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Injured: A Pain in the Back and a Depressed Runner

Sometimes the running gods are cruel. I’ve been incredibly swamped lately between increased work commitments associated with becoming chairman of my department, an impending book deadline (Jan. 15 is approaching fast!), and always sacred family time. As a result, my running mileage and my attention to this blog and its associated email load have taken a bit of a hit.

This is the general cycle of life for a college professor. For a small college guy like me, the semesters are a frantic time where deadlines are constant, lectures and labs are frequent, and individual attention to students is a personal priority. All else gets pushed to the back burner for several months. Once the semester ends, time frees up and personal projects and hobbies (e.g., long distance running) are more easily attended to.

My tactic in the past has been to schedule a Fall marathon as a way to force myself to keep running, and then the 3-week taper allows me to justify a period of reduced running just as the semester gets really busy. As a new department chair, I knew that a Fall marathon would be unwise, so I opted to skip and wait until Spring before I tackled 26.2 again. However, this meant no taper, and no excuse for reduced running mileage. Given that the latter still happened over the past two weeks, and I’m in decent enough condition to run a solid half, I decided yesterday, the day before the registration deadline, to sign up for the Manchester City Half Marathon this Sunday. I’ve run the course 4 previous times, so I know it well, and although a PR was unlikely, I felt I could at least put in a decent run and get a solid workout. The prospect of a race always boosts my motivation a bit, and I was hoping that the half, combined with the final stretch of my semester, would get me back on track.

Jump to this morning. I was getting ready for work, and bent over to pick some clothes up from the floor. The world went white. My equilibrium instantly disintegrated. It felt like someone had shot me in the lower back. A fiery pain radiated from my hips down my left leg, and I could barely stand. Somewhat pathetically, and a fellow runner will understand this, my first thought was “there goes the half-marathon.”

I think I scared my kids to death when I climbed the stairs to the first floor of our house. I was in agony, and kids aren’t used to seeing their parents openly in pain. I made it up to my bedroom, my wife helped me lie down, and here I am, still in the same spot (there was no way I was making it into work for a cat dissection this morning – the commute alone would have been nightmarish).

Unfortunately, I know this injury well as it is the is the second time this has happened to me. Several years ago I strained the same spot while lifting my daughter our of the car. I never got diagnosed, but it laid me out for almost a week during the summer, hence my immediate realization about what this meant to my odds of racing this weekend. It feels like a strain at the sacroiliac joint, or perhaps in one of the lower back muscle attachments. I don’t think it’s a disc injury. It hurts. Bad.

Anyway, I felt the need to vent a bit, and it’s been a long time since I’ve used this blog for a personal post. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far. It sucks to be an injured runner, especially when the injury didn’t occur while running. It seems like such a waste of an injury – a picking up clothes injury. I can’t even blame this one on shoes :)

On the plus side, maybe now I’ll have time to finish that book…

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Oh, I know about that feeling all too well. :(
    One time all I did was sit down, and another just stand up. The most recent was unloading tile, so I can say it was a little my own fault. Luckily that was a little over a year ago and I have managed to get out of a cycle of it happening once a year.
    Hopefully yours is just a strain and not disc related like mine (2 herniated discs in the lower back, which itself is an annoying day-to-day battle.)
    I can definitely say I don’t miss the 4 days of laying on the floor and struggling to only get up, with as little pain as possible, to get to the bathroom. I always thought I looked like an old man without a cane whenever I had to get up and walk. I usually managed to get back to some amount of running after a week, but it would take close to a month before my back no longer had extra weakness.
    Hope you feel better sooner rather than later and manage to get somewhat caught up on stuff!

  2.  Pete,

    Sorry to hear about about your injury. I was recently sidelined with first major injury, a stress fracture of the third metatarsal, for 6+ weeks and started to ease back into it this week (four miles this morning and felt good). I had been running consistently (20-25 mpw) for almost three years without any injuries. It made me realize how much I enjoy and missed running.

