Prehab, Calf Knots, and Why I Love Physical Therapy

After a two-week break from running because of shin pain on a couple of runs, I had an appointment with my physical therapist, Todd. Todd is the same therapist who worked with me before my goal half marathon last fall and made sure I didn’t end up in a walking boot again from training incorrectly. He is extremely knowledgeable, and I ask him a lot of random questions when I see him:

Am I wearing these calf sleeves correctly? Can I wear them over the knee, like a fashionable full-leg sleeve, or nah?

Can I use the foam roller on my shins too, or is that weird?

Is Pilates really working or am I just wasting my time?

Sometimes, and I’ll be the first to admit this, we treat our medical professionals (especially those who are athletes treating athletes) as though they are all-knowing oracles with supreme insight into every aspect of our running futures. I feel a little silly when I do this, but it never hurts to ask questions and it beats freaking out and Googling every ache to death.

During our visit, Todd was able to point out a few hits and misses with my last three months of running, and it was reassuring to talk to him as I head into spring and summer training. Here’s what I had been doing well:

  • Running consistently throughout the winter, with at least one run outside each week. A good mix of treadmill and pavement runs made the transition to more outdoor mileage in nicer weather much easier on my joints, tendons, and muscles.
  • Wearing the right shoes. Asics GT-1ooo/2000 are the shoes that were made for my flat feet, and the gel-cushion inserts I have work really well for my foot type.
  • Steady mileage build-up. I built up my weekly miles very carefully, avoiding wild swings and building in enough time for recovery.

Areas for improvement:

  • Not enough targeted strength training. I have a very strong back and quads, but I need to work on my hips and glutes. These two areas are the first to give out on longer runs, leading my body to overcompensate and overuse other areas.
  • Recovery. I need to do more foam-rolling and icing after exercising, and wear compression during and after my runs.
  • Replacing my shoes! This is huge. I will wear the same shoes until I log about 500 miles on them. Applying this rule of thumb to someone with very unique needs (flat feet) doesn’t exactly work, as I am a bit harder on my shoes and wear through them more quickly than the average runner with more pronounced arches. I should rotate a couple of pairs as well.

My physical therapist also found a giant knot in my left calf muscle – I had no idea it was there. After some targeted massage work, I felt like I had a new pair of legs! I’m glad that I visited and had someone else look at my biomechanics so I can stay healthy and continue to train. I have some big running goals – they even scare me a little – but it’s wise to do some prehab work and regular check-ins with a physical therapist even when I’m not seriously hurt, before a small issue turns into something larger. One of my favorite running blogs, Run Selfie Repeat, has a great post on why physical therapy is beneficial.

 

Do you currently see a physical therapist? Have you ever visited one?

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Standing Desks for Runners

These days, you don’t have to look too far for the latest studies (valid and reliable or not) on modern health risks – ten minutes after signing into Facebook, you’re likely to scroll through at least a dozen shared posts detailing the perils of…well, probably everything you currently do on a daily basis.

My husband, Brett, usually mocks these posts (and okay, I’ll admit…I join in on the fun…it’s how we bond sometimes…), but after reading about how a sedentary desk job can affect various facets of your life, and after feeling phantom, unpredictable foot pain on several runs last year, I found myself convinced that sitting all day is more problematic than I previously thought it was. After all, I would walk miles and miles in college and grad school across sprawling campuses, and transitioned into running pretty easily, so why would my body suddenly rebel against me like this? Methinks a big girl job or two that involves sitting all day at a desk might play a role in this.

The research on standing desks is mixed, but experts across various disciplines agree that staying in one position all day – in this case, sitting for 8 hours or more, every workday- increases your risk of heart disease and some cancers, and weakens key muscles. Welp, which muscles, might you ask? The muscles that you use for running. And unfortunately, running before or after work is not enough to counteract the damage being done.

So when my boss offered the chance to try standing desks at our workplace, I was definitely interested in participating! Not only does a standing desk feel like a mini-office space renovation (seriously, it really opens up a room), it’s a way to fit some movement into your day. Like I said, the research is inconclusive on standing desks, so I’m not convinced you have to stand the entire day to reap the benefits. I have a raised desk and tall chair, so I can sit or stand whenever I want without having to adjust the equipment, although I have tested the adjustable desk and I like that option as well.

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My current practice is to stretch and stand (again, the key is to get some movement in) for at least 45 minutes to an hour after an hour of sitting.  Standing at my desk is starting to feel more normal, and it’s becoming easier to send out a few emails and get some work done while standing for over an hour. Of course, meetings that run a bit long make this goal a little less attainable. I have noticed a little muscle soreness while transitioning, but nothing severe enough to make me discontinue this budding habit.

If you’re not convinced, or your workplace is slow to adopt this new office trend, here are some options for making sure sitting all day doesn’t affect your running:

  • Taking short walk breaks every couple of hours to fill up a water bottle or chat with a colleague about a project
  • Using your break or lunch time to go for a walk (great if you have a huge building or access to a tunnel or skywalk!)
  • Standing at your desk to stretch and do some quick drills, like high-knees or quad stretches)

Do you have a standing desk at work? Do you like it? Let me know in the comments.