Making Progress in Physical Therapy

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted and it’s now been more than a month since I last ran. I’ve completed 2 full weeks of physical therapy so far and am feeling good. My hamstring hurts less and less each day.

PT has been interesting. The first session was focused on my injury, my current pain level, and my goals (be able to start training and successfully finish the Boston Marathon, all pain-free!). My PT, whom we’ll call P, is so great. I asked him if he was a runner, too. He said “No, but I’ve run a couple of marathons.” Sounds like me: “I’m not a runner. I’ve run 12+ 5Ks, a 4-miler, a 10K, a half marathon, and am running Boston this April, but I’m not a runner.”

Anyway, we started with Graston. Oh Graston. I will tell you – Graston on muscle hurts a lot less than Graston on bone. When I had Graston done on my shin splints for 6 weeks back in 2012, I wanted to shoot my PT. However, my hamstring is far more tolerant of being scraped with a dull metal blade, so that’s positive. After that torture, we did a few exercises and before I knew it, the hour was over. Basically my hip strength is uneven (and mostly weak), leading to uneven knee and ankle strength, leading to a consistently sore left hamstring that’s constantly trying to keep up with the right. When I did single-leg squats, my right leg was nearly perfect while my left knee went way inward, meaning my left IT band, quad, and hamstring all need to do more work to keep my knee in line. I had no idea my hips were so weak!

P gave me a bunch of at-home exercises to do, which were a lot more fun (not sure “fun” is the right word here, but less sucky) than the ones my the orthopedic doctor gave me. They include:

  • Single leg bridges – both sides
  • Hip abduction while lying on my side – left side only
  • Elastic band lateral walks – I’m getting too good at these! I’m using the “extra heavy” resistance band from my set and may need something stronger soon
  • Ankle inversion with elastic band – you may remember I had an acute ankle sprain (doc said tendonitis but it healed so quickly after the 2-week mark that I’m convinced he was wrong), so this is just to ensure my left ankle stays strong
  • Heel/calf raises
  • Reverse supermans

At the start of my second appointment, P told me he wanted to try dry needling on me. Sounds dirty. Haha, actually is sounded terrifying to me the first time he mentioned it. Basically, P is trained in this technique – which is a lot more common out West – that uses acupuncture needles inserted deeper into trigger points than acupuncture would go. My trigger points all lead back to my hamstring, but go from my hip and butt all the way down to my calf and everywhere in between. P places 3 needles at a time in close proximity, then connects them to electric stimulation. The muscles then start twitching from the stim, and I’m supposed to be uncomfortable but not in pain. P told me 2 minutes of dry needling is the equivalent of 2 hours of foam rolling. Um, yes please! I HATE foam rolling despite how amazing I feel afterward. It’s just so much work. Like, a full workout after you’ve just run 5+ miles or worked out for an hour? No thanks. So while dry needling is a little weird and somewhat unpleasant, it’s so cool! My muscles continue to twitch for about 12 hours afterward, but standing and moving around helps so I’m trying to use the one standing desk my company has more often on the days I go to PT.

The second week of PT started off with dry needling at both appointments, followed by more exercises, both in the treatment room and in the gym. We’ve since added calf raises and reverse single-leg supermans (?) – I’m not sure what to call them. I lie on my back, legs up in the air with my knees bent 90 degrees, and my arms straight up toward the sky. Then, one side at a time, I lower one leg and opposite arm about an inch from the floor, slowly and controlled, then switch sides. P reminded me to A. breathe (I need to get back into yoga – I NEVER breathe while exercising) and B. focus on pushing my lower back into the floor. The second part was surprisingly hard. My back kept wanting to arch, likely because my core is weak, and pushing it down into the floor constantly made everything harder – which I guess is the point.

Last weekend, I got bored and signed up for Daily Burn – an at-home workout subscription service. I did Saturday and Sunday’s “365” workouts which are the daily workouts that go away the following day. Saturday’s was fine but Sunday’s was a bit too focused on the lower body so my hamstring was very sore ALL week. I actually skipped my at-home work the days I went to PT, which I’m not supposed to do but I was feeling rough. Not sleeping and then being emotionally exhausted from the election outcome really wore on me, so this weekend I made time for extra sets of all my PT homework, and did a full yoga session on Sunday. Wow – it’s been way too long since I did yoga and everything was hard. Not good! But plenty of time to get back into it before it really matters.

By the way, the reason I signed up for Daily Burn is because Rags has had a rough couple of months, and although he is doing 100x better since finding the correct combination of 3 meds that he takes twice a day, I want to be home more with him. His cardiologist gave us a grim outlook of ~6 months (that was back in October) and I couldn’t help but think that was how far away the Marathon was, and that would make me feel guilty for going out to train 6+ hours a week. So, I decided that my social life is going to take a backseat for now (I kind of planned for that during training, anyway) and I would do whatever workouts at home that I could. Obviously I cannot get a treadmill in my apartment but I can do pretty much everything else at home with body weight, resistance bands, dumbbells, and a yoga mat. I even asked my woodworking dad to build me a plyometric box – you know, like the ones you see at Crossfit gyms – so that I really have almost everything I could need at home. Then I will feel less guilty about going out for runs because other than work, there won’t be anything that regularly keeps me away from Rags.

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