Injury Treatment: Time’s a Wastin’

Ali workin' her magic on my lower extremities

I'm usually very quick to respond. Field trip permission slips that need to be signed and returned in two weeks? They are in the teacher's hand the following day. Bills get paid as soon as I open the envelope, and I RSVP (a dying art) as soon as an invitation is received.  Emails? Friends make fun of my lightning-fast replies. Yet when it came to my painful Achilles tendon, I ignored it like a dweeby, dull admirer at a college mixer. Maybe if I just didn't pay it/him any attention, it/him would go away.

Yet my injured ankle was definitely on my mind--especially whenever I walked after sitting for too long or headed down stairs. I gave our RLAM intern a key to our front door as it was taking me so long to hobble down from my second-floor office. Also, I finally got a look at it when I was shaving my legs one morning. (Two uncommon occurrences in my daily life: 1. looking at myself for more than the two minutes I spend brushing with my electric  toothbrush; and, 2. shaving my legs.) My painful left ankle was a thick cord along the back of my foot, whereas my just-fine right one was a narrow reed. Action needed to be taken. No more ignoring a problem that had been bothering me off and on since the twins were born, 5.5 years ago.

One reason I hadn't taken action: Our family finances were even tighter than my tendon. If we feel too cash-strapped to take the kids out for gelato, how could I justify the co-pays and deductible for a sports orthopedist? But the bigger deterent was the "what if..." that loomed over my head. What if I went to a sports doc and that person told me to stop running for weeks or months? Heck, even the mere thought of a few days of no running makes me feel like a caged animal. Given the level of pain I'd felt, I was certain a doc would sideline me.

Instead I opted to see my friend Ali, an athletic trainer at a nearby college. She's been studying an intriguing treatment option called Graston Technique, and she was eager for a running guinea pig. After poking, prodding, and having me do a few simple tests, Ali got out oddly shaped, charcoal-colored tools that she told me were made out of bone. They looked like something recovered from the ancient tomb of a Chinese knitter. I gave Ali advice about training for her first half-marathon, this June, as she rubbed the rounded edges of the a tool against my ankle. It only hurt once, when she seemed to be digging for one deeply buried spot. (Graston Technique works on built-up scar tissue.) Otherwise the treatment felt like a quirky massage.

Afterward, Ali worked me through a few strengthening exercises that were more taxing on my brain cells--"point your toes and draw your foot on the diaganol. No, point your toes, not flex them....Point. Point."--than my body. We were done in less than a half hour. Exchanging tales of our kids--her adorably chubby 5-month-old eating avocado for the first time and Phoebe's newfound free-throw shooting skills--it had felt more like a gab session than a P.T. appointment. Yet the seemingly rudimentary tools and Ali's gifted touch worked miracles. That evening my forever-freezing foot felt warm to the touch at the ankle; the next morning, barely 12 hours after treatment, the swelling was noticeably diminished.

Ali's worked her magic three more times--and has never breathed a word about curtailing my running. The pain now is an occasional whisper instead of obnoxious shouting. If I had better flexibility, I'd be kicking myself for waiting so long to take action.

22 responses to “Injury Treatment: Time’s a Wastin’

  1. I had a PT use Graston technique on my knee and despite some awesome bruising (my boys were seriouly impressed…), it really helped my pain. Kinda hurt though. Or maybe I’m a wimp. Hadn’t thought of using it on my achy Achilles.
    Glad it worked for you!!!

  2. I go to a chiropractor every time I am suffering from a running injury. He has been using Graston for several months now and I LOVE it. It can sometimes be uncomfortable and yes there is weird bruising but the results are amazing! It has been especially great for my shin splints. My advice, if there is something that bothers you while you are trying to do what you love doing find someone who is willing to listen and help you get back to what you love pain free!

  3. I am so glad you are finally getting some relief. I hate to have pain everytime I move. Think how much more you will be able to run if your ankle isn’t bothering you!

  4. Thanks for this post. I showed it to my husband, who has AT issues stemming from an ultimate frisbee injury two years ago (!). I haven’t heard of Graston either, but I bet there’s someone in Boulder who practices it. I also wonder if it can help my bothersome foot issue….

