The Wheel of Running Misfortune 2014: The left calf problem

This medicine is a skeletal muscle relaxant. The precise way it works is unknown, but it is thought to depress the central nervous system. It has no direct effect on the muscle.

That paragraph is included with information accompanying my prescription of methocarbamol. Needless to say, it does not exactly engender confidence. It seems the more I read about pharmaceuticals, the less I want to use them. (Not that I use them that much. Once in a blue moon I will take ibuprofen for a nagging, persistent headache, but that is about it.)

It is that time of year again! Not only is it October, the best month of the year, it is time once again to spin the WHEEL…OF…RUNNING…MISFORTUNE! For me, running-related overuse injuries have a habit of cropping up around late-summer or early-autumn. I am not sure why. I warm up and stretch before runs, and then stretch afterward, but for some reason I always sustain some kind of overuse injury once a year. Probably because I do not rest enough.

Anyway, the wheel has spun. Which panel is the flipper pointing at this year? My left calf.

A couple weeks ago it started feeling a little tight. I only noticed it toward the end of a run and immediately afterward, but it disappeared after I cooled down. I thought it was only tightness, thought I needed to take some time off and give it more attention when stretching. I was overdue for a week off, anyway. However, I decided to go for one last run before taking a break.

I felt great and had had no issues that day. But on my final run (I have slowly been building distance and time by running sets of six minutes and walking one minute between runs), my calf tightened when I started running. It felt like it was telling me, “Nope. I’m not going any farther.” I clinched my teeth and ran through it — which was probably not the best thing to do. Regardless, the severe tightness remained after I stopped running and I could not stretch it out. Though not debilitating, it bothered me throughout the weekend despite daily stretching and sessions with a foam roller.

Over time the tightness slowly dissipated. After a week of rest it was gone and I went for a short test run yesterday. Unfortunately, the tightness returned toward the end. It was not as severe, but it made me suspect something more serious than muscle tightness, something that would not respond to stretching and massage. Perhaps I had pulled or [gulp] torn something. After a self-diagnosis using online sources, that is what I think happened. I apparently sustained what one website calls a “Grade 1” muscle strain.

The Internet, despite all its drawbacks, is a very good source of information regarding injuries and treatment. (One has to weed it out, though.) However, I also wanted to get a professional, physical evaluation from a doctor. May as well, right? Why pay for health insurance and not use it when I have health issues?

Sometimes when I visit the doctor, I get the sense he and I are not on the same page. It seems like something is lost in the translation when I tell him about what I assume is a relatively minor overuse injury. He hears, “OH MY GOD! MY LEG FEELS LIKE IT IS GOING TO EXPLODE! GIVE ME PAINKILLERS!” I’m exaggerating, but it always seems like we start talking about two different things. That is exactly what happened today: I told the doctor about tightness and the suspicion that I tore a calf muscle, and he starts talking about clots, numbness, heart attacks, and lactic acid. Okay… I guess clotting and precursors to a heart attack were something he wanted to disqualify, but I was pretty sure he was wasting time. (To be fair, I suppose he has to consider everything.) All I wanted was for him to confirm that I strained my calf. I suppose he did in a way (he told me he suspected it was “muscular-skeletal in origin”), but he also prescribed me a muscle relaxer — the previously mentioned methocarbamol — and also threw in a bottle of naproxen, apparently for good measure. All righty! Needless to say, I walked away from the doctor’s office thinking I was better off with my Google-researched self-diagnosis and treatment plan: RICE and ibuprofen. (The doctor suggested “warm compression,” which I will try.)

Regardless, I’m once again on the disabled list. No more running, biking, or extensive walking for a while. I already felt like a tub of lard after a week of not running. After a couple more weeks of inactivity I may actually be a tub of Crisco.

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