    I enjoy reading your blog, specially the post on the metatarsal stress fractures. I was hoping you can provide an update to this post or expand on it. My injury happened while transitioning to Newtons. Two months into it, fet great and one day it came out of nowhere, the sharp pain, I could not run anymore. I thought I had done everything right. Obviously, I didn’t. I don’t want to give up on the shoes but have become less of a believer. I have gone back to Saucony and recently got a pair of Kinvara 2s which I really like. I am about to list the Newtons on ebay. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    Good luck and get well soon!

    Luis

  3. Ken Skier says:

    Pete–I’m so sorry you had this sudden pain and dislocation to your life.

    You say you think it might be your SI joint.  I had excruciating pain in my hip/lower back a couple of years ago.  Could not manage more than 2 or steps without feeling as if someone was driving a nail into my hip or spine.  Rest did not help.  Another runner suggested it might be the piriformis.  

    A gifted Physical Therapist diagnosed it as a dislocated SI joint.  (Dislocated so far that it gave me an apparent leg length discrepancy of 15 mm.)  He yanked on one of my legs like he was pulling a stump out of the ground, and amazingly this did not hurt (although it sure surpised me!).  Then he yanked again.  When he measured my legs again, the apparent leg-length discrepancy was gone.  By main force, he had managed to yank my SI joint back into its proper configuration.

    Over the next six weeks I went through PT to strengthen certain hip muscles, to ensure that the SI joint would not dislocate again.  That worked beautifully.  No recurrence since then.

    I relate this to you because, if YOUR problem is a dislocated SI joint, it can be fixed quickly and dramatically by a good PT.

    I wish you a swift and complete recovery, Pete.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks Ken – I’m thinking a trip to see a professional is in order since this is a repeat injury from a few years back.

  4. joerunner says:

    Sorry to hear about your injury.  Funny how so often it involves the kids — doing something for them.  A similar thing happened to me a few weeks ago. My five-year-old son jumped off a chair and landed on my outstretched foot.  I felt a huge pull in my shin muscle and it has been sore ever since.  Kind of a freak accident, but really just par for the course as a Dad.  You honestly never know when or how these things are gonna happen.  Wish you all the best in your recovery.

  5. Timtakach says:

    I injured my sacroiliac joint in August! No fun. Anxious to get it “fixed”, I went right to PT. 

    Ice helped me a lot, I recommend that right away if you haven’t already started with it. Also, ultrasound helped. And after the initial pain/inflammation decreases, stretching…then exercise.

    For me, it was one week of rest, then a week of walking/light jogging…and in week three I was doing slow 3-4 mile runs (I am typically a 20-24 miles a week kind of runner…and 50 years old). 

    Question for you…is the book you are writing a biology text book, a running book, or both?!

  6. Brad Patterson says:

    Really sorry to hear about your back pain, Pete. I hope you start feeling better. I had some big lower back problems a number of years ago and went to PT for it.  I ended up getting “assigned” a battery of lower back (and core) strengthening exercises and doing those really helped me a great deal. You may find the same thing, that by doing some maintenance lower back strengthening exercises will help you avoid this in the future. 

  7. Greg Fowler says:

    Pete,

    Get well soon. 

    Greg Fowler

  8. rpagottojr@yahoo.com says:

    Professor I was plagued by the same type of back problem until I read “HEALING BACK PAIN” by dr. John Sarno. It has cured me and every person I ever recomended.. it never fails. The sooner you read it the sooner you will heal. I just started reading your blog tonight and I really enjoy it, maybe it was ment to be that this will help you in return…let me know…good luck.

  9. Hey, sorry to hear.  Nothing crankier than a distance-addicted man unable to get his fix!

    I’m sure others with chime in with all kinds of advice, so none from me, just the small comfort of letting you know there are others of us out here feeling your frustration and hoping that your interruption is brief!

