Me, myself, & my hamstring

I recently deleted Sitemeter from this website. A funny error related to it kept popping up, and I never check my stats any longer and don’t use this website to make loads of moula (but if anyone wants to send me a check to subsidize further sporadic, ridiculously long and meandering blog posts, go right ahead), so it just made sense. However, I decided to check one last time to see how people end up here, and it seems “Kate Wicker + hamstring” is a very popular search. It’s number one right now in fact, followed by searches like “Kate Wicker Catholic,” “Kate Wicker + nursing a toddler,” “Kate Wicker + body image + eating disorder,” “Kate Wicker + natural childbirth,” and “Kate Wicker loves eradicating hazardous waste from her home.”

I made the last one up.

Honestly, I’ve been trying to refrain from writing about my stupid hamstring and jalopy of a body for myriad reasons. First, I figured no one really cared to endure my whining and that anyone who isn’t a runner wouldn’t understand why on earth someone would be depressed about not being able to wake up at 5 am and run for miles and train for races that might lead to toenails falling off. Second, once upon a time this blog was simply about mothering, my faith (or lack thereof), and body image, so its target audience isn’t necessarily all that interested in a chronic running injury. Finally, I have a remarkable talent for ruminating endlessly about my hamstring and how frustrated I am, and it’s easy to get sucked into a black hole of negativity.

But here’s a the-glass-is-half-full kind of thought for you: Due to not running much at all this spring, my feet are looking prettier than ever, and I actually wasn’t embarrassed to get a pedicure a few weeks ago.

Pollyanna, eat your heart out!

On the other hand, now that I know that quite a few people are actually seeking me out to find out about my hammy, I’m all for prattling on about it and for pondering the bigger lessons that can be gleaned from a persistent injury.

High hamstring tendinopathy is a very stubborn injury, and there’s not a lot of research-backed treatment protocols. A lot of medical professionals aren’t really sure how to approach healing, or they have different theories as to why it happened and what will make it better. So a lot of sad, injured, and desperate runners seek out Dr. Google. I know I have done this more times than I’d like to admit.

{“Mommy, are you reading about your hamstring again?”

“Um, maybe.”

“You’re obsessed.”

No comment.}

In the online world of blogs, medical websites, running forums, etc. you’ll uncover some success stories but far more lamentations about how a runner has been trying to overcome this injury for years. Lest you think I am a pathetic freak of nature, complete hypochondriac, or just an obsessed weirdo as my 9-year-old seems to think, I stumbled across one blog that is about one topic and one topic only: an injured runner’s high hamstring tendinopathy. Yes, the blog is actually entitled “High Hamstring Tendinopathy: A Real B#$*@ [rhymes with witch], My Struggle to Recover and Maintain Sanity” (good news: She did eventually overcome the injury!).

If you’re anything like this blogger or me, in your desperation, you may even find yourself emailing and over-sharing to some stranger Dr. Google led you to who is running again and seems to have overcome high hamstring tendinopathy (yes, I did that, too), and the person kindly responds and offers her insight, but sadly you’ve tried most of the things she suggests.

Let’s see what exactly have I tried to get better? Here’s just a smattering (I’ve done a few other things as well):