  5. thanks for posting this! i’ve often had achilles issues over the years- probably b/c i’m a toe-striker- and hadn’t heard of the graston technique. have to give it a try.

    laughed re cute “chubby 5-month-old eating avocado for the first time.” i remember being so excited mashing it up for my son when he was that age, and it turned into our first epic battle of wills (wasn’t a fan.) he loves the stuff now, tho (age 3,) but that story’s now part of the family lore ;P

  6. I am going through something similar. I call it “Self-treating my injury on a budget.” I got my PT exercises for my hamstring injury from You Tube. I had ASTYM treatments last summer for a strained calf and it is exactly what you describe. Must be more of a brand name. I remember those little scraping devices. Once she scraped from my big toe all the way to my rear end. I had some lovely bruising.

  7. Hi Sarah
    So glad to hear this is working for you.
    I had the Graston technique done to my ITB and worked wonders.
    Keep up the treating and repairing of your Achilles heel!

  8. I love Graston. I use it for almost all my running injuries. (which have been lots lately!) I just got done with a round of several ankle Grastons, and now, making an appointment for some PF starting on the opposite foot.

  9. Yes! The Graston is what my chiro did for my IT Band & hip along with Active Release Technique. What a difference. Though, “quirky massage” is one way of putting it. The scraping was tough, especially on the hips and left some crazy bruises, but it got me back on the roads (and with only a $15 co-pay.) Another something to smile about….

  10. Ah Graston. Personally I hate it, but it’s amazing how much it helps. I’ve had it on my back and on my knee, and both times it helps. One of the times on my back, I was told it helps break up scar tissue caused by endometriosis too. Amazing how tools and sheer brute force can make you feel better. I usually have bruises for about two weeks afterwards. Sigh.

  11. Amazing! So glad it is taken care of AND that it was pleasant on the pocketbook and brain! Glad someone was resourceful for you for a change!

  12. Sarah – I recognized the photo right away! I had graston on my ITBand a little over a year ago. After suffering for two years, it felt like an absolute miracle. I recommend it to everyone and anyone who will listen. I found the actual “massage” to be VERY painful, so consider yourself lucky on that point! It was also only 45 bucks a treatment. After paying 250 dollars for a doctor to not really listen, and recommend some annoying physical therapy (that did nothing), it seemed like the bargain of the century. I hope your results are as good as mine. A year and many races later, I am still running pain free!

  13. Perfect timing! My AT started acting up yesterday and I didn’t even want to admit to myself for fear of stopping (for a third time) my running program. Now I just need to get my hands on some ancient Chinese knitting needles…

  14. I too suffer from chronic Achilles tendonitis since I started training for longer distance running. I also feel guilty spending more money on myself when there are other pressing needs (taxes, IRA, college fund). I am going to look into this Graston technique in my area becasue I would love to be pain free as I start half marathon training this week!

  15. I can so relate to this. After reading reading your book(one of the tips from one of the runners–pays herself $1 for each workout), I have a big green jar with lots of $1 bills in it. What special thing am I thinking of doing with it? Seeing someone about my ridiculous Plantar F. that I’ve been ignoring.

  16. Interesting timing – I’ve been in physio for 2 months now for patellofemoral syndrome, and yesterday the therapist said that IF I can get through the week pain-free, that I’m finally cleared to start running again. Sadly, I won’t be able to just run, I have to start from scratch. :/

  17. Love to hear that you are feeling better! I also love that I’m not the only stubborn one around who puts off the pain until I can barely walk ( back issues). it’s also cool that you went to a college and went to the sports medicine /trainer route- I was a trainer in college for a short time and I remember they would get excited as soon as any BODY would voluntarily come along and let us play on it:) Hope the relief lasts… Great blog!:)

  18. I am going for my first “sports” massage tomorrow – week 4 of training – and I am very excited! It was originally scheduled for last week but the baby got sick and to be honest I was worried that my body was still TOO sore to really benefit or enjoy a massage at all. This article is exciting to me to find out that there are more options all the time for runner’s seeking relief from either injury or just muscle soreness. I will definitely be googling this stuff later! ;o)

  19. As I sit at my computer catching up on RLAM posts, I have been massaging my bare feet with a 2 in nubby green ball–like a round LEGO in fact! –called a Foot Rubz. I’ve just rolled it around under my foot for maybe 15 minutes a day, several days in a row. I think it breaks up adhesions like the Graston technique but without having to find a practitioner. After a couple of weeks suffering with a Morton’s neuroma flare up, the little ball has me back to running! NB: I have no financial interest in the little ball nor any running stuff store or anything, just in inexpensive things that further my running. And this little thing was actually a giveaway with new shoes at Fleet Feet locally!

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