I used to run through my aches and pains and told myself it made me a tougher runner. It turns out I was injuring myself even more. With each mile I logged, the tiny tears in my left ACL grew and grew, leaving me vulnerable to the nearly-full tear I experienced at Mile 12 of the Atlantic City Half Marathon in October 2012.
The resulting surgery and therapy -and the 9 months off from running while it healed- gave me the chance to work with orthopedists and physical therapists to learn all about my body and how to take care of it. They introduced me to an arsenal of tools to help keep my knee, and the rest of my joints, healthy and happy through the miles:
TENS Unit: This was a gift from the running gods, let me tell you. When I started physical therapy after my surgery, my therapist put the pads on my thigh to stimulate the muscles and basically bring them to life again. I was given my own machine for use at home (thank you, health insurance!!), and was shown how to use it for pain management too. It was magic – there were still the usual post-surgery pains, but I could move around the house a lot easier while the pads were on and “buzzing”. Eventually the TENS became a part of my every day routine – 20 minutes on the bad knee at the end of the day to relax and revive the muscles, with ice & a quick massage. Now, 13 months after the surgery, I still use these puppies on my bad knee after a tough run or long day on my feet – hell, I even use it on my good knee too, to ease the usual overuse pains it’s developed with the extra pressure it had to take on while the bad knee healed. It’s like a little package of magic, and I don’t know what I’d do without it!
Ice: Even on the coldest days, I’ll ice up after a run if I’ve felt any little pinches or pops during my run. It’s a simple way to calm down any inflammation I may have, whether it’s because of a hilly run or a humid day (thanks to the surgery, I’m one of those people whose knees swell in even a tiny bit of humidity).
Glucosamine Chondroitin: AKA Osteo-Bi-Flex or any of the popular Glucosamine tablets you can find in the pharmacy. These are expensive, but I take them every day because I can feel an obvious difference if I don’t! My orthopedist didn’t want to do surgery immediately. Instead, he gave me these pills for 6 weeks, had me do daily strengthening exercises, and let the swelling go down. In my case, surgery turned out to still be necessary, but I’m convinced that these pills (along with the strengthening exercises that I still do to this day) helped me get stronger and made it possible for me to bounce back from surgery as quickly as I did.
Now, here’s the key: these are just tools. They only work if I put in the hard work and *train* with them! Strength training has been a HUGE part of the recovery process for me, as we determined it was the lack of training that got me here in the first place! I neglected to build up my leg muscles and only focused on mileage while I trained for my race, and that (combined with my family history of weak knees) spelled disaster for me at Mile 12.
Now that I know how to take care of and listen to my body, training post-ACL reconstruction is a lot of work, but it’s not impossible. If you’ve had an injury, how do you cope with it in your training? Have you ever used a TENS unit? What are your thoughts on glucosamine? Tell me all about it in the comments!