  • Dry needling – AKA warmly accepting long-ish needles to be poked into my skin just below my butt cheeks multiple times. I also allowed said needles to be poked into my hip area and back and once in my Achilles’ tendon area. Usually, it produces only mild discomfort, but for some reason one particular treatment in the hamstring area caused me to break out in a sweat not because I was hot but because the pain was pretty darn intense.
  • Cold laser therapy – I only tried this once because it was not covered under customary physical therapy treatments, and I’ve already spent a small fortune on trying to beat this injury. Maybe this would have been my magical cure!
  • Acupuncture – Different than dry needling but also involves needles; not painful much at all, but it didn’t seem to help much either.
  • A cortisone patch on the injured area – no lasting relief
  • An anti-inflammatory cream applied to my hamstring and hip area four times a day – maybe helped my hip area a tiny, tiny bit but not the hamstring
  • Icing and heat – ice provides temporary relief; just numbs/masks the pain
  • Extracorporeal shockwave therapy – never really noticed significant improvement, but I never morphed into Frankenstein, so that’s good.
  • Active release therapy (ART) – a special kind of massage and by special I mean torturous. My wonderful ART therapist, who really was compassionate and seemed to care about my hammy and me, asked me at one point if I was sure I was okay. I told her yes. She then told me most men would be crying like a baby by now. Sorry, male readers, there’s a reason women give birth. Initially, I thought this was an answer to my prayer because I would feel significantly better after each treatment, but it wasn’t cheap and I had to pay out of pocket for each session, and the pain would always return in a few days post-treatment. The therapist was wonderful because she told me I needed to pursue other options because she wasn’t able to provide a more permanent relief to the pain.
  • Cupping – This is part of the practice of acupuncture and involves creating strong suction on the skin near the injured area with “cups” and is believed to encourage blood flow and promote healing. Note to self: Don’t try to get ART and cupping done on the same day right before you head to the beach. Your bum and thigh area will be polka-dotted with bruises. Lovely. I didn’t notice much improvement after this – maybe a little.
  • Scraping or Graston – From The Graston Technique website: Graston is an “innovative, patented form of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilzation that enables clinicians to effectively break down scar tissue and fascial restrictions.” A friend who had similar injuries as I did (although she never had an actual fraying of the high hamstring as I did) swore by Graston, so I decided to give it a try. I was warned that it would be very painful, but it really wasn’t too bad for me. I feel like it really helped at first, but the pain just took a few days to rear its ugly head again.
  • Loads of rehab exercises my physical therapist provided me with, including core, glute, and eccentric hamstring exercises.

I know. This is a little ridiculous. It’s not as if I’m pining for an Olympic medal. I just want to run again – and walk again! – without pain! It would be nice to be able to sit without a bum ache, too.

Now here’s what I haven’ tried yet: Cortisone injections to the site, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) or prolotherapy injections, and obviously surgery. I am very interested in hearing from anyone who has suffered from a partial tear of the high hamstring and/or high hamstring tendiopathy and what has or hasn’t worked to facilitate healing. Every person and every body is different, but I am very proactive (or obsessed as my 9-year-old says!) about researching my options and exploring further treatment. This coming week is a big one for me. I am getting a wisdom tooth cut out that decided to pop out when I’m nearing 40 instead of when I was a teenager. I’d call myself a late bloomer except the oral surgeon commented on the fact that I had “significant” arthritis in my jaw for someone my age. He asked me if my jaw hurt. “Only my hamstring and iliac crest,” I replied.

Okay, so maybe I am a little obsessed.

After the wisdom tooth exits the premises, I have an appointment in the big city with a sports medicine doctor who specializes in overuse injuries and ultrasound-guided PRP injections. I am hopeful!

The bottom line (pun intended since it is my bottom that aches all of the time): I still hurt, especially when I sit for too long, which is yet another reason this blog (and my novel) have been sorely neglected. If I sit for more than 10 minutes, I start to ache and have to lift my left butt cheek to the side, and it starts to look like I am a fan of flagrantly emitting flatulence.

