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Healing Hands for a Running Injury

Ali might now charge me double for using this old photo of her, working on me two years ago.
Ali might now charge me double for using this old photo of her, working on me two years ago.

I don't mean any disrespect to the esteemed Anne Sullivan, but I think my certified athletic trainer is a miracle worker. Under the uber-capable, intuitive hands of Ali Novak, I went from having my knee scream at me on even the shortest, easiest of jaunts to taking on mile repeats, marathon-pace runs, and 20 solid miles last Saturday morning, all pain-free. I morphed from being disconsolate about not being able to train to being right on track for the Vancouver, B.C. Marathon on May 5. After just two sessions with Ali. Seriously: miracle worker.

As I admitted in our most recent newsletter, my usual M.O. with injuries has been to ignore them and hope they disappear. This was my approach for several reasons, including 1. I'm an optimist; 2. I'm a cheapskate; 3. My family is self-insured (thus we have lousy coverage); 4. I figure it'll mean I'll be sidelined for weeks, if not months, during treatment. No run = no fun!

Ironic, isn't it, how Graston Technique tools closely resemble instruments of torture?
Ironic, isn't it, how Graston Technique tools closely resemble instruments of torture?

Ali removed most of those barriers (except for the optimism part). A roughly hour-long session with her costs $40, money well spent especially considering how quickly I've seen results. As for being out of commish for weeks on end: Ali explained to me in a text that certified athletic trainers (versus a physical therapist), "are trained to keep people moving, so we can create modifications or supports (tape or bracing) to allow people to continue to participate as much as is safely possible, even while actively treating and rehabilitating musculoskeletal injuries." Music to my ears, as I'd been alternating asking a higher power to make my knee pain disappear and to allow me to still run my May marathon.

Feeling the almost-immediate results Ali provided made me admit other aches and pains I'd been having, such as my feet being so rigid that walking barefoot felt akin to having glass bones in my paws and my slope-shouldered posture. She had a solution for them all--in addition to sussing out that I need a stronger core to run more easily. Ali showed me a variety of easy-to-do home exercises--like Supermodels (Stand on a stair with hips level. Slowly drop foot down below stair, then slowly raise it, being sure power comes from hip and glute in your standing leg.), Sprinter's Lunges, and Dead Bugs that I can already feel paying back in spades on the road.

Kristin, Dimity, "Cindy," and me at Disneyworld: Look closely on my IT band to see bruising courtesy of Ali's handiwork.
Kristin, Dimity, "Cindy," and me at Disneyworld: Look closely on my IT band to see bruising courtesy of Ali's handiwork.

The work Ali does on me isn't massage-like pleasant. Au contraire: I'm in search of a leather strap I can gnaw on while she rubs her Graston Technique tools on my IT band, calves, hamstrings, and foot. For the time being, I wince, cringe, clench my hands, and try not to swallow my own tongue. (Oh, yeah, it's good times.) But sweet relief follows: I walk out of an appointment feeling like the back side of my body is finally long enough, rather than being yanked down by gravity. My feet feel pliable, my calves aren't tender to the touch, and my stride seems powered by my glutes and hamstrings rather than overworked hip flexors.

The moral of my story? Don't ignore injuries or recurring pain; the right practitioner can work miracles. (If you've got somebody as awesome as Ali, visit the AMR Connect Forums, under Practitioner, and sing her or his praises!)



14 responses to “Healing Hands for a Running Injury

  1. Yes, but the problem is that where I’m at you need a prescription to see a PT. I don’t have time for that. What a waste, go see a dr just so you can get a referral for another. It’s crazy. I need to see someone TODAY! I wanted to do needling but since I don’t have time to make one appointment for another, I kept searching. So glad I came across this article because I just made an appointment for the Graston Technique with a chiro!

  2. As a fellow mother runner and a sports physical therapist I feel the need to comment. I’m saddened to see the portrayal of PTs here and on the podcast. As many have you have mentioned, what it’s really about is finding a practitioner who is a good fit for you at the time that you need them. As your activities and training schedules change, your needs may change. As physical therapists, we are HIGHLY trained to deal with injured athletes of all ages and abilities AND to keep them participating in their sport. Seeking out a qualified PT who specializes in orthopedics or sports should be high on your radar if you are running with pain. If you’re willing to shell out $50 for a massage, you should be willing to pay a bit more to get advice from someone with significantly more training. However, what ulitmately is the most important factors, are that you trust the person you are seeing and that you are getting results. If those things aren’t happening, shop around!

  3. I have raved about my Chiropractor for the past year. He has scraped everything from my belly button down! I’ve had a lot of other runners question what a chiropractor can do for running. My first response is that his goal is to keep me running and he’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen. Other docs just tell me to stop. If you’re in the Twin Cities, Lake Marion Chiropractic is the place to go.

  4. I am a believer in Graston and ART but I made the mistake of getting a PT prescription and they only did Graston on me 10 minutes max per session and then spent the rest of the time (a waste imho)on exercises I can do at home. I had a chiro that said she did Graston but the tools didn’t look the same and I didn’t feel she was very versed in the technique. I never went back. Does anyone know a good non-PT Graston practitioner in the Chicago suburbs?

  5. I am not self insured but when it comes to stuff like this I may as well be. I pay cash for massages and ART certified chiropractic. You know what? Worth every dime. Don’t be cheap, go. Especially if you’re a more mature runner. I plan to be running for at least 30 more years (I’m 51) and if I have to cut back on other things to pay for these therapies and keep me on the road, I will! SO glad this is helping you, SBS!!!

  6. You just made me make an appointment with my Graston guy. I’ve had some vague knee pain too, which I think is tied to a tight lower right hamstring (and weirdly bugs me mostly when I’m driving a car, of all times). With a half this weekend and the Eugene Marathon in April, I want to stay ship-shape. Thanks for the reminder, SBS!

    1. IF you’re in Portland, come see me, or in Eugene, check out Dustin Girard at Profound Strength! Otherwise, I always suggest finding out who your local university athletes see as a good starting point. You want to see someone who specializes in Sports Medicine to get a good evaluation, and find a practitioner who actually does the hands on work, which can include Certified Athletic Trainers (ATC, like me), Physical Therapists (sports medicine oriented, if you can), or Chiropractors.

  7. I am a big supporter of the Graston technique. Three years ago my hands started going numb to the point i have severe nerve damage. I was told I had to have surgery to re-locate my nerves to relieve the pain. I was at the point I couldn’t even brush my hair as i didn’t have the ability to hold the hairbrush. My sweet husband would brush my hair for me. As wonderful as it was I was immobilized. Well I tried the surgery and it didn’t work. It left me in worse shape. Then my chiropractor mentioned the Graston technique and that he could try it. Well here I am two years later I still see the guy and I can use my hands. I got my life back due to Graston.

  8. Hi Sarah! Last year I was treated for severe plantar fasciitis, and saw a podiatrist who is certified in sports medicine. Part of my treatment was torture, aka deep tissue massage by a massage therapist. The first time I received the treatment I clawed my way to the top of the table, only to be pulled back down. I swore and sweated through those treatments! But oh, what a difference it made! I was able to keep running through, although I did end up receiving shockwave treatments on my heel (bone spur). My foam roller just can’t come close to those massages I got. For now, I do a lot of yoga and foam rolling. I am training for a half in May, and so far so good. Good luck to you on your marathon!

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