A ruptured disc is an Annular event

Workouts this week (hybrid fitness machines): 3 sessions, 8 miles total

Well I’m back to weekday workouts and I feel better than I have in months. I suspect one reason for that is because I’ve added three more workouts to my weekly schedule. I’ve been testing fitness equipment and those sessions are providing me a lot of of additional energy. Committing to this testing forced a level of discipline that I really need right now.

Another reason I’m feeling good relates to the recovery progress I’m having with my disc problem. I finally had a conversation with my orthopedist who read my MRI and confirmed both a ruptured disc and torn annular ligament. The rupture may not completely heal, but the inflammation seems to have abated. The soreness is almost gone and I have no ill effects when or after using these alternative running machines.

I’ve done workouts (treadmill, elliptical, test units) almost every day for the past two weeks. Last weekend I had success running on pavement and on the track. Not quite where I want to be, but it was a big gain over the previous weekend. I’m planning to do a neighborhood run tomorrow morning and hoping to see even more improvement. I won’t say much about the testing I’m doing except to note that the experience of running is very hard to duplicate on a machine.

Passing the pavement test

Following the flattest route possible

Today’s run (street): 3.1 miles

If my orthopedist correctly diagnosed me as having a herniated disc, I must be having a remarkable recovery. Based on what he told me, I should be having a lot more pain when running. That’s not the case and I’m thinking of getting a second opinion. I’m still waiting to meet with this guy to go over the results of my MRI. It’s taking a lot longer than promised, because he’s canceled my last two appointments. This is the place that canceled my original appointment but didn’t let me know until I showed up for it. I’ve just about had it with this office.

I’ve been using our elliptical machine at home and have also been testing hybrid running units at a different location. These no-impact workouts have helped me maintain some fitness without aggravating my disc problem. I’d felt incremental improvement in terms of pain prior to my run last Saturday, only to have it return in a big way during that run. Yesterday’s one mile treadmill session was a test to see whether the pain was still present while running. I ran slowly and my gait felt awkward, but the stabbing pain from last week was gone.

There’s a big difference between running on a level treadmill and hard pavement. I had hopes for a painless outdoor run, but feared it was too soon to expect much improvement. The temperature was only in the high 30’s when I headed outside. I dressed accordingly and felt comfortable with the gear I’d chosen. Once my Garmin showed ready, I was off.

I wore the Kayanos rather than the Saucony Triumph ISOs this morning. The Triumphs made my feet feel squished at the front during last Saturday’s run. The Kayanos did the same thing today. It’s clearly related to my current stride and foot strike. Although I’ve continued to work out despite these running problems, ellipticals don’t provide the same level of intensity as a treadmill. Due to that, I’m feeling some conditioning gaps when I run.

I started today’s run along my usual route. The first left off my street goes about a quarter mile up a 2% grade. It’s enough to notice, but usually not an issue for me. Today it felt like I was running up James Street during the Great Cow Harbor 10K. If you’re not familiar with Widow Hill, it’s the stuff of nightmares. For me anyway.

There was no real pain during the run, but my stride didn’t feel very natural. I ran slowly to avoid triggering a problem. My plan was to do my distance and then evaluate both my fitness and my readiness for increasing mileage and pace. For a three mile run, it felt like a lot of work, but I’m very pleased that the soreness hasn’t returned.

I’m going to add 10% more distance tomorrow and I’m thinking about going to the track to take advantage of that soft, flat surface. Someday, I’d like to go there to run intervals. Tomorrow my hope is to do a little more and hurt a little less.

Disc error

I discovered I’m not a diagnostician after meeting with a real orthopedist this afternoon. He shot down my piriformis theory in about two seconds. I went to the same office that screwed up my appointment last time because it’s five minutes from my house and convenience counts. This time the doctor was in. I was curious to find out the true cause of the sciatic pain that I’ve had since early December. After chilling (literally) for 30 minutes in the freezing checkup room, the doctor came in and started asking questions.

After a quick check of the source of the pain, he said, “I think it’s your back.” He took some X-rays and we looked at the results that showed that my hips and pelvis looked fine. I must say I photograph well from the inside. Then we looked at the spinal view where he pointed out compression in my lowest segment – a herniated disc. The disc problem was putting pressure on the sciatic nerve that makes it feel like the injury originates from a lower place.

I asked the doctor if this meant no more running. He said that running wouldn’t do any harm, but I should avoid hills. Yay! The doctor also suggested that I run on a soft, flat surfaces like the track or the treadmill. What he really recommended was to lay off running and focus on the elliptical for the time being. He showed me some stretches that would be beneficial and suggested I keep heat on my lower spine as much as I could.

I’m going back next week to get an MRI. I’ll follow his orders, especially the one about not running hills. I think I can do that one really well. I told the doctor that I’d read that trail running helps injuries because the soft dirt and the constantly changing surface supports many different muscles. He said trail running’s fine, but don’t run hills. So much for Stillwell.

I have my heating pad working and I’ll run through the stretches tomorrow. I’ll stick to the elliptical for now and sneak a treadmill run in when I can. The good news is that I don’t have any torn muscles, tendons, or – apparently – piriformis syndrome.

