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Yesterday morning I ran 8 miles and I am very happy to report that I did not feel any pain, nor have I experienced any soreness since then. Just a few weeks ago it was typical for me to feel pain in 3 different places after any run that was longer than about 4 miles. Unfortunately, this change is not because I am suddenly in significantly better shape than I was one month ago, or because my body has finally adjusted to longer distances. I believe the change is due to some awesome advice that I was given by my friend who is studying to get her doctorate in physical therapy.

I, for one, have never given physical therapy much thought, nor was I a good physical therapy patient when I went as a high school student for bercitis in my shoulder from swimming. I didn’t do any of the exercises given to me and I think I might have iced my shoulder one or two times total. And guess what? I still don’t have full range of motion in my right shoulder joint and it feels sore and tired when I swim or climb. My friend made sure to point out the obvious to me when I told her all this. But despite my poor PT record, my friend was willing to hear me out when I complained about my running pains, and then thoughtfully work with me to make them go away.

Here is my list of ailments, (I am hoping people will be able to relate to some of them). First, an ongoing problem that I have had ever since I started running longer distances three and a half years ago has to do with my little toes. A few miles in they start to feel smashed (especially the right one) and then they go numb, throb, and eventually cause me to cry out in pain. They were the reason that I practically crawled  the last couple miles of the Chicago Marathon, and an issue that no running store has been able to help by selling me different shoes. Second, on a long run a few months ago, my lower back started to feel pressure and soreness and the next day I could barely sit down. Lastly, I went out for a run just a couple weeks ago and within the first mile I started to feel the beginnings of shin splints. I tried to run through it, but ended up walking the last 2 miles. My PT friend was able to help me with ALL of these, and now I am running pain-free (for now at least.)

Before I share the simple ideas that she gave me, I must state that I am NOT a doctor and this blog post is NOT intended to diagnose or treat anyone’s physical ailments. There are many professionals and professional resources available for treating my issues, but I like what my friend offered because it is so clear, easy, and helpful. I am sharing these tips because they worked for me and I am hoping that they might also help others. If you are in pain, you should see a doctor…and I recommend finding a good physical therapist and then doing what they tell you to do 🙂

Here is what my friend taught me, easy as pie. For my toes, the comment that helped me most was “you want to make sure you are pushing off from your big toe, or the cushioned pad at the front underneath side of your foot, with every step.” That’s it. As my friend gave me her medical advice she stated that I should not necessarily think about everything she was telling me while running because then I might overcompensate and injure myself somewhere else. But now, on my longer runs, whenever I start to notice some pain in my baby toes I just picture a laser beam coming out of my big toes and I try to shoot a nice straight line. It works great and I feel way less pain. For my back my friend taught me all about my pelvic floor. (Turns out this is the same thing pregnant women should learn about before delivering their child). Basically she said that there was a muscle that went all the way from my spine in my lower back around my sides to the middle of my belly. If I could strengthen that muscle then it would stabilize me and prevent me from rotating my torso too much (or was it too loosely) with each step and my back might not hurt. So every once in a while I will find that muscle (you can find it right underneath your hip bones within your pelvic region by laughing or making monkey sounds) and then I will practice flexing and releasing that muscle. Apparently if you get really strong you can flex it and then breathe in and out in a nice and controlled fashion. I’m still getting there. But my back no longer hurts and I generally feel more stable.

The help for shin splints is what I am most excited about. According to my friend, the short of it is that shins hurt when the calf muscles are not working hard enough, or are not strong enough. So now I do two things. First, I strengthen my calf muscles whenever I can. This is simple. Just stand up on your toes (feet parallel facing forward) and then slowly lower your heels to the floor. Repeat a lot of times. It helps if you have a job where you get to stand around a lot. Then do the same thing with your feet pigeon-toed, and then with toes pointed away from each other like a ballerina. Second, and this is my favorite part, whenever I start to feel even the smallest burn in my shins while running, I remind my calves that they are strong and the pain goes away like magic. I think of how cool calves strong calves look, and I let myself notice the work they are doing, and then I say out loud, “Damn, my calves are strong” and just like that, no more shin splints. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself. Amazing!

So needless to say, I plan on hiring my PT friend to be my personal coach when I thru-hike the PCT, because I know I’ll be experiencing some aches and pains. Hopefully what I’ve explained makes sense and it is able to help some other runners stay strong and pain-free on those fulfilling long runs. Our bodies are incredible machines, but it is our job to take care of them so that they continue functioning properly. Here’s to all the physical therapists out there! Keep up the good work!

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About Me

- 26 years old
- Pacific Northwest
- Educator, adventurer, friend

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