  10. Hey Pete, hope you get better soon. Some kind of negative karma at work here; I’ve been reading your blog for half a year now and your many discussions on overstriding have played a big role in keeping me pain free as I keep crossing mileages I never thought I would get to. Good luck on the recovery…

  11. Ccbressoud says:

    Oh what a bummer, know exactly what you feel like, been ther done that. Take care of yourself!

  12. Really sorry to hear that. Always sad when a fellow runner get an injury no matter how it happend. Point is you wont be abel to do what you love most. Run. 

    Hope you will be out running again soon. And all best luck with the book.

  13. Sun Recruiting, Inc. says:

    I’m going through something similar right now Pete (mine is mid-back), it sucks…especially this time of year when racing is so enjoyable. The key is rest and not trying to jump back into it too quickly, both of which are exceedingly difficult to actually do. We’re runners dammit, we need to run.

  14. Get well soon Pete!

  15. Brandon Mulnix says:

    Take two of these and call the Dr in the morning… yeah right.  Back injuries suck.  The last and only time that happened to me was the night before my wedding.  Thank God my first trip to the back cracker worked and I was able to enjoy my big day!  II hope you get better real soon.  In terms of the half marathon.  You will get way more attention if you use a walker or a cane.

  16. Cat dissection? Mew???

  17. Sam Winebaum says:

    Sorry to hear about your back. Something very similar happened to me 2 years ago. I was outside reaching into my car to get something and… literally could not get back into the house up 3 steps. The day before I did quite a bit of outdoor work. Hung onto the car door until my wife got home and took me to the doc. Wheeled in no less. The doc said don’t move I know what it is. She prescribed Vicodin, Valium, and some kind of steroid. Took the first dose, powerful stuff, and 4 hours later I was mobile. Stopped the drug cocktail less than 2 days later. Must have really relaxed everything and brought back into alignment. Stress, lifting, and rapid movements on our runner tight muscles seem to make it common. I am now super careful bending down rapidly, particularly in the morning when I wake up. I hope you mend quickly.

  18. Very sorry to hear; get better soon! 

    Mit sportlichen Gruessen, 

    Jens

  19. Mark Duncan says:

    Pete, I injured my back this week too…by sneezing, thought I was going to pass out from the pain. I’m only 30, am I really that old? No runs for me for a couple days :/

  20. Ashwyn Gray says:

    That’s no fun at all, Pete. I did something similar to my back a couple of years ago when I picked up my 2-year old in the middle of the night to put him back in his bed. Kids!

    I hope you recover quickly!

    • Don’t discount the possibility that all your stress is being manifested as back pain. You might check out _Healing_Back_Pain_ by Dr. Sarno and see If you can wrap your head around this possibility…

      • Pete Larson says:

        I wish it were just stress! Pain with sudden onset during forward bending and noticeably angry muscles/connective tissue in left hip – I’m afraid this was a genuine strain, lower back muscles or glutes.

  21. Dan Harbison says:

    Pete, I hope you feel better! I know what you mean. I was gearing up for my first 1/2 and decided to switch shoes from Nike Free’s to Kinvara’s for my training and my run. Unfortunately due to the small change heel drop, I proceeded to pull both of my calves during different runs (every time with the Kinvaras, I’d switch back to the NIke’s and be just fine, strange). I tried to run through it, but alas, it was not to be. I’m now resting my calves and itching to get back on the road. Shooting for a Holiday Half now.

    Dan.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks, and sorry to hear about your troubles. Funny how just a few millimeters in the heel can make all the difference between a shoe that works and one that causes trouble. This is why experimenting with shoes and finding individual tolerances is key.
      Sent from my iPad

      • Dan Harbison says:

        Seeing how you are constantly reviewing and changing shoes, how do you not get injured or battle blisters? Like muscle pulls?

