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How injuries can be like a dirty pan.

You know how sometimes a pot or pan isn’t that dirty so you use it a second (or third) time without washing it… and you just cook the stain further into it, making it 5x more difficult to wash in the end? Then you wish you would have just taken the minute to wash it in the first place because you created a lot more work in the long run.

I think that’s a good metaphor for what happens with our bodies. Oftentimes, especially when starting a new training regime or running program, we feel areas of tightness, discomfort, or pain.. But we’re busy or tired and don’t want to deal with it at the moment so we forge ahead. We continue training or running knowing that impairment is there (we see the dirty pan but cook with it anyway). Sometimes we get away with this, but other times we end up with another, larger issue or injury down the line that totally upends our training and we have to spend weeks or months rehabbing it (ending up cleaning and scrubbing the pan 10x longer than we would have if we just cleaned it along the way).

Bodies are incredible things- and they’re adaptable. So when we have an area of stiffness, weakness, pain, or movement inefficiency- we have a buffer zone between ideal movement and load and injurious movement and overload. So impairments don’t always directly or immediately limit activity. We can get away with a ‘stiff ankle’ or a ‘weak hip’ for a while (we can bake lasagne on top of the grease from yesterday’s potatoes). But at a certain point, there’s no more ignoring it- impairment turns to injury and you know you need help.

But it doesn’t have to ever get to that point. You can address that issue before it becomes a full blown, training derailing injury.

Ever had a friend or family member over and they point out something in the kitchen that you just got used to? Then you realize “oh yea, that is kinda gross; I should do something about that”. ….….. Ever have a friend or acquaintance ask you “what’s wrong?” when you’re running- because they can see you limping when you didn’t even know you were? A little outside perspective is always helpful.

So what does all this messy metaphor mean? Clean the pan before it’s ruined long term! Address your minor/moderate impairments before they become major injuries!

Client example 1: A client with 10 years running experience started noticing mild stiffness in their knee when running over 6 miles. Continued running as usual and didn’t adjust training at all (I don’t blame them, stiffness happens sometimes and it wasn't their first time training so they knew these things can come and go). A couple weeks later, the stiffness was rated as moderate and now happened around mile 3-4; they still felt that since it was just stiffness, it didn’t need addressing (ok, things are getting worse- probably should have adjusted something at this point: decrease mileage or intensity, added mobility or strength work, etc). One more week of this lead to stiffness being felt throughout the run and pain starting at mile 2, then at mile one a couple days later. That’s when they sought my help. At that point, it had been roughly a month since the symptoms started and we found stiffness in the knee, ankle and hip as well as decreased motor control during functional movements such as single leg squats and step ups (very similar movements to running stance phase). After beginning manual therapy and a home mobility program they were able to resume short runs in a week and then build back up to previous mileage and intensity over 3 weeks.

Essentially, they traded what could have likely been a 2 week training modification and consultation rehabilitation to a 1.5 month training interruption.

Client example 2: Another client with multi-decade running experience, including several dedicated training cycles with good race results. They sprained their ankle 13 months prior, rested it for a few weeks until it was ‘good enough’ to run, though it still felt stiff and painful. Resumed training and within a few months had suffered several calf strains on the same side. After the 6th or 7th strain, we started working together and found that their ankle was still (realllllllyyyyy) stiff, they had poorer balance on that side and weakness all the way up to their hip. They also had sciatic nerve tension and a stiff back due to being less active during their year of strains. Their stains were deeply baked in and it took a lot of scrubbing over the course of a month to get back to running (manual therapy, mobility work, balance and strength training, cross training). They are on the mend, but still having to do daily rehab to get there.

This person sounded like they had a pretty nasty sprain and may have had a month-long rehab process to get back to normal. But instead they ended up with a 14 month (and counting) period of recurrent injuries and then a long rehab.

Takeaways: It’s better to take care of small things before they become big things. This DOES NOT necessarily mean you need professional help, it may be as simple as performing some extra (or starting some) mobility and strength work in the relevant area(s) of concern or adjusting your training load. But if you’ve been doing that for a while and the area is not improving, then seeking help sooner rather than later is likely going to save you pain, time, and money.

(As an aside, its worth noting that this metaphor could be extended to include ideas like- using a more non stick pain, different cooking oil, cooking techniques, cleaning techniques, etc. but that seems like too much metaphor for one blog post).

Zenith is happy to help provide this for you, with services ranging from injury rehabilitation, to training specific consultation/examinations, to performance based physical therapy for those who are doing well but want to excel. Contact us for a free phone consultation and see if we’re a good fit for you.

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