Monday, April 26, 2010

The thin line

Lately I've been dealing with some issues that are becoming a bit troublesome to me.

I've been having quite a bit of pain in my hips, glutes and lower back after running.  I suspect the individual problem spots are indicative of a generalized scenario with them as a whole, being concentrated in the same region of my body.

I've actually had lower back problems for about 13 years now, the original injury happening as a result of changing a flat tire on my car. For the past year, and up until about three weeks ago, my back pain had all but disappeared. Now, it's flaring up again and the only thing I can attribute it to is the running - in particular, it really started coming on after I did the Ft. Vancouver 15K in late March.

Sometimes it's difficult to know when to stop and when to keep going. You have folks who will tell you that you should stop and assess the issue whenever you feel pain of any sort (to the point where you quit running temporarily and consult a doctor,) but you also have those who will tell you that - at least to a certain point - you should push through it in order to make the muscles in question stronger. I have indeed learned that some things that are very therapeutic also hurt like hell - take deep tissue massage, for instance. I have had a few, and it is NOT fun or relaxing or endorphin-producing. It's a bit like asking someone to please stab you with red-hot pocket-knife blades all over your body, for a whole hour, and hey, I'll also pay $60 for the privilege! Foam-rolling and other forms of self-massage using various hand-held instruments (such as this) that one can purchase at the local running store are also not exactly my idea of a picnic by the lake.

The personal trainer I've been working with for quite a while is being extremely careful about advising me on this problem; I know she doesn't want to end up liable for bad advice, since she's not a medical professional. During my strength-training sessions, I've been very careful but she does advise that sometimes, taking too much care can end up not helping, because there are those times when pushing through is the only thing that will ultimately solve the problem. Her litmus test is always "sharp and piercing vs. throbbing ache" - sharp peircing pain always means "stop now!" and if it's more of a dull ache, that's when a decision is needed about how far to push. This seems intuitively sensible to me, but I can tell you right now that even just a throbbing achy back is pretty difficult to work through when strength training, or running - there is so much that depends on the health of one's back! It's way too easy to take it for granted, and perhaps my recent trouble is a sign that I have.

My whole point is...there is a somewhat thin border between stopping and pushing past the line in the sand the body sometimes thinks it must establish. This idea translates, I think, to running in general and not just the arena of immediate physical concerns. The most valuable skill one can learn through running - or any other form of intense physical activity, for that matter - is listening to the body. Not only is there an awareness of muscles, tendons and even bones never before detected, putting one in close touch with how they are put together, but also an overreaching awareness of just what one can achieve through hard work and determination. Perhaps this is the real story that pain tries to teach - and it is a story that should be listened to, as long as there is an acute distinction made between the right and wrong sort of pain.

I do plan to go see a doctor if these issues don't start to settle down soon. If that's what pans out, then hopefully the news will be something other than an admonition to give up running and find another activity.  With any luck, there will be mutual understanding between me and the doctor about what running means to me and long-desired goals - and the role that pain is now playing with both.//

1 comment:

Andrea Lewis-Polk said...

I can relate to the 'pain' scenario. Chronic, systemic pain for 12 years has me intimately aware of that which you speak! You're right to listen to your body. Sometimes it's a subtle thing, which means take the day off and get some rest. Other times it's ringing loudly in your ears and you're trying to ignore it because your desire to move forward is so strong. It's a balancing act that just gets more tricky with each tick of the clock. Accomplishments are great, but remember the important thing is the long-term health of your body, mind and spirit. Take care of all of them and balance will be yours.