If you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen that last week I put up a photo of myself getting dry needling.
Now, first let me say that I HATE needles. I know most people say that….or they say “I LOVE it”, but I am so far in the hate camp that when I get my bloodwork done for Inside Tracker a few times a year, I have to lie down, look away, and let a lone tear roll out my eye.
So when Sarah told me that dry needling was what saved her hip flexor and allowed her to run Boston marathon (she finished 2nd American woman), it really caught my attention.
But at the time, I didn’t have anything that was THAT urgent to be prepared to have lots of needles poked in my leg.
I have told you in the past that I have had peroneal issues. That is why I had the Runners Connect writer research it to see if he could find anything new that I had yet to consider.
My pain had been going on for years now, coinciding almost to the day with my first visit to UVA Speed Clinic. I had also had many chats with the UVA guys about why this was happening.
Max simply said that it would eventually balance itself out, and once we fixed the biomechanical issues, it would get better.
So Drew and I went to work on that, and we have come a loooooonnngggggg way, but yet the peroneal pain still comes back to haunt me often.
Some weeks it is bad, other weeks I don’t feel it at all.
Some runs I couldn’t tell you which leg it was, others I considered walking as I get that gut feeling that this is NOT good.
But it just never seemed to be constant to where we could pinpoint it on something.
The only thing we did notice, was that it mostly occurred on easy days.
The days that are critically important to recovery, were the days where it wold bother me most….and not at the start of the run, but would start getting angry around 5 miles into a run.
We came to the conclusion that it must be something about my efficiency. When I run slower, I am less efficient in some way that overloads that peroneal muscle.
Made it very tempting to speed up on recovery runs……but I still kept it easy, even if that meant more treatment after.
Let me just say that the pain I felt has never been more than a 6 or 7 out of 10, and I would say across the last 2 years it has been an average of a 3, so I am not talking serious pain here.
I also found that when I took my time off, it would always come back with a vengeance. Once I start running again, it was pretty sore for the first week, especially after my usual 2 week time of no exercise after a marathon.
Cue freakout; HOW AM I GOING TO MAKE IT THROUGH A SEASON?!?!
But once I got going, gradually the pain subsided, and it would go back to its random pain.
As you know, I am the kind of person who puts my health first.
The pain associated with the peroneal was tolerable.
I could easily keep going as I have been, and in a lot of ways I have been. After two years, I just expect it a lot of the time, and just….well, get on with it.
There was that voice in my head that said, “hey, uhhh something is WRONG here, so why are you ignoring it? Even if you can run on it, it HURTS….yes, that means you need to LISTEN”
I did not want to be one of those 60 year old runners who hobbles along, barely able to run because of so many years of ignoring a pain that should have been dealt with years ago, and is now going to be there for the rest of my life.
Although of course I realize that mine probably already is chronic.
That being said, we had not stopped searching for treatment to help fix the problem.
Drew and I have continued to work on the biomechanical issues, and Saucony provides me with lots of beautiful shoes to try see which ones help it feel better.
But as for the pain, I have seen probably 10-12 experts about it, and it leaves all of them scratching their heads.
Most of the time when I see a specialist about it, they do some kind of treatment that they believe will work, it hurts like hell as they get right into the spot that hurts OR they share some kind of AHA! noise with me, to where they believe they have fixed the problem, but then the next day my peroneal is even angrier.
Kind of like when you have a bug bite.
The feeling you get when you first give in to the itch and scratch it feels ahhhmaazing, and you think this relief will last forever, but then soon after, the itch comes back ten times worse.
That is how it always felt after someone got into it.
So I had not really allowed anyone to go near it over the past six months. Karen and Dr Mike Sullivan are the only people I really allow to go near it, and even to them, who I see every week, and trust very much, I dont really let them touch the specific spot, but instead work all around it.
Both of those treatments do actually leave it feeling better the next day, but a few days later, it comes back again.
Sorry, this is turning into a really long story, but basically, steve and I were frustrated.
We knew this wasnt something we could just accept as fact and just ignore that I was in pain, so we kept searching.
Kept asking other experts we knew, who would give me advice, and they were fantastic! Most recently, Dr Pribut (who I had on the podcast), has been SO helpful, and has given a lot of recommendations that have eased the pain, and made me consider things I never had before after he looked at some videos of the way I run.
The most important part of this was using this wobble board to do exercises.
“That can help with muscle strength, balance and joint position sense. And it is especially good for the peroneal tendons. It may work a bit better for more distal tendon problems but is worth a go.
I usually recommend starting with a side to side movement for 30 seconds to a minute. Then adding one more exercise about every 5 days: side to side movement, then circles touching the edge clockwise, then circles counter-clockwise. After 3.5 weeks or so, you’ll be doing these four exercises. You may add in one leg balance and front back exercises if you like after that. “
I asked him if I could get one of the cheaper boards, this is what he said:
“Just think – would you like to run the marathon in $19.95 shoes or Keds or Chuck Ts :-)”
I did purchase that one purely because he recommended it, that’s how much I trust his opinion, but he lives a long way away, so I could not see him for treatment.
