A couple months after I pulled my hamstring, I’d done everything I knew to help myself heal — complete rest mixed with stretches mixed with incremental moderate exercise — but it still wasn’t getting better. Or it wasn’t getting better fast enough to suit me.
And then my knee flared up. At times, it was so painful that I had trouble sleeping, and for about a week I had to take the stairs like a toddler: one step at a time. I bought a knee brace and started wearing it during the day, both to provide support and slow me down.
It was miserable.
When I began worrying about irreparable damage — ground-down cartilage, shattered knee caps, crutches — I knew it was time for an expert to weigh in. I googled physical therapists, picked one, and went.
Right away, they put my fears about my knee to rest. My injury was the hamstring, that was it. They barely even looked at my knee. Fix the hamstring, they said, and everything else would be fine. The peace of mind I got from that, right there, was absolutely worth the 150-dollar initial consult fee.
To start, they did all the normal stuff like watching me walk and then testing my range of motion, and then they pressed on certain points on my legs — but not directly on the sore spots — to find the places where the fascia, sandwiched between muscle, had locked into, or fused with, the damaged muscle.
Here’s how I understand it. Think of a piece of raw chicken and how the skin slips back and forth over the meat. That’s how the fascia is supposed to move, but when there’s been an injury, the fascia sticks to the muscle and then the muscles don’t slide properly.
So what this particular physical therapy practice does (and it’s their specialty, apparently) is fascia work. At each session, they zeroed in on a couple stuck spots and then did deep tissue massage — five minutes or so per spot — which inflames the area, causing the blood to rush in, along with all sorts of other good, fight-the-stuck-fascia “things” which then loosens everything up and promotes healing. (Since the inflammation is good, anti-inflammatory meds during treatment are a no-no.)
The spots they chose to work on depended on where I was feeling pain, but often were in some other part of my body altogether. Like, when my hip started bothering me, they worked on my inner calf muscle and my lower back. When my foot acted up, they worked on the top of my foot between my toes. The therapist would first use a percussion tool to numb the area and then dig in with her elbow or knuckles. At first it would feel painful — or “nervy,” rather — but by the end it would feel about fifty percent less bad, or at least that was the goal. After that, they’d wrap the worked-on area in towels and a heating pad and leave me to bake for about 10 minutes. Once the timer dinged, we’d review the stretching exercises from the previous therapy session and learn new ones, and off I’d go.
Gradually, I began running again. First, only a mile every other day, then two miles, and then finally back up to 3-4 miles four times a week. And I was religious about my twice-daily stretches. The whole routine took a ton of time — mornings I did the complete running and stretching work-up, it took almost a full two hours! — but I was determined to wring as much healing out of the appointments as I could. My leg never stopped hurting — it continued to feel heavy and clunky when running — but I could tell it was much improved, and I wasn’t having any knee problems at all.
And then, because I felt so much better, I canceled this week’s appointment and played Ultimate, the first time since the injury. For two hours I played — gingerly, slowly, carefully — and it felt wonderful, but even so, it aggravated my hamstring enough that I’ve had to lay off the running. [hangs head] I’ve doubled down on the stretching exercises, and now — because at a hundred dollars a pop, I feel like we should be able to do much of the therapy at home — each evening my husband works on my leg: I locate trigger points and set a timer, and he reads a book while mindlessly elbowing me in the leg. He even gives me a heat treatment afterward! (Maybe we should open our own PT business?)
Seriously, though. How long does it take for a hamstring injury to heal? And do they ever completely heal? This whole process has been so long and drawn out, it’s beginning to make me wonder….
This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.17.20), a bloody tale, passion fruit juice, the Peru post, a new room, in progress, kale tabbouleh with cucumbers and tomatoes, starfruit smoothie, garlicky spaghetti sauce.