PT, ER, chiropractor?
By Rachel ToorAs featured in the May 2011 issue of Running Times Magazine
I have a pain in my ass. It’s been diagnosed by friends, fellow runners and professionals as “cranky butt.” I used to keep a baseball in my car to put under the offending spot during long drives.
I’ve been seen in public poking and prodding my own backside, the discomfort of the muscle making me oblivious to the embarrassment you’d think I would have felt.
Every other week my massage therapist hurts me so much I curse at him and threaten him harm. A sanguine guy, he says, “Go ahead, curse at me,” and keeps digging away at my butt.
Like most athletes, I am accustomed to aches and pains. I wake up creaky and stiff. Sometimes things get better during the day, sometimes worse.
But recently I took a spill. And then I was like the old lady in the commercial who has fallen and can’t get up.
Something very bad had happened to my back.
When I looked in the mirror, I could see that while my shoulders were level, one hip bone was way higher than the other. I was crooked. And I hurt.
I spent the weekend in bed, talking on the phone to well-meaning friends who tried to tell me what to do.
“You have to see a doctor,” said one.
“You have to go to a physical therapist,” said another.
“You have to go to the ER,” said my boyfriend. I explained that I’d had disc surgery about 15 years before. I learned a lot about backs and discs and what surgery could and couldn’t do. If I had another bulging disc, I would have to learn to live with it. “And where did you get your medical degree?” he asked, clearly frustrated by my tendency to think I know everything.
Most athletes know their own bodies. And many of us have had the experience of being treated by medical professionals in ways that will never help.
A friend of mine, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in feet, once told me that when he saw a runner, he asked if the patient ran for physical or mental health. He knew the answer would change the way he approached her treatment, and he finally confessed that he hated to see serious runners. They were impossible. No offense, he said.
Years ago, when I had a chronic, annoying injury I decided to go to the sports medicine expert who had taken care of a star college basketball player who had broken something. The physician got him back on the court well before the end of the season. This, I knew, would be the guy for me. But the first thing he said, entering the room while reading my history, was, “I have only one question for you: Why would anyone want to run a marathon?” This was not, I knew, going to be the guy for me.
So when I got all crooked, I didn’t want to see my internist–a doughy woman who always yells at me to eat more vegetables and tells me to stop running so much–because I knew she would make me get an expensive MRI and then pass me along to someone else. I asked around until a friend told me about a doctor who was an Ironman triathlete and worked with the local professional sports teams. I found his website and emailed him, telling my history, my problem, my own diagnosis, and asking his opinion.
He emailed me back within an hour. He said it might not be a disc. He said I should come in. And so I did.
He listened carefully, asked about my running and training (he wanted to know my marathon pace!), walked me over to a skeleton and pointed out highlights of the pelvis. He agreed that while my problem sounded discy, it was more likely the SI joint. He said that he could get me to a chiropractor who could fix me. He said “fix.” I damn near kissed him.
After about four visits to the chiropractor, my back was better. And so was my cranky butt.
Those of us who insist on running in ways that are not necessarily healthy for our bodies need the right healthcare professionals. That means either athletes, or people who are accustomed to–and don’t hate–us. I don’t want someone to tell me not to run; I want someone who will figure out what he can do so that I can run again, who understands the psychology as well as the physiology; I need a physician who will understand that, yes, as a patient I can be a pain in the ass, but will help fix my butt anyway.