There have been several points when I’ve felt like I could run again and have attempted to slowly ease back into running, only to experience a return of pain. What’s worse, is one day I was out for a slow walk/run when, lo and behold, my left hamstring wasn’t hurting, but the area above my left iliac crest started to ache and then became so painful I could barely walk home. I went to a doctor for the pain, and x-rays showed no fracture, but they did reveal that the right side of my pelvis was significantly higher – something others have told me and I also suspected since my shorts always ride up on the right side, and I’ve felt a little lopsided for as long as I can remember. So I was referred to spine specialist who asked me if I’d ever been in an accident or taken a fall from a high place. That would be an affirmative. Before the risk part of my brain was developed, I found it exhilarating to hop on wild horses and see if and how long I could stay on. I took multiple falls when I was younger, and this physical therapist believes that these shifted my tail bone and pelvis so that it’s now pulling on the hamstring and other muscles and tendons of my left leg. Basically, he said I’ve been like a car logging miles with my wheels out of alignment. It doesn’t matter how strong I am or how few miles I run or how slowly I cover them, I am going to get injured. This makes a lot of sense to me, and I am hopeful that we are finally arriving at the root of the problem and that the new doctor I see next week will agree and will be able to offer further insight as to how to get me better and out running again.

And, truthfully, it’s not the running that has hobbled me! It’s not even the fact that I might have over-trained a bit, not properly fueled my body given the miles I was running last summer and fall, or am a weakling. It’s just that my muscles aren’t working properly because my pelvis is all out of whack. Running doesn’t injure people, but running the wrong way – whether it’s because of a crooked pelvis, over-training, or covering miles in the wrong shoes – most certainly does.

One sports medicine doctor suggested I might make a good triatholon athlete, so my dear husband bought me an amazing bike that I can’t ride now because my hip hurts. I’ve had a lot of medical professionals tell me I just need to take it easy and be patient. Well, I’m approaching the 9-month mark since my injury and have only ran a handful of miles at a ridiculously slow pace when I once was running 30 to 40 miles every week. Walking and sitting causes pain, so this is no longer about running, and resting is not the antidote to it either.

Thankfully, a doctor also gave me a vote of confidence and said, “We’re not ready to retire you to the pasture yet.”

Wow, you really know how to build a girl up.

I shouldn’t be snarky. I am so thankful for all those who have tried to figure out why I hurt and how I can get better, and I am also extremely grateful that I have the resources to obtain medical care. I know this a pitifully small cross to shoulder compared to what so many others have to deal with, but it hasn’t been easy and based on all those search engine entries involving my hammy it appears that there are others frustrated with high hamstring tendinopathy and hoping that maybe I’ve discovered a magical cure and am back running.

I haven’t (yet!), but I have learned a great deal through this experience. First off, I’m not in control. I can religiously perform my rehab exercises. I can keep seeking out medical professionals who will help me to get to the bottom of things. I can cry, rant, and pray for my pitiful hamstring. But I can’t make it all better. Nor can I get angry at professionals who can’t make it better. I can, however, will myself to be grateful for all the good in my life as well as to cling to the hope that I’ll overcome this. I asked my husband the other day if he thought I’d ever be able to run and let alone walk without pain. “I do,” he said.

“What about Boston? Do you think I’ll run Boston someday?”

“I do,” he said. “I really do.”

God love him.

I’ve also learned that body image issues aren’t just about how your body looks. Sometimes you start to hate your body because of how it performs and because it can’t do what you want it to do. I remember when I wrote the aging chapter for Weightless, I felt very unqualified to ponder things like wrinkles. I couldn’t imagine being upset about aging. I’d only be thankful that I was still around and among the living with my friends and family. I wrote the book about five years ago, and in five short years I have abruptly become aware of my mortality. My body is not working like it used to. My pelvis has been crooked for a long time, but it used to not bother me. I have noticed the lines forming on my expressive face. I pulled out my first gray hair right around my birthday this year. I am inching very close to my fourth decade.

I told my husband I desperately wanted to be pregnant again because at least I’m good at growing babies and delivering them into the world. My midwife once remarked, “My dear, you were made to have babies.” As if that’s something I can really take credit for, though. That’s just a blessing I have. My body happens to labor very well (pregnancy not so much). As if it’s my fault that my high hamstring won’t heal. Clearly, these thoughts are further evidence of my control and pride issues.