If you are struggling with peroneal tendinitis, that would be where I would start.
However, with CIM growing closer, Steve and I decided it was also time for something a little more drastic.
I was VERY nervous about this. Not just the idea of the needles, but about having someone else poke around in the very area that hurts, which could set me in for another few weeks of pain every day if he made it angry.
But Dr Kyle Bowling came very well recommended.
I drove to Louisville to see him one afternoon, and he spent 90 minutes (!!) diagnosing me and giving treatment.
Once again, we concluded it was peroneal tendonitis, and Kyle made it VERY clear that this was never going to stop coming back until I fixed my hip drop, as that was the real source of the problem here.
So once again, Drew and I are hitting my glute muscles hard to work on that.
But yes, so Dr Kyle said he would like to try dry needling on the area, and that I probably would be angry at him for a few days, but it should help.
I braced for the pain of the treatment, and to be honest, it was every bit as bad as I expected.
But not in the traditional pain way. I had experienced runs with this pain more than what I had in this treatment (although keep in mind that I have had a lot of intense physio treatment in my life, so be prepared for it to HURT).
For me though, it was more just getting the needles in.
I was dripping sweat the entire time. I was biting down on my shirt. I was trying not to cry.
I really freakin hate needles.
It feels like he flicks them into your leg (one at a time), and then twists them, kind of as if you had a cut, and then someone puts their nail into that cut.
It is a strange sensation, as the sharp pain is on the very inside of your body.
After 29 needles (!!),he used E-stim to make the muscle contract to make the treatment even more effective.
That was a pretty uncomfortable 15 minutes, but Kyle and I just chatted away about running as he is training for a sub 2:40 at Indy Monumental next month.
But I survived, and it really wasnt THAT bad.
Before I left for the day, Kyle reminded me once again, that it would probably be pretty sore tomorrow and that this was not going to go away for good until I fixed my form.
I sheepishly asked him if I could still do my hill + tempo workout I had planned for the next day, and my mouth dropped to the floor when he said, “yeah, sure!”
I was fully expecting him (like most experts) to tell me to take it very easy for the next few days, and to give me a lecture about it.
But no, that is one of the best things about Kyle.
Not only is he a fantastic doctor, who just makes you feel so comfortable and in good hands, but he understands running, he KNOWS how it feels to miss a training run (as he is going through it too!), and he is not going to tell you not to run unless he really thinks you are making it worse.
So the next day, I braced for pain, but it never came.
My peroneal felt the best it had in a long time!
And it continued to for the rest of the week.
It was only towards the end of the week that the pain started to come back, but that makes sense as the miles had gradually tightened the area back up again, and it was time for another treatment.
So back I went on Tuesday after my workout this time, relieved that it had helped, and we went a little more aggressive with the treatment.
He noted that it did not feel as bad as last week, but was definitely still worse than the other side.
I felt in very good hands, and trusted him to know how to treat it.
The next day, I was in a lot of pain on my run.
But this time, it was a different spot. It was on the inside of my leg, towards my heel.
The pain was more than I had experienced in a long time, to the point where I nearly considered cutting my run as it scared me.
I got home, texting Kyle, once again freaking out.
But he said with the aggressive treatment, he was not surprised, and that the pain in this different spot was probably because the peroneals had let go a little, and it was from those medial muscles working harder than they are used to.
I believe in Kyle, and so I let it go, and eagerly awaited to see how it felt the next day.
The next day there was nothing.
It felt great, no pain in any of the spots, and my calf felt noticeably different.
It has felt pretty good all week, which was a huge relief.
Now, I know this has been a monster post, especially about something so personal.
This is something that is going to “help” very few of you, and for those of you nodding your head with peroneal pain too, you HAVE to get the diagnosis that it is in fact peroneal tendinitis, NOT a fibula stress fracture or Achilles tendonitis.
Those can sometimes come across as peroneal pain and match the symptoms, but they are completely different treatments to what I am talking about today.
If you are definitely sure you have peroneal tendinitis, I would start with the exercises I recommended above from Dr Pribut, and then see if you can seek out dry needling treatment too. I am not saying it will work for everyone, but for me, this has been a game changer.
I also wanted to share my relief, my trust, my good gut feeling about Dr Kyle and the treatment he is giving me.
Rather than looking at the next few months training for CIM hoping that my peroneal will make it through, instead I look forward with confidence, that even if I see him just once a week, that will be enough to calm it down and maybe even help it go away for good.
I realize that I will have to ultimately fix this at the source, and we are working on it, but I can’t tell you how good it feels to have this respond positively to a treatment, and therefore, Dr Kyle, this is to you, THANK YOU!
I am so lucky to have such a wonderful support network around me, and people like Dr Pribut and Dr Kyle make it possible for me to keep chasing my dreams.
So, I would like to welcome Cotton Candy and Cookie Dough to Team Ice Cream!
Have you ever had dry needling? Fan?