“18 weeks ago this seemed like a good idea” ~seen on a running shirt
No joke, as I was sitting in the waiting room of Vanderbilt’s Sports Medicine Clinic because of this unfortunate event, someone walked in wearing that quote on a shirt. I couldn’t stop laughing. Classic.
I would venture to guess that 90% of the people in the crowded waiting room were runners. With two weeks before the CMM, people are experiencing body breakdown. New runners+long distances= lots of IT Band injuries. The doctors must hate this time of year.
I was sitting in the waiting room watching sports center and trying to take my mind off what I was sure would be my running death sentence. My appointment was at 3…at 3:20 the nurse called me back. Like I said, it’s a busy time of year, lots of people, so I understood but 20 minutes is a long time to wait when you’re going to be sentenced.
The nurse asked me some questions, gave me some sweet shorts to put on in case I needed X-rays, said the doctor would be in soon and left. 20 minutes later, two guys walk in, say they’re med students and are going to ask me a couple questions. What is this…Grey’s Anatomy. After going through the round of questions, asking me to balance on different legs and other things that made me wonder if it was more like Candid Camera, they left promising to be back with the doctor. As they left they were probably whispering to each other, “Gosh I hate this time of year, nothing exciting.”
Finally, 20 minutes after that, the doctor came in, with the two students in tow. He looked at me for a second, sat down and started rapid firing questions at me. He knew his stuff. Watch and learn kids. With each question answered you could see his brain mentally going through a checklist of each muscle, nerve, and bone in my body. He tested my strength in my legs, my flexibility, and then had me lay on my stomach to check my back. GULP.
Talking to the students as he moved down my spine he said, “See, if it was a bulging disc or something in her back pinching the nerve, we’d see it. She’d feel it.” Ok I thought, not the back. Thank goodness. He told me to lay on my left side and he checked the IT Band muscles. Little tight but that’s to be expected. Then he pressed down my back asking if it hurt. I had my guard down, “No…no…no.” I was starting to wonder if we’d ever figure out what this was. Then, suddenly, and without warning, he found it.
“OWWWWWWWW,” I yelped as hot tears started welling up in my eyes.
“Found it,” he said. Yep. Sure did.
He promised me he wasn’t trying to hurt me, which I believed. I was glad we found what it was but if he didn’t stop digging his thumbs into it I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t involuntarily do something I would regret. He explained that I had Piriformis syndrome, which was pretty common in runners. Basically the IT Band is to a half marathon what the Piriformis is to a marathon.
The Piriformis muscle is deeply buried behind the hip joint and is pretty small compared to the other muscles around the hip, thigh and buttocks. Basically, when the big muscles get tired, the Piriformis takes over. Now here’s where that shooting pain comes in that had me convinced it was my Sciatic nerve. Turns out I was right, it was my sciatic, but in a different way than I thought. The Sciatic, the largest nerve in the body and the one responsible for motor and sensory function in your legs, crosses with the Pirimormis muscle behind the hip joint. So when my big glute and hip muscles get tired, it strains the Piriformis muscle which then agitates and puts pressure on my sciatic, almost choking it out, giving me that shooting pain deep in the buttock area every time I move my leg.
I had a weird sense of deja vu. For my first half, this happened at the exact same time, right after my last long run before my taper. I was sentenced to cross training, physical therapy and anti-inflamatories until the half. But the great news is, I could run the half, it hurt, but I did it. AND- after letting the IT Band calm down, and continuing to stretch it religiously, I run now with no pain from it.
So, although I will have to get a horrifically painful deep tissue massage, go to physical therapy to learn how to strengthen my hip and buttock muscles, and cross train till the marathon, the doctor said I should be able to run it. After talking with the Boy, I think I’m going to call him back and see if I might be able to get a strong anti-inflamatory for the race to make it somewhat less painful. It’s disappointing but it could’ve been a lot worse so for that I am thankful.
So, game plan is deep tissue massage, get my physical therapy set up, add the hip muscles stretches to my routine, cross train till the marathon and take it mile by mile. The doctor was great and answered all my questions. He said normally he would want me to let that inflammation go down and take it easy for awhile but he’s not going to tell me I can’t run the marathon, which I appreciate. He said just take it mile by mile. Since muscle exhaustion is the problem, and it’s nerve related, running through it won’t solve the problem. So lots of stretching and tiger balm before the run, compression shorts to keep that area heated and ibuprofen. And just take it mile by mile.
I wish this didn’t happen, but I’m going to stay positive. Like my IT Band, for my next marathon (eek, did I just say that?!), this won’t be an issue. I’ll have strong hip and buttocks muscles. Basically, I won’t have a weak ass 😉
“You can keep the shorts if you want,” the doctor said leaving the room.
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll keep them as a souvenir.”