In December, I went running on a cold morning when the pavement was wet. Running on an unfamiliar route, I missed a curb, slipped on the pavement, and landed square on my right butt cheek, my gluteus maximus, my “gloot.” Wham! Then, my right elbow and the back of my head met the pavement. I lay there for a moment, hoping that I hadn’t cracked my skull open. Next, the stars in the sky came back into focus. It was a clear night, and they were beautiful. I got up, took a few tentative steps, and thought I was ok. But I really wasn’t.
Then I went skiing in January. I fell several times onto my right side. It seemed like I could turn to my left OK, but when I tried to turn to the right, my legs would not support me. I couldn’t balance on my right ski. And I would fall hard on my right side. By the end of the day I could just barely make it down the slope. It was not a fun day or a fun ride back to the Y.
Then, in February, I sat in a strange chair on my wallet while waiting for my son to get a cavity filled. When I stood up, the pain in my gloot was intense. (By the way, now my wallet is staying in my front pocket all the time.) Something was not right. My gloot was starting to hurt all the time. But I pushed on with my training and tried to nurse it back to health on my own with reduced running and gentle stretching.
Over the following few weeks, through March, I completed a disappointing training cycle in which I didn’t even maintain my fitness. I had worked just as hard as in the past. I had been in even more pain. But I was slower. Commuting was the worst part of my day. After 30 minutes in the car, standing up and straightening my leg was painful. I cut up a foam pad for my car seat to keep the pressure off my gloot. That helped a little. Oddly, it was easier to sit on a hard chair than a soft one. Pressure from the outside was the worst. I was feeling like my hips were cocked over to the right side, and I could tell that I was altering my gait because of the pain. I was staring down a 16 hour, cross-country bus trip for Boy Scout Summer Camp, and I had to admit my gloot wasn’t feeling any better. I told myself, if I was my car and I ran it into a curb, I would take it to someone who could fix it. I decided I needed someone to straighten me out. I finally went to a chiropractor.
On the strength of a personal relationship with Dr. David at Gulledge Family Wellness (GFW), I went in for a consult. Dr. David is a big, muscular guy. If I am a Toyota Corolla, he is a Mack Truck. He’s about 10 years younger than me, and our musical tastes have a tenuous overlap. He looks you right in the eye. He takes his faith seriously. He has an infectious smile and curious mind. And he has a body that is perfect for lifting lots of weight. Like I am a runner, he is a body builder. He enjoys it, and he’s really good at it, but he has a day job.
After my initial consult, I went in for an x-ray of my spine and you could clearly see that my muscles were pulling it out of alignment. The root of the problem was the pain in my gloot. I had a chronic injury to my piriformis, a muscle in your gluteus maximus. Because of that, every other muscle in my back was compensating as I ran.
After confirming the problem, the folks at GFW came up with a treatment plan that enabled me to keep on training and straightened me out right away. The first four weeks involved shots, massage, and adjustments. I came to love the shots that Jeff gave me. The first one hurt and was a little scary, but the payoff was huge. They kind of worked like acupuncture, relaxing the knotted muscles enough to stop pulling my skeleton out of alignment. But they also included an anesthetic to keep the pain at bay during the massage and adjustments. When my visits with Jeff ended, I missed both the shots and my chats with him.
Over the next 8 weeks, the improvements were gradual but noticeable. First, I realized I could pull my feet toward my chest the same amount on each side. Then lots of other things started happening. My hips were lined up straight in front of me instead of being skewed to the right. My left leg had been longer by about 4mm for a while, but they evened out. And I started sleeping flat and straight instead of all crumpled up. I could balance on one foot again when I pulled on socks. Getting in an out of the car was only a problem at the end of the day after the commute home. And my Achilles tendons have not bothered me for three months, even as the intensity of my training has heated up. One time I looked in the mirror as I was brushing my teeth, and I could see how my hips were cocked to the side. I’ve been standing like that forever. It’s a habit that I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to straighten out.
I asked all kinds of questions about my body and the treatment plan, and Dr. David answered them all. I learned a couple interesting things. Muscles have two states: contracted and relaxed. Some people have muscles that they can’t get to contract; the muscles are always relaxed. I had a bunch that were basically frozen in the contracted state. Also, the muscles in your upper back are directly attached to your brain. The signals go both ways. So, giving a person a back massage actually relaxes their brain.
Everyone at GFW was friendly and got to know me. They really wanted to help me achieve my goals. Everyone knew I was a runner, and I knew they were pulling for me. I asked people for tips on how to do squats, what exercises would help my hamstrings and hip flexors, and how to stretch this or that muscle.
There were many times when Dr. David would say something to me that would encourage me and helped me recover mentally as well as physically. Midway through my treatment, he started telling me to “push it” on my runs. I was still feeling a little bit sore and tentative, but I followed his advice. After a couple of workouts, I gained confidence that the pain was just a little soreness. I wasn’t making the injury worse anymore. If anything, I was training back at my aerobic capacity. I was starting to breathe harder on my runs, I was going faster and pushing myself, and it didn’t feel like someone was pounding a railroad spike into my behind. I asked him why he was telling me to push it, and he said he wanted me to train hard so that he could see if the adjustments were holding. And they were.
One of his mantras was “looking strong!” And another time he said, “Your body is a freaking machine!” I would play these words back to myself on my runs. Once he was massaging my piriformis, and it really hurt. I was struggling to breathe and gritting my teeth. Quietly, I was hopeful, because I knew I’d had a huge improvement after a prior massage. Afterwards he said, “Well. You got through that! I went pretty deep that time.” Incredibly, it was another breakthrough moment. A few minutes later the pain was gone, and I could tell that the muscle was relaxed and able to fire even stronger. And when I told him I was rolling with a lacrosse ball, he started saying, “Beat up on your piriformis with that lacrosse ball.” These cheers gave me the confidence that I was on the right path, even though there was some lingering soreness.
Right now, when I run, I feel like I am as straight as an arrow. It is a thrill to run and not brace myself for a shot of pain from a slight misstep. It is a joy to hop from the sidewalk down to the street and back up, not worrying about which foot to lead with. Some people describe running as controlled falling. Right now, I feel like I am flying intermittently. It is a great feeling to have my body back; I can push it and it doesn’t shrink back.
Looking back, I wish I had gone sooner. I feel like I was on a crash course with the pavement on that December morning. Over the course of the past few years, I have been landing more and more on the outside of my feet and letting them skid to a landing. I was generating lots of friction and going through soles quickly. Maybe I was just being lazy. But I also think my body was slowly adjusting to the volume and type of running I was doing. Meeting Dr. David and going to Gulledge Family Wellness was a course correction.
Placing myself in Dr. David’s care was an act of trust. It was something I was not exactly comfortable with. But over the course of my treatment, I came to think of him as a medicine man. I often thought of the Taramuhara, the running people in “Born to Run,” who brought their medicine man to races for a rub down with smooth stones. He kept the niggles away from their knees and the cramps out of their muscles. I get it now. Every time Dr. David laid his hands on me, I got better.
I had my last appointment at GFW recently. I was half expecting a hard sell on setting up recurring maintenance sessions, and I half wanted to, but I didn’t get the pitch. Jeff checked out my range of motion and thought I was in good shape. Dr. David gave me one last check and adjustment, and said I was “looking strong.” He said if I got sore or wanted to come in before a race or big workout I could. Then, we shook hands, and he had one last word for me. He clomped me on the shoulder with his huge right hand, and he looked me right in the eyes and said, “Blessings!”