in a bit and pronate which brings the knees slightly out of alignment if you think of a vertical line from shoulder to hip to knee to ankle. I run with too much bounce; there is too much vertical displacement with each step. Instead of gliding along and sliding forward, I leap off my back foot and travel up and forward wasting a great deal of energy (going up) and bringing a lot more force down on each leg (coming down.) He thinks my stride is probably a bit too long. Also, I do not have the forefoot strike that I thought I did. Looking at the video, it was clearly a heel strike and inconsistent too. The left foot typically comes down more on the heel than the right.
The prescription is to strengthen all the muscles — starting with my big ass — that should support my legs during good running form. This should relieve some of the stress on the hamstrings and they will heal themselves. He gave me some exercises to do each day to work on my upper legs and core strength.
As much as it made me happy that there is a fairly clear path back to good health, it also surprised me. I have a big bum. Sir Mix-A-Lot should be the president of my fan club. As it turns out, the junk in my trunk is just junk and not doing me much good at all.
Due to poor form, the muscle groups in my legs and hips did not develop over the past several years in balance. So over the next several weeks I’ll be clenching my cheeks a lot throughout the day, during various exercises and drills and even as I run slowly to build up bum strength.