To avoid injury, try mixing it up a bit more- Staying In The Game

Portland-area running coach Brian (Ziggy) Gillespie and I have worked together for over 20 years. I love his coaching system of mixing speed work, long runs and plenty of recovery time.

One of his female athletes was having issues with her lower back when she started to increase her distance and speed for racing. She has the mental stamina and physique for running middle to long distances. She knew she could be competitive in her age group.

Her job required her to sit at her computer for hours at a time. This combination of sitting and only running created a chronic, low-grade back pain without sciatica (pain traveling down the leg).

Our examination found her to be very fit, with muscle spasm and reduced range of motion in her sacroiliac joint and left lower back.

X-rays of her low back revealed a birth defect in her lumbar joints. One side of her spine was shaped differently than the other. We also pointed out a stone in her gallbladder.

She is a very compliant and motivated patient. A plan of action included manipulation of her pelvis and spine with exercise to do before and after her runs. She did a series of massage and consulted with David Knop, PT at Livevital in Portland, for core exercises.

Cross training, including cycling, which she resisted and now loves, along with yoga were encouraged. Her competitive nature was satisfied when she took up tennis.

She is able to run, but racing is no longer an option. She now knows participating in multiple sports will allow her to continue her exercise program, maintaining her health and fitness.

Racket sports can create the same overuse issue if done exclusively. The former tennis pro at Prout’s Neck Country Club referred a player to my office.

He was a college squash player ranked number two in the nation, and a competitive tennis and paddle tennis player.

Do you think he may suffer from overuse of his right side? His pain was on the right side of his middle back and shoulder blade. It had been going on for a number of years, gradually getting more uncomfortable.

Examination revealed a muscle spasm between his spine and shoulder blade. He had no pain radiating down his arm.

X-rays showed a vertebra in his middle back was compressed on one side, causing a slight curve in his spine. This structural weakness along with the overuse of his right arm was causing the spasm and pain.

Because stopping squash and tennis was out of the question, we had to develop a plan that would allow him to compete at the highest level without aggravating his spine.

Exercises to balance the muscles were prescribed along with chiropractic adjustments. He had to do an extensive stretching program to avoid arthritis from developing later in the spine. Much of this was done with a fitness ball and hot room yoga.

Cross training included golf, swimming and cycling. While he still has minor issues with his spine, he can still compete in racket sports.

Both of these athletes were trying to compete at the highest level. They had limited themselves to a specific sport that resulted in overuse of specific muscles. They each had a structural defect that created instability in their spine. They used their competitiveness to overcome these shortcomings.