Apr 10, 2010

Know your injuries: Piriformis Syndrome

Injuries are best recognized early. Last weekend, I noticed a pain in my glutes during a long run that I had never experienced earlier. The pain was so severe that I had to cut short my long run to 12.5 miles. As a seasoned runner, it's easy to distinguish between discomfort and pain. Discomfort is what we runners long for; if you don't feel the discomfort towards the end of your training runs, you're not training hard enough. Part of the training experience is running through discomfort. But pain is an entirely different story. Running through a pain is reckless and often an invitation to injuries. One of the reasons I avoid taking NSAIDs and other pain killers during runs is that they suppress this vital signaling system in our body. If you're in pain your body is telling you there is something wrong and you better listen to it.

I had a tough time putting a finger on this pain. With Google as my sports therapist, I was trying to find what running injury can make you feel as if you have a golf ball pressing against your butt when you sit and can cause severe pain when you run. I went through the inflammation symptoms of every muscle in the hip and glutes and finally narrowed it down to the Piriformis muscle. Reading more about Piriformis Syndrome only confirmed it. Inflammation of this muscle will apply pressure on the Sciatic nerve and hence the pain.  Of course, Google can never replace professional medical help but given the state of my grad school health insurance this was my first instinct.

With that plausible diagnosis, the suggested course of action is:
1. Stop running for a few weeks
2. Stretch the Piriformis
3. Seek medical help if it becomes worse

Not running is unthinkable. I don't remember when was the last time I did not run continuously for days together. I prefer to tread cautiously. I have significantly lowered my training volume this week (from 65-70 to 30) and that seems to be helping. But what really helps are the stretches. I've never been a fan of stretching but I can swear by this one. I am doing stretches in this video religiously now.

I will still be running Cherry Blossom normally as a test run for the Mountain MD marathon. No marathon has worried me like this one. This tortuously hilly marathon can wreak havoc on my glutes and hip muscles. The verdict is on Sunday.


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