Orthopedist appointment invokes Murphy’s Law

 

I cannot remember the last time I’ve run, but it was at least three weeks ago. Since then, my workouts have been done on the elliptical machine. It’s a fair trade-off, but not an equal one. I know I’ve lost fitness as a result. While I’ve wanted to return to running, I’ve been concerned about further aggravating what I’m calling a piriformis issue. I wish I could be more specific about the cause of this soreness. Unfortunately my opportunity to get a diagnosis today was taken away by an incompetent receptionist.

Most people are familiar with “Murphy’s Law,” the idea that if something bad can happen, it will. That law has been in full effect today, starting with news from our electrician that the cost to bring our pool electrical system up to code will be five times what we expected. And we’d expected it to be a lot. Next it was the plumber, who informed us that the cost to replace our leaky shower fixture will be double our expectation. We have to stop inviting these people to our house.

A little later, I received a message that the cool new fitness equipment that I’m helping to test (they’re no-impact treadmill alternatives) will be delivered late. I was counting on having access to this gear so I could do workouts that match running intensity without inviting further injury. The stuff is coming, but I’ll need to wait a couple of more weeks to start the program.

The worst of it was when I arrived at the orthopedist this afternoon, after waiting three weeks for my appointment, only to find that the doctor wasn’t in. Apparently they’d tried to call me to reschedule, but the person who made the appointment had recorded my number incorrectly. So, after looking forward to some type of resolution of this problem, it’s still a mystery. I still don’t know if I should be running on it, but my patience has grown short.

I’m going to try a run this weekend, either on the treadmill or around my neighborhood. I don’t think I’ve run on pavement since January and I don’t expect it to be easy. I plan to take it very easy and stop if the soreness goes past moderate discomfort. I’ll make another doctor’s appointment and will hopefully be able to schedule it soon. But I’m going to lay low for the rest of today and let Murphy find someone else to bother.

The doctor will see you…soon

Today’s workout (elliptical): 40 minutes

I’m old enough to remember the days when the doctor would come to your house when someone got the sniffles. Besides the fact that physicians actually did house calls, it was remarkable that the doctor could be summoned on a moment’s notice. These days, I plan my doctor visits strategically, taking the first appointment of the day in hopes of “only” waiting an hour to be let in to the exam room.

It’s much harder to get in to see a doctor these days, especially if that doctor is a specialist. I was surprised that I was able to schedule an appointment with an orthopedist as early as next week. I’ve been careful not to aggravate my self-diagnosed piriformis syndrome, substituting the elliptical for the treadmill for the past three weeks.

I thought I’d try an easy run this morning to see whether things had improved. My pain has reduced, but it hasn’t gone away. I still have sciatic pain when sitting for long periods (i.e., my morning commute) and I was curious to know how my glute/hamstring area would respond to some easy running.

I started out slowly “running”, first at 3 MPH and then increasing  to 4 MPH. I felt okay, but noticed a little discomfort. Once I brought it up past 5 MPH, I knew I was borrowing trouble. I shut the treadmill down, walked over to the elliptical and did my workout there.

That experience made me realize that this problem will not resolve itself through patience. I looked online and found a sports orthopedist whose office is located five minutes from my house. I called them up, verified that they take my health plan and made an appointment for next Friday. I was shocked that I was able to do that. The last time I tried to meet with an orthopedist, the appointment had to be scheduled so far in the future that my injury went away before I was due to meet with him.

I’m encouraged to know that I’ll have a qualified person diagnose this problem and (hopefully) put me on a path to quick recovery. I’ve been dealing with running discomfort since last November and have concluded that enough is enough. I fear that the doctor may say that my injury is more serious than I thought, either requiring surgery and/or extended physical therapy.

But it’s better to know the cause than to continue this cycle of running, recovery, and re-aggravation. I just want to get back to running the trails.

A painfully abrupt end to an outside run

Medical description of my hip problem

Today’s run (street): .38 miles

Yesterday I took it easy, covering about five miles, all walking. My hip soreness remained, but it felt closer to a dull ache than a sharp pain. Last night, I walked through the neighborhood and my hip felt nearly okay. I was energized and thought about completing the last mile of my route with an easy jog. I didn’t do that, mostly because I wasn’t wearing the right clothing. Had I tried it, I may have better understood that this injury is far from over.

I haven’t run on the road for a number of days. I’ve either used the treadmill or the elliptical over the past week. The only recent outdoor workout I’ve done was a trail run on Saturday. I thought it was time to go out for a street run this morning and gauge the condition of my hip. I wasn’t looking to burn up the road, but I wanted to stay within my normal pace window. I was conscious of my last run on pavement and figured if I could get past the first fifty steps, I’d be fine.

That assumption turned out to be wrong. Like really wrong. I was fine for the first moments, though my stride felt slightly off. The pain level seemed low, but quickly sharpened. I still thought that I could manage through it. A minute later, the pain became pronounced and I had to stop right away. It became clear that I was going to do some damage if I continued through my planned route.

I had barely been on the road for three minutes when the pain reached its peak. I started to walk, but the pain still felt very intense. I hobbled home and immediately put ice on the sore area. I then took Aleve and called a sports orthopedist. No more fooling around. Unfortunately I won’t get in to see the doctor until April 2nd so I’ll need to manage until then.

I guess this means I’ll have to focus on upper body and core workouts until the pain subsides. Walking seems to be okay again, but it’s clearly not the cure-all I thought it was.