Ice Ice Baby

A bowl of ice cubes: my ankle's BFF the past few days (and, no, toenails are painted blue, not turning that color!)

Not sure if there’s a word for it (dense? oblivious? stupid??), but I’m the type of person who is slow to label things. I can walk around for days blowing my nose yet until someone asks if I have a cold, the thought doesn’t occur to me. Or when my son, John, went through a phase a few ago where he would bite when he was frustrated, yet it didn’t occur to me to deem him a biter. Thus it’s taken me, oh, three--maybe even five--years to admit I have Achillles tendonitis. Yes, SBS, the uninjured half of RLAM, has an injury. (When I informed a disbelieving Dimity, I told her, “Can you blame me? All the cool kids have one!”) And then it took my friend Ellison to point out to me that, no, it wasn’t normal after a run to limp as badly as Tiny Tim.

Since E. labeled it, I sought her advice for how to treat my nagging left Achilles tendon--the one that has, fairly consistently now that I think back on it, always announced its presence at the start of a run, and now regularly continues to hurt the whole 5, 8, or 26.2 miles. Not enough to make me stop (the pain never gets above a 2 or 3 on the scale Dimity talks about in the book), but enough to slow me down and force me to cross-train more than I have since Bush left office.

Ellison, not a medical provider, recommended icing my ankle every two hours for a day, then every three hours the next, then alternating ice with heat each session. (“Always start and end with ice,” she emailed me.) I was skeptical, but figured it was worth trying. In my 25+ years as a runner, I’d never iced any body part other than my infamous ice baths. Yet I rarely take ibuprofen because of concerns of liver damage, so I was open to a non-pharma alternative. A mere two icing sessions later, sign me up as a believer! I was able to walk without eliciting winces (from me) or looks of concern (from others). Ice is nice!

Now, after about 10 more cube-encounters, my ankle is feeling nearly normal. Granted: I swam two of the last three days, and my lower legs didn't feel great on my one weekend run. But I’m optimistic. Monday was a rest (and travel-home-from-Atlanta) day, but I have my running week mapped out. Maybe I’m being premature, but I’m ready to label my icing-experience a success.

21 responses to “Ice Ice Baby

  1. Your friend Ellison gave you excellent advice! I’m not a doctor either (I’m a massage therapist :-), but I would add one more thing to your recovery routine. You need to both stretch (extend) and retract (flex) your Achilles tendon – gently before workouts, a little more vigorously after workouts, and also right after icing.

    Basic calf stretches get the Achilles a little bit, but not enough. To stretch it specifically, do a traditional angled calf stretch (hands on wall or bar or car or whatever), head and spine inline with one leg back – the one being stretched – and one leg forward with a bent knee. After doing this the normal way and getting the calf a bit warm, keep the heel of the back leg down and gently bend that knee a little. This will shift the focus of that stretch down into the Achilles. Then release and repeat 2-3x.

    To retract or flex it, stand in 2nd position (ballet term, here) with heels together and toes apart (do not worry about trying to fully rotate the hips open like ballerinas do, your toes can point at 45′ angles away from your heels), squeeze you inner legs together from heels to thighs, place hands in prayer position in front of your chest, and slowly raise onto your toes keeping your heels and legs pressed together. Breathe in as you raise and out as you lower – repeat 3-5x.

    When my heels or Achilles tendons are especially achy or painful, I do the flexion move with one additional piece: I stand behind my couch facing the back of it, rise up onto my toes and then instead of lowering back down, I bend forward over the back of the couch so my chest, head and arms are looking at the back cushion upside down. I don’t keep my hands in prayer for this, but let them balance me as I bend so I can stay up on my toes. Something about having the tendon flexed, but extending the rest of the muscles in the back of the legs always seems to “release” the tendon more effectively from whatever bind it’s gotten itself into.

    I was not a runner when I first discovered the benefit of these moves, I was just a massage therapist who didn’t like to wear shoes while working and had a tiled floor under my feet all day. I’ve had few Achilles problems since I’ve started doing these stretches at the first signs of aching or pain and they’ve not bothered me at all since I’ve started running.

    Hope it helps! Here’s to a complete and full recovery!

  2. With the Achilles, also try sleeping in your compression leg sleeves or socks, if you have any. It really helps me not “limp” out of bed in the morning. Also helps with those early morning runs. Good luck!

  3. Is this the part where I say those four horrible words: “I told you so!” Ice is a distance runner’s best friend. After my first marathon, I took an ice bath while keeping my top half covered. Three hours later I was going up and down stairs doing the laundry. Not to say I wasn’t sore but nothing like what I’ve heard from other first-timers. So, yes, ice, ice, baby. Hope you heal quickly!

  4. I’m going to the foot doctor on Friday for some similar condition. I am pretty hysterical about this whole thing. I was just starting to make progress as a runner when the pain in my foot left me unable to even walk. Now I’m doing the stairclimber and “sniff” walking on the treadmill (trying to increase the difficulty by raising the incline).
    I’ve been stretching it and wearing one of those Strasburg socks and now I can at least walk but when I contemplate how I used to be able to walk through life (and even run sometimes) pain free and now I can’t it makes me really sad. I wonder what the doctor will say. I hope I’m fixable.

  5. Good luck! I had good results from rest and frequent icing for an ankle issue that popped up in the thick of my marathon training last year. This was a timely post for me, as the ankle just started acting up again. I think I get some ice on it now!

  6. Ice is my best friend as well. Bad hamstring pull after doing two half’s back to back and doing a PR on the second. Then no rest. I think I was in denial that anything was wrong. Now I am icing and on the DL for at least 3 week. 🙁 Lesson learned!!

  7. A bucket of ice near power cords? Sorry, that’s the clutz in me who would kick the bucket, then fry the computer! But I do love ice and swear by it after any run over 15 miles.

  8. Sorry for your pain!!!! Ouch! I’m curious to see how your return to running gets along with your healing heel…your feet look great! Funny how fellow runners notice…I have a lovely shade of Caribbean blue on my tootsies, but, true to my training, I’m losing a couple of nails…nothing like sticking a needle under a toenail before 6:00 a.m. and I haven’t even had my coffee! Bright side – I still got my 15 miles in yesterday afternoon! Take care of your tootsies…

    1. Tell me about it, Shelly. A month after my marathon and I’m STILL kicking myself for not taking an ice bath afterward. Sigh. (And thanks for toe-praise: I just see my honking callouses in the photo!)

  9. I too suffer from a nagging Achilles and I am going to try this! I am a firm believer in the ice baths after my long runs! I love them! My running mates think I am crazy, but I can move with ease the next day while they are hobbling!

  10. I’ve been consistently doing an ice bath after each of my long runs so that I have the energy to actually spend quality time with the kids. Although I do just start with coldwater then add the ice afterwards, and always always I keep the ice at ankle height, but I swear by it.

    If only it would work for the between-the-shoulder stress knots, then I’d be blissful. However, there is no way this mama is ever going to ice bath up to her shoulders.

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