Currently, I am working to make peace with my body – not because I’m unhappy with what I see in the reflection in the mirror so much, although not being able to exercise for mind, body, and spirit as much as I’d like hasn’t been easy – but because I’ve had to accept my body and to love it for its natural design, its limitations, and to not be so focused on my current age – or the fact that it can’t perform like I think it should – but on the age to come.

When I’ve become really down and frustrated with my inability to heal and my new aches and pains or increasingly creased face, I tell myself to shift the focus off myself. That’s something I wrote about in the Weightless aging chapter and got right.

Hey, Katie, take care of that amazing husband of yours who could care less how fast you are or how wrinkly you become (you’re growing older together!). Cuddle with those children who think you have the strongest arms in the world. Think of how that sweet 2-year-old boy says almost daily, “Mommy, you’re pretty,” because to him you’re the most beautiful woman alive right now. Be grateful for all of your friends who love you for you, not because of any of your accomplishments or how fit you are. Think of your running pal who walks beside you now and would do anything for you and will be your true friend whether you ever run another mile again in your life. Imagine your mom with ice packs on her burning face, whose eyes feel like they might pop out of her face sometimes, who has a debilitating disease that is frequently referred to as the suicide disease because its intense and painful symptoms can usually only be managed and right now can’t be managed very well for your sweet mama but will never be cured. She is a suffering servant. She has been for several years now. She chooses to see the blessings in her life instead of wallowing in pity and cursing her body and her fate. She knows that she is more than her pain.

You’re more than your hamstring. You’re more than a runner.

These are some of the lessons you’ve had to learn and perhaps because of them someday someone will end up on this little corner of cyberspace because they searched for “Kate Wicker + thy will be done.”

Enter the Conversation...

9 Responses to “Me, myself, & my hamstring”
  1. Nell says:

    Kate, you’ll be running up Hearbreak Hill in no time!! Until then I wish you well. You are such a luv & your blog is a joy to read!!!

  2. Misty says:

    My heart goes out to you. It really does. I have been sidelined since November after I tore my ACL and meniscus in a fall. I have come face to face with the possibility that my knee will never be the same again. Ever. This has aged me internally. Youthful innocence gone. However, I had surgery in February and have the hope that I will be able to run again someday. I can imagine that you feel like hope is what you’re missing. I will pray that you find a doctor/treatment path that restores your hope fully even if it means it will take a long time to get there.
    PS I laughed out loud a couple times reading this! Great sense of humor despite your problems. That usually helps.
    Misty recently posted..Summer Foods Bucket List 2014

  3. Kris says:

    Katie — have you considered chiropractic care? I have an awesome one here near me, and he specializes in sports related injuries, especially runners. He used to be a distance runner himself. He consults for a professional sports team here and he also works with a local high school. He is also on staff at Morehouse, and does training with the medical students. If you want to consult with him, I can email you his info. He would really help with the pelvic alignment – I have the same issue from my scoliosis and it has definitely helped me remain injury free when I’m running.

    • Kate Wicker says:

      Thanks, Kris. I did try chiropractic care at one point, and the PT I am seeing right now does a lot of the same kinds of manipulations, for lack of a better word, that a chiropractor would. A running/cycling friend of mine recently highly recommended a local chiropractor who works with athletes specifically. He will be my next stop if the current PT and new doctor can’t provide relief. Thanks again!

  4. Mary says:

    Kate I love to swim….can you do that? It is totally my therapy …that is hard what you are going through x

    • Kate Wicker says:

      It’s funny that you ask because just today I bought myself a swim cap and a pair of goggles. I “ran” in the lake using a Speedo Aqua Jogging Belt and also swam with the kids once week, and it felt great. My mom used to call me a fish as a kid, and I’ve always loved the water. It’s not as easy to find time to swim, but perhaps I need to make it more of a priority. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Mary says:

    Cool…I am totally a solutions person like yourself,I will research literally everything if I have a prob, so I “get” all you have been doing practically to heal and you are without doubt growing 100 fold spiritually. God must be so pleased with you…have a blessed day!

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