        • Pete Larson says:

          I deal with my share of aches and pains, mostly in my feet. The constant rotation does take a toll on my plantar fascia, but nothing too terrible yet.

  22. I’m sorry for you, Pete.  Exactly the same thing happened to me last Saturday and I’ve not been able to run since.  I keep making weird noises as pain emanates from my back in unpredictable ways. Just this afternoon it has started to soften so I’ll maybe give it a day or two, more.  Good luck and take it easy.  

  23. Jim Carey says:

    Get back out with Jack.  It was a back injury (ruptured disc in my case) that got me into my vffs and minimalist running in the first place.  Where will your back injury take you?

  24. compensation claims advice says:

     Back pain causes include accidents, muscle strains, and sports injuries.If you feel numbness, tingling, or loss of control in your arms or legs. This may signal damage to the spinal cord.  The pain in your back extends downward along the back of the leg. You may be suffering from sciatica.If the pain increases when you cough or bend forward at the waist. This can be the sign of a herniated disc.

  25. Brian Galloway says:

    That sounds exactly like what I’ve experienced every couple of years since the mid-90′s.  The last time was when I was stretching my hamstrings!  Pass-out-from-the-pain level of pain.

    I’ve never had it diagnosed but I’m fairly certain it is caused by a disk slipping out of place just a tad and pinching a nerve in one of the worst places to get a pinched nerve.  My only remedy is to try and force myself to move as naturally as possible — bearing as much pain as you can — so that whatever slipped out of place slips back into place.  Relaxing the muscles,  which cramp up badly immediately after the injury, is crucial and I’ve found that light, constant heat from those self-heating wraps works the best.  Sleeping with one is really good.  (I would guess that half the pain after the occurrence of the injury is trying to utilize extremely cramped muscles.)

    I avoid it buy doing plenty exercises to build the strength-endurance of the lower back to help keep it rigid and never, never, never, never, never let the lumbar region bend forward away from the hips.  If you have to bend over, rotate the hips, not the lumbar!

    Just some friendly advice from one back-pain sufferer to another.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks Brian – muscles are definitely my issue right now. I can alleviate the pain a bit by pressing on my glutes, but that’s not something I can do in front of a class :)

      • Don’t minimize or ignore the risk of a disc injury:  Muscle spasms *always* accompany disc injuries.

        X-Rays are cheap, and are all you’ll need if they are prescribed, taken and read by true experts.

        Make the appointment, take a few hours off, cough up the co-pay, and just get it done.  Be sure to get a copy of the images on CD or DVD.

        At best, you’ll have a negative diagnosis, but you’ll also have an excellent set of baseline images to serve as a reference in your declining years.

        At worst, you’ll be diagnosed with a disc problem, and will get the correct and proper treatment without further delay.

        BTW, pressing on the glute for relief is a key diagnostic indicator of mild sciatica (and possible L4-L6 issues).  The glute covers the holes in the illiac through which the sciatic nerve bundles pass.

        I wish I had read this post last week.  Even if you are feeling better, go get the X-Rays done anyway.  It’s both cheap and easy.

        This kind of macho “I can deal with it” insanity is what inevitably leads to greater and more debilitating problems later on.  I know this very well: By the time I finally got my X-Rays taken, my L6-S1 disc had degenerated completely away.  I was instantly a candidate for a spinal fusion, and it was an absolute miracle that I was able to avoid it (for now).

        Don’t negligently push yourself into a place where you need to bet on miracles.

        • That should be “L5-S1″: I’m not tall enough to have an L6…

          • Pete Larson says:

            I should do this, but I’m pretty sure this is a muscular or ligamentous issue and not a disc issue. Really feels like a sacroiliac joint problem – same exact thing happened about 2-3 years ago, one week later it had healed up and no issues until this one. I do tend to get lower back soreness from long hours standing and hunching to dissect in lab, and also when doing things like dishes in front of a sink. Might go see a local chiro who works with runners regularly.

