I Have a Toothache in My Leg.

So as I described, I’ve been attempting to “rebuild” my season… which officially starts ThIS CoMiNg wEEkEnD at Wildflower, followed by a number of races Dusty and I already planned out and arranged for.

Ummmm, little problem. I’ve obviously run out of time to get into shape for this weekend, and at the moment I can’t walk without pain, let alone run or… well, sleep.

“That sucks,” you may say. “Roll it out and ice it,” you would advise.

NOSSIR! That’s not how we’re treating this thing: weirdly, this new, indescribable pain shooting down my ENTIRE LEG is a good thing. It is a sign of progress. And I have to deal with it. Until it hurts somewhere else. Then I get to deal with that.

And this isn’t some twisted “no pain no gain” game, either. This is merely peeling the onion of physical issues I’ve had forlikeever. Remember 3 years ago when I was rolling around in pain in the grass at track practice, but I was running again 2 days later? November 2011 when I couldn’t walk one day, went to acupuncture the next, and ran a 10k the next? Or last April when I had just started running again after taking 4 months off because my calves were hard as rocks? Turns out all these ouchies are connected through the kinetic chain. All my overnight “comebacks” weren’t miracles; it was my body recruiting what little muscle groups still functioned properly and running them into the ground, too.  Now I’m rewinding all this poop.

You seeeeeeee, while in California, I’ve been working with Blair Ferguson at Ventura Training & Athletics. He works in Muscle Activation Technique ((MAT) and Resistance Training, which I haven’t worked my way up to yet). Blair’s big *star* client is Jordan Rapp. Jordan doesn’t stretch. He doesn’t do yoga, he doesn’t foam roll, and he doesn’t take Advil. Jordan sees Blair, who doesn’t manage pain, he fixes weaknesses. And yes, Jordan was seeing Blair before and ever since the horrible bike accident that nearly took his life in 2010.

Blair says “HTFU” and “stop stealing photos from my website.”

MAT is beyond explanation without mixing metaphors grotesquely, so I’m just going tell you what’s going on with me.

The basic idea is that we are bilaterally symmetrical beings and are designed to be equally neuro-muscularly strong on both sides of our body. Pain and injuries occur when weakness sidelines muscle groups, causing other muscle groups to pick up the slack. You’ve heard of “overuse” or “compensatory” injuries, right? You START “overusing” or “overcompensating” after some kind of trauma, be it whiplash or a broken bone, a contusion or a concussion.

So what was my trauma? Well, evolving from a swimmer to a land-sport mammal was certainly traumatic, particularly in my feet, which are pretty important and complex body parts. I can dorsiflex like a champ, but when it comes to plantar flexion, it’s a wonder I don’t fall over backwards when I try to stand. Yeah, STANDING isn’t possible for me without compensating somehow –namely pronating my feet, which stresses my knees, and throws my hips back, stressing my lower back. Imagine what happens when I run and train for an Ironman or two, two years in a row.

I was born with another “trauma;” I am a freak and have two extra bones. One is a tiny rib off my C7 vertebra, and one is an extra Lumbar vertebra (an L6) that didn’t fully fuse into my sacrum, but is fused into my ilium instead. I HAVE A TAIL!  Kinda. I saw an X-Ray several years ago and don’t quite remember the details, but Figure A in this image stolen from the internet is almost the idea.

I'm special.
I’m special.

The sacralized vertebra in particular, we think, is another major culprit in my kinetic chain. It results in extra and/or inhibited movement in my lower back, creating muscle imbalances, and presenting almost like scoliosis when things get really bad.

So I already knew a lot of this, I just didn’t have a long term plan or a method to deal with it beyond yoga, ice, and compression socks. None of that is going to address a deformed spine or a foot that basically points the wrong way if I want to do anything other than lay on the couch.

The MAT protocol involves testing both sides of the body for weakness . When a weakness is identified (ie, you’re not able to resist a force as well on one side as the other), we start messing with of “turning on” the muscles that aren’t functioning properly. MAT is NOT massage or pain relief. I walk out of treatment drained and exhausted, not refreshed. In fact, last week my back spazzed out twice as we’ve worked to unravel my weaknesses. Blair didn’t once touch the muscles that were causing me pain, but worked on their counterparts –the theory being that muscles were spazzing for being overworked because the guys on the other side of my back. The muscles he palpated had never bothered me or caused me pain just weren’t doing their fair share.

Wake up, guys. I need you!

And of course, some of them hurt once he started poking at them.

Although I’m currently peeling the onion and rebuilding my house, I know that this is the tough part of the “getting worse before I get better” equation. I know that ultimately Blair and MAT are going to help me function better by getting some key players off the bench and in the game. (See what I did there? METAPHORS!)

We’re heading to Wildflower this weekend, where I will just be swimming, and to Boise 70.3 in another month, where I’m guessing I’ll aquabike as I try to get my run (ie back, ankles, calves, hips, and knees) back online. It kinda sucks, but I’ll have a longer career for sitting a few races out. Hopefully, although I’m missing out on building some fitness right now, I’ll be back at it and better than ever soon(ish).

Here’s a list of Blair’s favorite MAT practitioners in Chicagoland, for those who asked:

An “Experience Report” from Wildflower and my first swim meet as a grown-up will come next week. 😉

11 thoughts on “I Have a Toothache in My Leg.

  1. That’s crazy stuff. One could argue that we aren’t supposed to be standing at all, unless we had a spring instead of vertebrae. But that sounds like something from OMNI magazine circa 1989. Anyway, if you wanted to visit me in the Bay Area, you could get your back “smudged” with burning sage and have someone work on your chakra spinning or whatever. (please come visit me?)

  2. Ouch! Glad you’re getting better and fixing all of those problems. Back spasms suck…my current situation sounds similar to yours.

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