Dealing with exercise injury; when it’s time to lay off and say enough is enough
There’s a dark side to improving your health and fitness through exercise – the injury.
I was training — until I injured myself a few weeks ago — for the Detroit Free Press Marathon, that was held yesterday, October 20th.
When injured, there’s not much to do that’s sensible, except to ignore the voice in your head that says keep going and instead to listen to friends, family and your doctor. There is a time to stop exercising and to start healing.
I signed up to run the Freep marathon practically on a lark. A friend was turning 50 and he was working on scratching an item off his bucket list, a full marathon.
Over the course of dinner and drinks one night with our wives, I volunteered to run the full marathon with him. The evening started off with my friend suggesting, “I’m doing the full Free Press Marathon. You could do the half-marathon while I do the full!”
The end of the night ended with me declaring, “I’ll do the full marathon with you!”
Unfortunately as many aging weekend warriors can attest, too much exercise and a decision to compete even recreationally in sports can result in a lot of pain. Unexpected accidents also can wreck your fitness program, such as almost tripping over a groundhog.
I’d been running the last year and a half to get my blood pressure down and I had run more than a few 5K and 10K races. A couple runs I didn’t quite hit the time I wanted and a couple I did better than I expected. Ramping up for a marathon didn’t seem that difficult.
In the late summer as my mileage increased to a couple 20-mile runs, tendonitis cropped up in my right Achilles tendon along my heel, as well as very minor bone bruising and shin-splint-like issues on my lower right leg and ankle. On advice and treatment of an orthopedic surgeon, as well as friends and family, I cut my mileage in half.
On a particular 20-mile run – my last real run – I scared up a beastly giant groundhog along the ditch next to Birmingham County Club at 14 Mile and Cranbrook Roads right next to me, mere inches from my footfall. This ghastly fast whistle-pig shot out of the weeds and cattails next to a Rouge River stream like a rocket.
I pivoted on my injured foot to get a look and maybe a picture with my iPhone. The pain forced me to hop onto my left leg, which I promptly twisted. I finished the last nine miles of my run without further incident. I guess runner’s high is a real thing, because I didn’t feel any problems in my left leg.
I waited nearly a week to go out again due to my right foot and leg issues, which were feeling better every day. When I did get out, I barely made it a mile due to new and much more severe pains in my left knee.
MRIs and a few appointments with my orthopedist and physician assistant produced new diagnoses that were relatively good news: a serious bone marrow edema at the top of my left tibia or “shin” bone; a very minor, “sub-clinical” fracture along with the bone edema; and a tendon peeling off a bit from the same bone on the inside of my leg. Bone marrow edema, also known as a “bone bruise,” is a swelling of a bone, filling it with fluid, such as blood and water, something just shy of a bone break when it is caused by an acute incident. The surgeon couldn’t quite say that my encounter with the wilderness caused my injury as some of it was indicative of stress and some of it was indicative of a specific accident. The result is the same. I have a minor, but serious injury.
All of this is relatively good news. It isn’t anything wrong with my cartilage or ligaments. Surgery is not projected to be in my future. It is less traumatic than an actual, “real” fracture.
But for a long time I could barely walk on it. It can take much longer to heal than a fracture, despite being less traumatic. And it took me out of my race.
There’s a time to lay off a specific exercise or activity – when the doctors and medical professionals tell you to do so.
There are alternatives, such as exercising the parts of your body that aren’t affected. Healthy bodies generally heal.
In a couple to a few months, I hope to be back at it. There’s always next year for me to complete my marathon.