            Pete

          • Chiropractors have 1% of the X-Ray reading skills of a board-certified MD Radiologist.  Get the right work done by the right people.

  26. Dan Caouette says:

    Feel free to vent…
    We know the feeling in our house.  My wife and both missed running MDI due to injuries. 

  27. Lawrence Underwood says:

    Pete, 
    I hate to read this.  I’m glad you don’t think it is an intervetebral disc. I watched my wife suffer terribly from a rupture L5/S1 disc injury.  She is still recovering from the surgery to repair it.  Hang in there and be smart!

  28. Argh. Sorry to hear that, I’ve not done that particular thing to my back yet but   equivalent things.

    Hope you get better soon. Vitamin I is your friend (Ibuprofen) ;)

  29. Man, that sucks. I hope you’re feeling a bit better. I know how you feel. I fought a strained soleus for about weeks before my first half marathon. I thought I was better but it flared up the week before the race. I wrapped it, iced it, icy hotted it, did anything I could to get better. I felt pretty good the morning of the race, so I decided to give it a go, but it came back in the first couple miles and I ended up finishing, but about 20 minutes shower than I expected, and it took my a long time to heal after that. Get better and don’t worry about this race, get healthy for the spring.

  30. RunTraveler says:

    Ouch! Sorry to hear you’re sidelined. I wish you a speedy recovery! (And… as you said… it does free up some time to get that writing done. Silver lining?)

  31. Aimee Towell says:

    There are actually a couple of lamer ways to be injured, but not many. Here’s to a speedy recovery.

  32. Bigblackjack12 says:

    hi my name i am a young runner, who has many injuries, my worst being shin splints. But my reason for being here is that i am starting a running blog just like yours, but from a younger runner perspective. If all of you could go to my blog and leave some feedback.

    athleticrunning.blogspot.com

    i just started so bear with me

  33. Ghgreyhound10 says:

    It sucks getting hurt in a non-running way.  Did the same thing as you last year hurting my leg in a non running injury.  Get well soon.

  34. Ack! Sorry Pete. I can identify with the feeling of being way too busy although you’ve got me beat, hands down. I think the worst part, aside from the pain, is having to admit it can’t all get done sometimes.

    On a positive note, thanks in part to your blog, I’ve made a transition to zero drop shoes (merrell trail gloves, mostly) and I’m running more consistently than I have in a long time. Small consolation for an injured runner, but a lot of other folks are running better thanks to you.

    Get back On your feet soon. PJ

  35. Hang in there, Pete. We all fall into these at one point. Do not let it get you down. Just focus on the gift we runners have been given, and for those that arent as blessed.

    Praying for you, pal.

  36. Brian Martin says:

    Ouch! Sorry to hear of the back injury Pete. Hope it settles down soon. As you say the only think to do is focus on writing about running rather than doing the training. Not much consolation I know. Trust you make a speedy recovery. Brian

  37. Hope you get better!

  38. Fred Brossard says:

    Take a break from running and take care of this injury. You will come back stronger :-)

  39. Lawrence Underwood says:

    Deleted duplicate.

  40. Man, you just described the same annoying not-caused-by-running injury I have had a couple of times over the past few years.  For me, the cause has been bending repeatedly to pick up my son without properly bending at the knees.  What sucks is that there is no warning.  It is literally like a bolt of lightning hits my lower back from a clear blue sky.  The only thing that seems to work for me is rest and a lot of LIGHT stretches – especially piriformis stretches.  Treat it like you are taking a course of antibiotics, i.e. even when it seems to be feeling better, keep resting.  Good luck.

  41. scwilbanks says:

    Oh no! I hope you get better soon!

    I always think of injuries as blessings in disguise.  That always sounds a little insensitive when I say that to an injured runner (sometimes they scowl).  But injuries always put things in perspective – even if the current perspective is an unwelcome view of the ceiling above your couch.

    Smith

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