Thursday, August 1, 2013

Giving it a shot.

So there I was, lying on my side, shorts hiked up.

"OMG yes.  That is exactly the spot!"  It hurt some, but also felt really good, like an itch had finally been scratched.....

Um.... let's back up some.  And reset the scenario to about an hour beforehand.


Or maybe even longer than that.  Years even.  Even before I became a runner, my left leg's always been a bit odd.  No real pain, other than some minor muscle soreness that moves around, but a bit weaker and a lot less flexible.

[Memories surge back of riding horses in my early twenties, and being yelled at because my rides consistently bulged their left shoulders.]

It improves when I run more mileage and/or do more yoga, and goes backwards with rest, throwing my stride a bit off.  If I really want to make myself one sided?  Just take a week off, and include a long ride in a car to boot.  That gets the leg to lock up, plus a fascinating bit of simultaneous cramping in left foot and left butt cheek.   Then it's really fun watching me try (and fail) to run straight.

Like I said, my left leg's weird. It's not a disc issue.  The cause is an angry piriformis muscle deep in my butt that presses on my sciatic nerve, resulting in a bit of weakness and cramping. Over the years I've tried nearly all the tricks and seen all the experts.  Tennis ball or lacrosse ball on the left buttock - daily.  Pigeon pose or figure 4 stretch? Got it down.  I know all the glute activation exercises, and do them faithfully.  And yes, I'm an old hand at deep tissue massage, ART, and those modalities.  They all help a little, but the secret sauce has consistently been maintaining a high level of activity. (and trying to avoid long car rides)

[People always ask me: but are you really consistent with your exercises?   Seriously?  I'm moderately OCD and neurotic: some people can't stop washing their hands; I can't stop side planking.  Or Googling.]

So, I've just dealt with it.  Heck, I run fairly decently with it - I even ran a marathon with my left leg locked up.  And it's not like it ever really hurts.    But the fact that it flares with rest creates a weird one-legged chicken and egg situation.  Any time I take more than a day or two off, the leg gets weaker and crampy.  Then, when I start running again, my gait is off and I end up with some random tweak somewhere that has to be babied.  Once I get back up to my normal activity level and hold it for a while, I'm good to go.  But getting there is a struggle, as I address one compensatory injury after another.

That's been the cycle I've been in recently.  I feel run down or have a tight muscle, so I take a few days off.  As soon as the tight muscle feels better, I come back, but the left leg flares and my gait's off, so something else goes.

I had decided just to go for two weeks of easy mileage to break the cycle, and then I stopped in to see my orthopedist for a follow-up on this issue.  Who proposed a cortisone shot in my piriformis, followed by 4-7 days no running.  I could try this now (as in RIGHT NOW), or I could continue to manage it.

Of course, that meant my planned two weeks no workouts would be extended to three - 4-7 days no running (and I'm erring towards the 7) followed by the easy mileage ramp-up.  *sigh*.  Plus the whole big needle in the rear thing.

I've also never been a fan of cortisone shots.  I think they're often used to hide pain so that someone can get back to running quickly without addressing the underlying issue.  Additionally, I've heard a lot of about the risks of  them weakening tendons and fascia - I'd always rejected them out of hand for my plantar fascitis issues.

But, I decided this was slightly different.  I wasn't getting the shot to kill pain so I could return to workouts and races faster, but rather to knock out an underlying problem (the pressure and damage to the nerve by my piriformis), while accepting that getting the shot would keep me out longer.  And I was also getting it in a muscle, rather than slower healing tendon/fascia - hopefully that was a difference too.

Maybe I'm correct, maybe I'm rationalizing.  In any event, I hopped up on the table and hiked my shorts like the plaid skirted private girls school student I once was.  A bit of numbing spray, and then the big POKE.   Which was simultaneously uncomfortable and really satisfying.

Imagine the biggest muscle knot you've ever had.   The one that no professional or massage tool has ever quite been able to get.  Now imagine it being pierced by a needle and releasing.

Oh yeah, that felt good. 

It's quite possible I am the first person ever to enjoy a cortisone shot.

So, hopped off the table, thanked the good doctor for ramming a big metal thing up my rear, and drove home on a numb left leg.  That was Tuesday afternoon.  It stayed numb for another 24 hours, and then eased up.  Now I just have a lingering mild soreness from the shot, plus a lingering chlorine spell from the pool, where I'm sentenced to pool-running and swimming for the next few days.

It's still too early to tell how much good the shot did, though I'm already noting a nice bit of increased mobility in that hip.  I guess the next days and weeks and months will tell.  If it didn't work, then I'll just return to the way I've always managed it.  But, if I was going to give this a try, now was the time.  It's late summer, and my goal races are still far away.

Heck, it was worth a shot.

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