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December 9th, 2021

So You Got Injured During a Race, What Now?

by Connor Hesselbirg

I’m lined up and ready to go.  THE RACE I’ve been waiting to run for years. Boston.  The unicorn.  All that training and hard work is about to pay off. The gun goes off and we start rolling, I’m thinking about what splits I have to keep running to be on PR pace. Then, out of nowhere, my hamstring starts cramping. “Maybe it just needs to loosen up, right?”. I’m about a 10k into the race, and suddenly feel a pop right above my knee and into your hamstring.  My mind begins to panic.  Can I even finish?

All those negative thoughts rushed into my head thinking it’s a complete tear and I won’t be able to finish this race, let alone run for the next couple months. I went into the medical tent on the course to get it checked out, and there was no bruising around the back of the leg (first major indication of a complete hamstring tear) and the tendon was still intact. Okay, so now I know it’s not as severe as I thought.  I at least can still complete this race, even if it meant walking the whole thing. 

This was the first marathon I ever wanted to run back in 2013, and I am finally here. So many suffered on that day 8 years ago, and still finished the race a year later. So I sure as hell can get across that finish line. I knew the kind of compensations I needed to maneuver to allow myself to keep going without making my injury worse. And as painful as it was, I was able to cross that finish line down on Boylston Street.

As happy as I was to complete the very race I set my heart and soul on for 8 years, I couldn’t stop but think, what do I do about my hamstring? Why or how did it happen? Could I have done something differently to avoid it altogether? I knew the injury wasn’t as severe as my initial reaction, but I still need to figure out just how bad it is and the cause of it to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

So I did what I would tell anyone to do.  I went to see a physical therapist.  The next day after the race, I go into the clinic and get evaluated by Tim. I told him how the injury happened, he evaluated my movement, and gave me an assessment of the severity of my injury. We both determined it was most likely a grade 1 hamstring strain, at worst grade 2. Having that second opinion was all I needed to know exactly what I have to do to rehabilitate myself and get back to running again. 

With all of that being said, it’s time for an update on my own injury. Once my evaluation was over, I began constructing my own recovery and rehabilitation plan to get me back to running and racing sooner than later. With a suspected grade 1 strain of just about any muscle or tendon, you want to start with isometrics, meaning you are trying to use the muscle without the limb or body physically moving in space. An example is trying to bend your knee lying face up into a hard surface like a table or box in a gym, and hold that contraction for 3-10 seconds, rest for twice as long as the contraction, and repeat. 

After keeping up with these kinds of exercises for a few days, I went running on the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill, to see how it felt going through the motions of running and if there was any pain with less pressure going through the muscle itself. I completed a few very short (~15 minute) runs to see how I was progressing, and now happy to say I am running outside and my hamstring is feeling much better! I started incorporating more concentric contractions into my plan, meaning I was working on the kind of muscle activity that shortens the muscle as you use it (like a bicep curl as you bring your hand to your shoulder).

Another supplement to my rehabilitation plan is using the EPAT before doing exercise. Essentially, EPAT helps expedite the healing process within body tissue using high-tech soundwaves. (You can check out more about EPAT here.) Soon, I will be progressing my rehabilitation plan even further, while increasing my running mileage and getting back to full marathon training. 

For those of you still reading, I highly encourage you, if you are experiencing any kind of pain at all, choose physical therapy first. We are highly skilled movement professionals to get you back to doing the activities and hobbies you love to do. If you have any further questions about how physical therapy works (or just want to find out how my recovery is going), give us a call and schedule an appointment!

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