Part 1: A lesson in patience and perseverance
The past year I’ve kept my hamstring injury a secret from most people. Even those close to me didn’t know how much pain I was in and how much I was suffering emotionally. This blog post feels like a bit like therapy in the fact that all of my negative emotions regarding the injury have been bottled in for so long, and this feels like a release.
Before I start my story, I want to say, that there are so many terrible things in the world today. I have a wonderful family that cares about me, a good job that pays my bills, a warm house to live in, and for the most part, I am physically fine. When I think that I could have cancer, or be out on the streets, or any number of other terrible things, my problem seems trivial. But, I am an athlete. I define myself in many ways–wife, doggy-mother, someone who loves to cook, but being an athlete is right up near the top. When you aren’t able to do what you love, what you feel makes you, you, it’s hard. And when it goes on for months and eventually beyond a year, with doctors telling you that you are a medical mystery and can’t be helped, it feels like your world is collapsing.
I love to bike, and I love to work hard on the bike. One afternoon I was doing a threshold workout (near 100% of max) and I felt this strange sharp pain in my glute area. I immediately soft pedaled and stopped. I thought I had strained my hamstring as I had warmup up properly, done several gradual builds to 100% of my power, and then started the workout. What else could it be, I was properly prepared? At home I iced, took advil, and took several days off of intense exercise.
Being an injury prone athlete, I spoke with a PT friend who said, yes you strained it, take a few days off. It seemed to get better with the rest and ice, but the pain never really went away. At this time, I was in the middle of selling my triathlon shop in Oregon, and moving across country to start my PowerBar job. So, training took a back seat and I figured the strain would heal and when I was settled in the Mid-Atlantic, I would be good to go. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Waiting 90 days for my insurance to kick in was tough. So, I went and did some ART (Active Release) as it wasn’t covered by insurance anyway. It didn’t seem to help either. Then, I tried acupuncture. Interesting, but also no help. Then, it was massage and Graston. Still no relief. Thankfully, my insurance began, and I contacted a PT that was recommended. I thought, this is it, I am going to be healed and back to working out. He was nice, and immediately gave me a diagnosis of ischial tuberosity bursitis. I spent several weeks treating that with dry needling, massage and Graston. Things weren’t getting better, so his colleague said she thought it was an adductor strain. After several weeks of that, they decided it was no, back to ischial tuberosity bursitis.
Then came the diagnosis of high hamstring tendonopathy. Then, it was a QL issue in my back. By this time, the pain had gotten worse, and migrated down my leg. It felt like someone was stabbing me in the butt, and then shooting a pain down my leg…constantly. So, then it was an MRI to rule out a spinal issue. Then, it was another MRI to look at my hip. 3 more doctors and PT’s later, plus a cortisone shot, I was in the same place, only worse.
When a doctor tells you that they have done everything they can to help you, that they’ve reached the end of what medical science can diagnose, it feels like your world is caving in on you. At least it did to me. How could no athlete have suffered a similar injury and recovered? I was just an athlete in pain, right? So, I reached out for help again and was referred to another orthopedist. He and his colleague both spent several weeks doing tests, and once again another MRI. All the MRI’s were clear, but I was still in so much pain. So, then I was referred to a nerve specialist who believed I had a damaged nerve. We did nerve gliding exercises and yes, they did help. But, maybe only 20%. During this entire time (up to 9 months at this point), I was only able to walk for exercise. And not a fast walk, that was too excruciating. And I’m sure you’re thinking, you’re a swimmer, why didn’t you swim. I couldn’t kick as that hurt too much. So, then I pulled, but that holding the pull buoy between my legs engaged the hamstring and hurt. So then, I just dragged my feet behind me as I swam. And eventually, the doctors told me to just stop that too.
The next doctor I was referred to said surgery. But, it would be exploratory surgery as they still didn’t know what was wrong. That doctor thought piriformis tear. Surgery just as a way to look inside didn’t seem like a smart idea.
I think the desperation showed on my face. Every doctor I talked to gave me a bit of hope, then failed to provide any relief. After the first few doctors, I didn’t want to give up hope, but I didn’t want to put myself emotionally out there to be told that no, they didn’t know what was wrong. That was the pattern for a year. I hope this doesn’t sound like complaining as I don’t mean it as such. But, I almost had to take a hiatus from Facebook. Every time someone posted about a great workout, a great race, I felt like someone had punched me. If only I could have known what was wrong, I could have made my plan to heal. With every new doctor, my hopes faded just a bit. I know life isn’t fair, and everyone has battles they have to endure, yet I didn’t care. I just wanted to be better. To know what it felt like to run, to jump, even to do burpees. One year of nothing other than walking is incredibly hard. I kept trying to tell myself, that at least I could walk. But, that didn’t really help, I was really just feeling sorry for myself.
My stress relief has always been exercise. And without exercise I had no outlet. It made me hard to live with, as I couldn’t show my fear, frustration, anxiety or hopelessness to anyone at work or relieve it through exercise. My job is putting on events, races and clinics with PowerBar. I believe I did just over 100 events last year. Part of my job is working out and racing with my stores. I had to explain, week after week that I was injured and didn’t know what was wrong, so I couldn’t participate. That grew old very fast. I made all sorts of promises to God if I could just get better. I know how crazy that sounds; I am not dying. I can still function almost like everyone else and I shouldn’t be so dramatic. But being at the end of my rope, I would have tried anything. ANYTHING.
And just as I thought, I am never getting back to the old me, I was told about one last doctor who might be able to help. His name was Dr. Victor Ibrahim, and was located in DC. His specialty was ultra sound guided PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections. Thankfully, I managed to get an appointment even though he can have up to a 4 month wait.
And I’ll stop there. Part 2, will continue tomorrow, with pictures!