The lifecycle of a running injury is not always linear.
The cycle of many running injuries goes something like this: After admitting that the pain was more than just soreness, you listened to your orthopedic surgeon talk about options ranging from surgery to rehabilitation. You spent months in physical therapy trying to rebuild strength and repair soft tissue damage, eventually hitting a plateau, only to wonder if you'll ever go out for a run again.
The desire to get back out to run is why many runners seek alternative rehabilitation plans that include seeing a sports chiropractor for targeted treatments for their injuries. In my case, after two months in physical therapy, my pain was shifting from my hip to my iliotibial band and psoas muscle, and I knew that it was time to try something new if I ever wanted to run again (or even sit for any length of time).
Why see a sports chiropractor for a running injury?
Although physical therapy is often the first line of defense in rehabbing a running injury, many athletes and runners have started to rely on sports medicine-trained chiropractors. While physical therapy can focus on strengthening and coordination, chiropractic care is designed to improve joint mobilization, making sure that all the joints in the body are moving correctly. Hirad Bagy, founder of the United Wellness Center in Herndon, Va., and team chiropractor for the Washington Redskins, Washington Nationals and DC United, believes that sports chiropractic care has evolved to incorporate the best of both worlds of joint mobilization techniques and soft tissue repair, creating a new gold standard of best practices in treatment plans for patients.
Bagy emphasizes that not only do all the joints in the body need to move correctly, but they also need to move in coordination with the soft tissue – a healthy body is one where all the factors are working well together. Runners who decide to visit a sports chiropractor should expect, according to Bagy, a thorough evaluation of bio-mechanics by their practitioner, including:
• How they are moving.
• How they are standing.
• What the arch of the foot looks like.
• How the knees are aligned.
• How the hips are aligned.
Once an evaluation is completed, sports chiropractors will, as Bagy explains, create the "recipe for the treatment stew" – taking into account the needs of each specific patient to decide between a variety of techniques, each designed to help the body regenerate healthy cells to "activate healing mechanisms."
[Read: How to Identify a Running Injury.]
Four types of chiropractic treatment for running injuries
1. Active Release Technique (ART) is a combination of massage and stretching where trained therapists apply deep tension while they move a joint through a range of motion. ART is used primarily for adhesions deep in the muscle.
2. Graston Technique is a therapy best used for surface level scar tissue that uses handheld stainless steel tools to break down scar tissue-releasing adhesions.
3. Functional dry needling is used for very deep trigger points to release tension in the muscles through deep muscle stimulation provided by the needles. Dry needling can be helpful for injuries involving the psoas muscle, which is a critical hip flexor muscle for runners.
4. Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) stimulates surface muscles to contract releasing tension as a complement to other techniques.
Active Release Technique for runners
After three months of not being able to run, in almost constant pain ranging from my iliotibial band to the back of my hip and then into my psoas muscle, I was admittedly ready for anything when my orthopedist suggested trying Active Release Technique. According to Bagy, the reason that Active Release Technique can be beneficial – especially for iliotibial band and hip injuries – is that it combines different muscle work that breaks down scar tissue while also emphasizing correct flexibility. Through Active Release, as Bagy explains, you can actually "elongate some of the muscle fibers making those muscles more pliable and therefore healthier."
Anyone preparing for ART should know that this is not a particularly gentle treatment. I tried telling myself that it would be like a deep tissue massage, which I enjoy, although I quickly learned that while highly effective (after three weeks my pain, though still there, was incrementally improving), the pressure and work on the muscles is deep and sometimes painful.
[Read: 5 Keys to Injury-Free Running.]
How to stay healthy for the long term
Staying healthy is a constant concern for professional athletes who get constant care from stretching to active release to heat or ice. Most adults or mature athletes, on the other hand, do not make the time every day to use a foam roller, apply ice or heat or keep up with stretching. Runners who have overcome an injury should consider ongoing preventive care, ranging from every two weeks to every six weeks to maintain progress and reduce future injuries.
[Read: A Beginners' Guide to Running.]
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Elena Sonnino is a writer, public speaker, strategist, traveler, runner, cancer survivor and chaser of dreams. Her inspirational wellness, travel and social good stories have been published in the National Wildlife Federation's e-book, Be Out There, at the Huffington Post, TravelingMom.com, HiltonMomVoyage.com, ThisGirlTravels.com and BlogHer. Elena is passionate about fostering self-sufficiency and empowering others on her website, LiveDoGrow.com.