Sometimes advice comes from far away

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By Paul Oppenheim

Running Columnist

Back around Thanksgiving I was on a Saturday run with the OWies when my gimpy knee suddenly collapsed, causing me to stagger. But I regained balance and continued the run, though noticing a little irritation in my upper hamstring muscle. Later it became really sore, and I limped around for the rest of the day, figuring that the sudden lurch had probably pulled the hamstring. After a couple of days it felt somewhat better, so I stretched and tried a little running again. But no luck, I couldn't go more than a few blocks without pain, so I scheduled a session with my massage therapist.

Nothing to worry about, just a little muscle pull I thought. But when I again tried to resume running I couldn't get more than a couple of blocks without needing a walking break. Afterwards, as before, I was extremely sore, needing a few days for the pain to subside. This went on for nearly a month -- I'd feel like things were improving, but a little running resulted in the same routine of soreness and limping. I looked (and felt) like an old man, struggling to climb stairs. Something was clearly wrong.

But we were scheduled to go on vacation for three weeks, and I was "between doctors." My former long-time primary care doc had moved away, and I hadn't yet gotten established with a new one. What to do?

In frustration I decided to email my friend Ellen Pavlovic for advice. Ellen is a nice Oak Park girl, an accomplished runner and a member of the Oak Park Runners Club, who somehow lost her way, and is practicing physical therapy in faraway Dubai. I described my problem and she responded immediately, saying that she has a few people "over here" suffering from the same thing, and adding a couple of descriptive paragraphs full of technical diagnostic terms like "insertional tendonopathies" with detailed explanations of my probable injury. Surprisingly, contrary to usual runners' wisdom, heavy stretching was not a recommended remedy.

Dr. Ellen added that anti-inflammatory medications might also be worth a try, especially "if it is particularly 'grumpy' (that's the tendon, not you)." Glad she clarified that. She also feels that a big culprit of hamstring issues is weak gluteal (butt) muscles, and emailed me a sheet of specific exercises for strengthening my gluteals.

Wow, from halfway around the world I've gotten almost immediate diagnosis and rehabilitation advice. That's amazing when I recall my younger days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, when those flimsy little paper airmail letters took a couple of weeks to get to my folks, and their response took a similar amount of time. No hovering helicopter parents in those days!

So, I'm following Ellen's program, and in the meantime I managed to schedule an appointment with my new doctor here in Oak Park. And he agreed with Dr. Ellen Pavlovic, of Dubai.

Sometimes help comes from unexpected places.

Paul Oppenheim is a member of the Oak Park Runners Club.

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