By Deborah Dunham for Blisstree.com
Over the last two years, I’ve invested a disturbing amount of time and money into running. Not to jet-set around the country for a marathon or for the latest, trendiest running attire, sweat-proof iPod, lightweight running shoes, sunglasses or water bottles that promise to keep my Gatorade cold for more than six hours. No, instead my hard-earned cash has gone towards healing a running-related injury so I could get back to running (after all, isn’t that what we runners do? We run harder and longer than we should, don’t listen when someone tells us to slow down, avoid rest at all costs and ignore pain and discomfort because ending a 10-mile training run early or not partaking in that half-marathon with all your running buddies is unthinkable.) So when a nagging discomfort and tightness in my Achilles developed, I socked an inordinate amount of money into trying to make it go away, including new shoes, deep tissue massage, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory meds, more new shoes and even acupuncture (OK, that was a little weird). Frustrated and more than a bit desperate as I watched the running world pass me by, I decided to try Active Release Therapy (ART).
ART is an intense and rigorous form of therapy where the practitioner applies heavy pressure through his thumbs and fingers to certain areas of the body while moving the surrounding muscles in a full range of motion. It helps unlock joints, muscles or tendons that are restricting your range of motion. It can also break up adhesions or scar tissue. Sound painful? Suffice to say, it’s not your what-scented-oil-would-you-like-today kind of massage, but as any injured runner will attest to: We’ll do anything to get back on the road. Even if it includes a few unpleasant moments.
My healing breakthrough finally came during the last couple of weeks when the trouble spot of my pain and tightness was found -- and it was not anywhere near my Achilles. It was in my hips and glutes. That’s the thing about ART: it doesn’t just treat the symptom, it treats the root cause of the problem. And, as I have learned, that cause is usually not where you think it is.
Here’s how my ART practitioner, Larry Ogilvie, explains it:
I was just given a gift that I can see and feel things differently. When I start working with someone, initially I look at the pain pattern. Where is the pain? Logically, that’s the place to start, but athletes are so good at over-compensating for those injuries that we don’t always see the root of the problem right away. It can be hard for someone to look at you once and pick out where the problem is because of how good runners are at over-compensating and forcing their bodies unnaturally to stay in the correct posture. Athletes don’t do this intentionally, it’s just the way their body responds when there is an area of weakness.
While other doctors have been quick to tell me to stop running, ART practitioners are there to help runners to keep doing what they do best, which is a key difference -- mentally and physically -- according to Ogilvie:
Physical therapy is usually restricted to the area that the doctor has identified. Sometimes they take longer to get to source of the problem. For me, I’m trying to get you in and out of treatment as quickly as possible because I know you’re paying out-of-pocket. I understand it’s not a cheap therapy, and I also don’t want to take away from your time as an athlete.
I tell runners to just cut back. If you take away the running, you take away part of the psychological edge the athlete has. That’s a negative. I don’t like negatives. If I can let you continue to run, just with less intensity, you’ll be more positive about the healing process.
So, several sessions later after analyzing my gait, my movement patterns and the way my hips were functioning, I am feeling looser and more pain-free than I have in a long time. This is one expense I don’t mind adding to my mounting running bills. Because a happy runner is a happy life. Or something like that.