Aging Strongly

Some lessons I learned from training through or around minor injuries, aches, and pains.

Dec 10, 2021
Aches and pains are an inevitable part of life. 
At some point, your body will hurt when you are doing the things you love. 
You will have a choice. 
Stop doing what brings you joy. Or, find out what is causing the pain and fix it. 
When someone says they, “no longer run because it hurts their knees” or they “don’t want to try CrossFit because they don’t want to get injured” or “they have a bad X, Y, or Z body part that stops them from doing A, B, or C fun activity”... I want nothing more than to sit them down and tell them what follows. 
My adherence to social norms prevents me from doing this. 
Instead, while they are standing there telling me they can’t, I am screaming in my head… Yes, yes you can. 
I’ll put an extra disclaimer up top this time. Only you know your body. If you have or suspect an injury, you should absolutely get medical advice from a professional. 
My intention is to share my experience dealing with minor, yet nagging injuries that have crept up and how I’ve learned to work through injuries and recover faster. 
Some of the injuries or issues I have dealt with: 
  • IT Band Syndrome 
  • Hip Impingement 
  • Knee Bursitis
  • Shoulder Pain 

IT Band Syndrome 

The iliotibial band runs from the knee to the hip. In some runners, it can rub against the knee, causing pain. In my case, it started happening in my early 20s. No amount of “traditional” physical therapy or chiropractic work helped. 
Running over 2 miles was painful. The advice at the time was foam roll the side of your leg. It never worked. At some point, I gave up on running. 
I started doing yoga, which if you know me now is funny. 
Ten years later I started doing CrossFit and we would run for short distances. 400 meters here, 800 meters there. I didn’t experience pain running in these short distances. I could even push it sometimes and run further. I don’t really know why. 
Seven years after that, I started running more on a treadmill. I found I could run a 5K without pain. My knee would get a little tight but it didn’t hurt. 
Then two years after that the IT band pain fired itself back up. I was devastated. I had no idea what had changed. I tried dry-needling. Not much impact. I did exercises to strengthen my glute medius. That might have helped. 
One physical therapist (PT) analyzed my running form and suggested I stop overstriding (landing with my leg too far out in front of me) and increase my cadence (steps per minute). That totally helped.  
Recently I stumbled on a video about IT Band Syndrome by E3 Rehab, a YouTube channel run by a group of PTs who provide evidence-based education to help people improve their quality of life. 
In 15 minutes, this guy covered what took me 20 years to figure out. 
  • Rolling (while very helpful for other things) probably doesn’t help with IT band syndrome
  • Reducing volume of running and easing back in are best
  • Improving running form and increasing cadence are your best bets
  • Strengthening exercises can help too, but it’s not proven that weakness is a cause.
One could argue that I should have been able to figure this all out 20 years ago. But I didn’t get lucky with the PTs I stumbled on. I didn’t know the right questions to ask. The Internet wasn’t quite what it is today. And even if it was, it takes time to find the right experts. 
The lessons I learned from this:
  • Be your own advocate
  • Do your own research
  • Don’t give up

Hip Impingement

About a year into my CrossFit training, I developed a strong pinching sensation when I was squatting. No amount of stretching helped release this painfully tight feeling. I was again devastated. My coach introduced me to a PT who specialized in myofascial release and active release therapy. 
This woman changed my life in two sessions. She diagnosed and treated the pain, but also helped me understand what was going on underneath. She gave me a couple of exercises to do to retrain my psoas, a muscle that connects the spine to the hip. The relief was immediate and I was back to squatting really fast. 
Given my long fight with IT band pain, I was shocked that the answer could be found so fast. 
The lessons I learned from this:
  • Soft tissue work is very effective for me 
  • Tightness is often a sign of weakness, requiring strengthening, not stretching
  • While full recovery may take time, movement can often reduce pain  

Knee Bursitis 

I am 99% sure I gave myself knee bursitis by wearing high heels too much. Seemingly out of nowhere my knee got swollen and bending it was painful. 
It took me about two months to recover. During that time I could not bend my knee without pain. But I could hinge at the hips and my upper body was fine. 
I continued to do CrossFit throughout. I modified everything that required knee bending. Surprisingly, it was not that difficult. 
To rehab my knee this time, I worked with two PTs. 
One was covered by my insurance. He was good. He combined some soft tissue work, some exercises. But our sessions, twice per week, were short. It was clear that he was only reimbursed for 10 minutes of soft tissue work so it was slow moving. 
The second PT was out of pocket. She was great. She was the one who helped me with the hip impingement. One hour with her cost about eight times the co-pay for a session with the other guy, but every session with her felt like weeks of progress.  
The lessons I learned from this:
  • I can absolutely train around an injury
  • There is a difference between good and great

Shoulder Pain

My right shoulder has nagged me for years. I’ve seen PTs and sports massage professionals. It all helps. But the pain is somewhat persistent. This led me to randomly throwing tons of shoulder exercises into my program for years. 
This year I read Rebuilding Milo by Dr. Aaron Horschig, a sports physical therapist who often tweets smart things like this.
I went through his protocols for testing my shoulder range of motion and pain. The assumption I formed was that my lower trap muscle was the culprit. I have since focused on increasing the stability of that muscle and my pain is significantly reduced, while I’ve cut down my shoulder rehab exercise to just 2 or 3 a couple of times per week. 
This coupled with monthly sports massage (shout out to Clyde at Golden Sports Massage) keeps me in the game.
The lessons I learned from this:
  • The solution is almost always in movement
  • I should learn more about how my body works and how to diagnose my aches and pain 
  • You don’t need 1000 exercises to fix something, just a few will do
In the last 10 years, I’ve had at least four opportunities to throw in the towel. Four moments when I could have taken a long break from training. If I had, who knows if I would have ever shown up again.
In fitness and training, consistency matters. Sure, you will see some results in a couple of months. But in a couple of years… wow! That is where the magic starts to dazzle. 
And if you never stop… you have the chance to live your best life until the end. 
My goals for the next couple of decades are to keep gaining strength. 
At some point, more weight on the bar might not be in the cards. 
But lifting everyday, walking up and down stairs without pain, carrying my own bags, picking up heavy things, having the stamina to walk and hike for hours… These are things I never want to stop. 

Injuries happen. Movement is medicine. Knowledge is power. 

Getting old isn’t an excuse to give up. Our bodies are machines that need maintenance. You can either run well for 300,000+ miles or start falling apart after 75,000.   
I’ll leave you with a few folks that put out great content for dealing with various injuries: 
  • KneesOverToesGuy (Instagram): For anyone with knee pain. 
  • E3 Rehab: Super helpful videos on just about every muscle and joint challenge 
  • WIT Move: Videos explaining how to use rollers and balls to release back and neck pain by the PT that saved me more than once. 
  • Huberman Lab Podcast (episode 9): This is a 1.5 hour course in how to Control Pain & Heal Faster with Your Brain
Can you imagine if I launched into this every time someone tells me about their bad knee? Would I even have friends?!?
👩‍⚕️ You should consult a medical professional before starting an exercise routine.
🙏 Thank you for reading. If you have questions, please ask. 
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