Injury. The word that strikes cold dread into the heart of every runner. And then there’s the injury that just won’t go away. When you get stuck, and whatever you do, you can’t seem to get unstuck.
It was the most ridiculous of accidents. The weekend before Christmas, with a million things to get done by yesterday. One minute, rushing downstairs, not thinking about what I was doing. Next minute, lying on the floor at the foot of the staircase, clutching my ankle and sobbing with pain. It was all over so quickly. If only I could say the same for the after effects.
It didn’t take long to realise this was more than just a twisted ankle. I tried walking it off, but that just made it hurt more. Soon it began swelling and a black stripe of bruises appeared down both sides. Even just standing for more than a few minutes made it ache uncomfortably.
But with Christmas coming, I had more important things to think about than a busted ankle. And it would get better eventually. Wouldn’t it?
As we rolled into Christmas, I tried to be sensible – keeping moving gently, within the very limited boundaries of pain. But by the time Boxing Day had been and gone, and my ankle was still swollen and bruised, I realised this was not getting better on its own. I needed help.
So as soon as the holidays were over, I found myself back in a physio’s office for the first time since I started Chi Running six years ago. The very nice lady confirmed the worst – sprained medial and lateral ankle ligaments, plus probable tendon damage too. I couldn’t bend my ankle even a small amount without burning pain around the inner ankle bone. It would take at least six weeks to heal, and I could start running – slowly – only once I could walk without pain. My first significant break from training in six years – it looked like 2016 would be a milestone year, and not in a good way.
I couldn’t run, walking was still painful over more than very short distances, and even standing was a problem, so I tried to be as creative as I could in finding ways to keep moving that didn’t hurt. Cue lots of hanging from my pull up bar and crawling around on the floor.
After a few weeks, walking finally become more comfortable and I was able to start run/walking again, building up really slowly. Six weeks went by, though, and I still couldn’t bend the ankle without the same burning pain. The front of the joint felt ‘blocked’. With more treatment, and lots of exercises recommended by the physio, I made very slow progress, but still didn’t feel as though I was moving well.
Now at this point, I really should have had an X-ray done. But I didn’t want to waste my GP’s time, and I went into denial, convinced myself it was getting better and just ignored it. After all, I was able to run. Kinda.
So I entered a sort of zombie running phase. I could run enough to teach my classes, and keep myself ticking over. I gradually built back up to about 5 or 6 miles. But it didn’t feel good. My ankle still felt blocked, and I was getting pains in my calves. Instead of looking forward to getting out to train, I found myself back in the bad old days of my running injuries, just waiting for something to start hurting.
I went back to basics with my technique, unpicking everything to see if I could figure out what was wrong. And worked on everything that might help and that didn’t hurt: balance, foot mobility, core, hips, upper body. My running didn’t feel better, but at least building strength in other ways helped me stay motivated.
When June arrived and I was still limping along, I realised it was time to try something different.
I booked an appointment with my chiropractor friend Sharon, to see if she could work out what the problem was. After about 10 minutes of pushing and prodding my feet, ankles, knees and hips, she gave me the bad news: the sprain had not only damaged the soft tissues, it had also knocked a few of the bones in my ankle – the talus and a couple of cuneiforms – out of position. So instead of gliding forward over the ankle as I ran, my tibia was just hitting a hard bony stop. No wonder bending the joint had been so painful.
The good news: it was fixable.
It took a fair few sessions – my ankle had been locked up for six months, and it wasn’t going to repair itself overnight. I also had to take another break from running for a few weeks to give the ligaments a chance to heal.
But now I’m back running again and this time it feels completely different.
I’ve spent the summer building up the run/walking again, with the bonus of having my 14-year old son for company. I always want to push and do more, while he’s always keen to do less, and we balance each other out nicely.
So what can I take away from six months of getting stuck?
- When you hit a brick wall, try something different. I like to give things a chance to work, but I spent too long sticking with a treatment plan that wasn’t working.
- There’s more to life than running. One of my resolutions for this year was to include much more variety and quantity of movement in my day, and it’s kept me sane and motivated when running became a drag.
- Going back to basics is always worthwhile. After feeling as though I was going backwards, the work I did unpicking my technique and ironing out the wrinkles is paying off now and running feels better than ever.
- Never give up hope! It still amazes me how quickly my body can recover, given the right conditions.
- Chi Running helps keep me clear of running injuries, but sadly it can’t protect me from ridiculously stupid accidents. Not sure there’s a cure for being a klutz…
And now my world of running, which felt like it had shrunk down very small, is suddenly opening up again. For 2017, I’m dreaming big 🙂