I’ve been going to physical therapy for three weeks. I decided to get an x-ray on my creaky right knee to make sure nothing was injured. My nurse practitioner said there was just some degenerative stuff that is normal in the aging process. She suggested I might see a physical therapist to see if it would help. I’ve never been to physical therapy but I thought it might be a good investment since I was having a number of little problems on my right side. The words of my running coach, Jessica, kept haunting me. She always said if one thing is off balance in your body, it can start to affect everything else up the chain.
Sarah, my physical therapist, is a runner, too. She was very excited to meet me and said helping people to keep doing the things they love was her passion. I was shocked when she watched me walk and said she knew exactly what was wrong. I was weak in my glutes and my quads, and I had been overcompensating by overusing the muscles in the side of my leg. As a result, my IT band has gotten really tight and has been pulling on my knee. In her opinion, my plantar fasciitis I’ve had for the last year, the issues with my knee and the nagging pain I was having running would be gone if I took care of this issue. Surely it wouldn’t be that easy.
I was in until she started me on some exercises. Holy cow! Waking up muscles that have been sleeping for awhile hurts. I kept thinking of the tin man on the Wizard of Oz as he creaks and stumbles after years of being rusted in the rain. There was no magic oil for me. But there was a way to fix it. That first day after she tortured me for an hour and educated me on my issue, she sent me home with two exercises to strengthen my glutes. I was to do 3 sets of 15 two times per day.
The first one was a standing hip adduction which was designed to strengthen my standing leg. She taught me how to externally rotate my knee in the correct form and lift up through my core so I wasn’t using my lower back. In theory it seemed so simple, but my body had been collapsing into the wrong position for so long that breaking that habit was excruciating. I was literally exhausted after the first two days and everything in my body hurt. The second one was a clamshell which Jessica has had me doing for a long time. But I was doing it wrong. In fact, Sarah laughed when she saw me doing it. I was using my upper leg to lift, and the exercise is supposed to strengthen your glutes. She told me that if felt like there was a mean little elf chewing on my butt, I was doing it right.
I returned to see her three days later, and her eyes lit up when she saw my results. She is sure that we can fix this problem, and I’ll be back to running and doing whatever I want pain-free. Her excitement got me motivated, and it’s a good thing because she gave me another two exercises and the next time added two more. In fact, I was starting to dread going in because I got a longer list of those exercises every time I went. It’s really messed with my regular exercise routine because I’m exhausted from those. And I hate that evil little elf.
My plantar fasciitis is gone. I was inflaming that tendon by landing on it the way I was. It started going away immediately. When I do lunges in my workouts now, I’m much more stable. And on a hike in the dunes last week, I was noticeably stronger. My balance is better when I’m doing yoga, and I know how to correct it if it’s not. That really tight muscle on my leg has softened and doesn’t yank on my knee anymore. I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but I actually think the appearance of my legs is changing. They just seem less wiggly. That’s a perk!
I now have a long list of exercises to do, but it doesn’t feel like a long list of exercises. I know the benefit of each one, and it feels like a small investment in my future active self to pick one and do it. The exercises are getting more advanced, so they are a little more interesting. And the little elf has become a bit more friendly and a lot less hungry. My downtime at home is now spent squeezing my glutes, rotating my knees and strengthening my quads. No more watching TV laying down!
I have a couple more weeks of therapy, but we are both encouraged. Sarah told me that she hates it when people just start giving up activities they love as they age under the assumption that they can’t do them anymore. Most of the time there is some imbalance somewhere that could at the very least relieve some pain and in the best case get them back into action. She thinks in my case, we can totally correct what was happening. I’ve spent a bit of money on this and a good deal of time, but it seems like a great investment to keep me doing the things I love to do. Who knows? Maybe there’s another 5K in my future. I can visualize outrunning that evil little hungry elf.