Alternative Sports Medicine
If you’re suffering from a running injury and haven’t seen results from traditional treatment (rest, ice, anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, etc.), there may be some alternatives you’re unaware of. Over the past 9 months, I’ve dabbled in my fair share of sports medicine and while I can’t promise any one option will be the magic bullet, it’s definitely worth it to know all of your options.
Two injection-based therapies that have been getting a lot of press lately are PRP (platelet rich plasma) and Prolotherapy.
PRP, a relatively new development in sports medicine, can help to treat chronic tendon, muscle, and cartilage injuries by injecting a rich concentrate extracted from the patient’s own blood. This platelet-rich injection works by stimulating the body’s own repair mechanisms and can often heal damaged tissue that has not responded to other forms of treatment. NY Times columnist Gina Kolata recently discussed her own experiences and success with PRP. However, this therapy is not without controversy. PRP is expensive and more often than not, insurance companies won’t cover it. And because it is relatively new, there aren’t a lot of studies confirming the efficacy of the procedure.
Prolotherapy is another option that can treat injured ligaments or tendons. By injecting an irritating substance into the damaged tissue, the body’s natural healing response is stimulated. When I received prolotherapy treatments this summer, my doctor injected the numbing agent lidocaine (also the “irritating substance”) along with pitcher plant extract (a homeopathic anti-inflammatory). The procedure was PAINFUL and when the doctor injected the needle into the “belly” of my hamstring, I had some pretty intense muscle spasms. This treatment is not something I would recommend lightly, but if you’ve exhausted your other options, it could be worth your while. I’m not sure if prolotherapy can be credited for my recovery, but a few weeks after my last injection I was able to run (mostly) pain free.
One of the first courses of treatment that I pursued for my hamstring and IT band issues was Active Release Technique (ART). Overuse injuries cause the body to produce tough, dense scar tissue in the affected area. When scar tissue builds up, muscles weaken, range of motion becomes limited, and the excess tension causes inflammation and pain. ART reminded me of a combination between pressure point therapy and massage. Targeted pressure and range of motion exercises work to release the scar tissue and increase blood flow to the injured region. I sought out an ART-trained chiropractor who was also an avid athlete. This is something that I would definitely recommend – doctors and other sports medicine professionals who are runners themselves can bring a deeper understanding and higher degree of empathy to your treatment.
During my first appointment, I underwent a thorough examination of my muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. The doctor also measured my legs for length discrepancies and videotaped me while I ran. I think that alternative and integrative medicine specialists are much more likely to pay attention to the whole body (and the root of the problem) rather than just provide a remedy for the symptoms. I saw some improvement from the ART, but unfortunately my insurance did not cover the appointments and I had to stop the treatments prematurely. If my financial situation allows, I would like to try ART again someday – when they doctor explained the procedure it just seemed to make so much sense!
In recent years yoga has become the hot workout du jour (have you seen Madonna’s arms??) and while its fitness benefits shouldn’t be over-looked, I’ve also found it to be a great addition to my recovery routine. Common sense says that runners should focus on strength training and stretching, but how many of us rush from the roads to the shower and then off to our next activity? With already jam-packed schedules, it can be difficult to make time for “extras”. For the past 6 months, I’ve made going to a 1-hour long yoga class at least once a week a non-negotiable priority and the classes have really improved my flexibility and strength. Most importantly, yoga’s focus on the connection between mind, body, and spirit was incredibly helpful as I dealt with the frustration of being injured. For at least that one hour a week, I tuned out my thoughts and worries and focused on how my body was feeling. Week by week, I was able to zero in on the small changes occurring in my hamstrings, knees, and hips.
I can’t be sure which of these treatments (if any) was the most beneficial for my body, but I certainly don’t think they did any harm. I went from not being able to run 2 miles without pain last May, to finishing strong in a half-marathon on October 3rd. Recovery is possible, you just need to be informed and have a plan of action. Happy Running!
By Megan Kretz