Whatever Works

A few months ago, I injured my Achilles tendon while running. Halfway through a 10K run, I felt a sharp pain above my right heel, so of course I continued to run. When I got home, I shoved ice in my sock and forgot about it.

The next morning, my Achilles was stiff and sore, so of course I ran. It was throbbing by the time I finished my workout and by the next day looked like it had developed an Adam’s apple. I stopped running for a few days, and when that didn’t help, I went to the doctor. He told me to take three weeks off, gave me a sheet of exercises and – as he had done before – suggested replacing running with cycling or, God forbid, swimming. Permanently.

This is a serious injury. Time, I decided, to treat it as such. So I Googled “Achilles tendon” and got nearly 4 million results. (When I searched “Achilles tendon injuries and the Beatles” I got 7.5 million. Odd.) Sites like Mayoclinic.com and WebMD were filled with sound medical advice, the stuff based on science. But I wanted something better, the kind of information you can get only from bloggers and people who know how to set up a website. I started with running forums. Perfect. Runners talking about themselves and their injuries – two of their favourite subjects.

Their advice was as follows: Ice your leg. Stretch your calf like this (link to video of someone leaning against a door). Take two months off. Put a heat pack on it. Don’t run in the morning. Give aqua-jogging a try. Use an elliptical. You need orthotics. You need heel lifts. Run barefoot. Get physical therapy. For God’s sake don’t run barefoot. Try a sports massage. Stand on a stair and lower your heel, putting your weight on your tendon until it hurts. And my favourite, “When I hurt my Achilles, I sat around eating pizza and junk food for six months. I gained 10 kilos and had a blast.”

Take that, Mayoclinic.com.

I read medical abstracts, all of which had long, Latinate names in their titles, like Tendo calcaneus. Anything with diagrams and charts made me feel smarter. I had no idea what any of it meant.

From there, my search got New Agey. The problem with my Achilles might have been in my approach to running. What kind of runner am I? (Slow.) Do I land on my heel, midfoot, forefoot, both feet? (Last year, I landed on my shoulder and separated it, but that seemed unrelated.) I found a site that took a martial arts approach to running, which I found interesting because I consider running a method of self-defense. If you try to hit me, I’ll run away.

Finally, I got to the merchandise. There were all kinds of socks and things with Velcro straps and bands and braces and boots. I’m not sure how many of them work or how many of them I bought. I do know that judgement takes a hiatus if a runner hears that a product will get him back on the street fast.

In the end, I went with – as all runners must – the advice that resonated. I stuck to it, faithfully, for about a year. Now the challenge is to run off the four kilograms I’ve gained and figure out what to order on my second free pizza.

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