the smell of my desperation has become a stench


Back during the chaos of Christmas I got an appointment with yet another sports doctor. At this point my insurance company probably thinks I’ve got some kinky thing for sports doctors when the reality is I just like to hang and check out the patients. The muscular, athletic patients who probably never replace the toilet paper roll in their daily lives BUT THAT’S NOT MY PROBLEM. I’m just sitting back, enjoying a living, breathing 2012 quarterback calendar.

This was by far the most detailed exam I’ve experienced since I incurred all these running injuries, and yes, that sounds dirty. But stop your mind from going down that drain, SON. My older child was in the room. In fact, she was sitting on the floor writing a book. Yeah, go back and read that sentence and then compare it with the fact that she chose to do that rather than bring a portable gaming system to keep her occupied. Those characters were not going to develop themselves, MOTHER.

This doctor had me perform several exercises in front of him, and then he inspected the alignment of my hips and spine. I balanced on my right foot, then my left, touched my nose with my index finger and then sang the national anthem in pig latin. Dude was thorough.

Turns out my right glute is not firing. Well, DUH. Blame those liberals and their gun laws!

He thinks this is the primary cause of all my injuries. The right side of my butt is so significantly weaker than the left side that my alignment is visibly disrupted. Yeah, yeah, yeah, go ahead. Make a joke about my butt. And I’ll laugh about it as soon as your mom stops texting me photos of her boobs.

Diagnosis: IT band syndrome, specifically where the IT band lines the outside of my knee. Could last another week. Could last indefinitely. In the meantime I’m supposed to seek physical therapy and cease all exercises that exacerbate the pain. Those include: running, spinning, walking, breathing, living. Also, no more hacky sack with the neighbor who grows weed.

(All of my neighbors just glanced around to see if anyone is looking.)

I continue to go to the gym, but gone is the endurance I spent two years developing. I don’t have to tell you how hard it is for me to heed his advice, to stick to really low impact exercises, and if I knew my trainer wouldn’t find out I’d go to spin class and just ignore the pain. Which is what got me into this mess in the first place, but since when have I ever made money off of writing about all my reasonable behavior?

  • arielsara

    2012/01/04 at 2:06 pm

    Lady, that is my EXACT problem. Well, one of them. The most helpful two things have been the two things I have avoided most- Pilates and Massage Therapy. Now Massage Therapy sounds silly, like how on earth can that help? What a waste of time! How banal and luxurious and privileged can you get? But seriously, I have never done anything more painful, and I have run 6 marathons. That shit HURTS. And you will be sore for days. And you will feel so much better that you will be mad you didn’t do it sooner.

  • theurbancowgirl

    2012/01/04 at 2:07 pm

    I’ve had IT issues for YEARS and have managed through a good foam roller. Roll your IT band twice a day to loosen it up and find someone who specializes in sports massage or active release and have them massage the shit out of it. Seriously. I’ve ran 4 half marathons with my IT issues.

  • The Dalai Mama

    2012/01/04 at 2:12 pm

    I have the exact same problem and was just diagnoised by my BFF who is a physical therapist. She gave me some exercises to do and they have helped–when I remember to do them.

    It is hard to dial it back, but heal and you’ll build up that same endurance level and more!

  • kdjmom3

    2012/01/04 at 2:26 pm

    I don’t work for Vibram or a running store or anything. With that disclaimer, I highly recommend Vibram Bikila. I’m 50, mom of 3, ran, cycled, worked out for years, taught spinning…and had IT band syndrome, cortisone shots in my knee, wore orthotics and did stretching, foam rolling, all that. Still ended up with pain when i ran more than 5 miles. Read “Born to Run” in 2009, bought my first pair of Vibrams shortly after, and my IT band issues were GONE. Knee problems GONE. I completed a 1/2 marathon this past October and shaved 20 minutes off my time (had previously walked the last 2 miles due to pain). Orthotics are gone. I’ve felt stronger, more body aware, and love running again. I run on the road, on trails, even when it’s really cold. I even converted my brother who as about to have arthroscopic knee surgery, and he’s now a five-finger runner too.

    I know there is a lot of controversy regarding the whole minimalist running movement–this is just my experience and how it worked for me. I feel for you, being told that it may last indefinitely and not being able to work out the way you like is incredibly hard. I was willing to try anything, and I’m glad I did. I hope that you find something that works for you too. Take care.

  • ChickWhitt

    2012/01/04 at 2:36 pm

    I know what it means when you are right- or left-brained, so what are you good at when you are left-ass cheeked?

  • hillcram

    2012/01/04 at 2:36 pm

    OK, so I read your original post about the Rihanna song. And I should have taken that as a warning not to listen to it while I was running. But I didn’t. And now I’m in week 6 of being injured after pushing myself through the pain in a Turkey Day 8K! That song should be outlawed for workouts…
    I’ve read your blog for years (old much?) now – through both my pregnancies, etc, etc, etc. I, for one, was so glad to see you’d joined the dark side of runners. For purely selfish reasons, of course.
    Good luck with the injury – get a foam roller, a massage therapist and maybe a pool? Oh, and a lucky rainbow colored pony while we’re at it, since we’re wishing big.

  • Daddy Scratches

    2012/01/04 at 2:37 pm

    You announce that the right side of your butt isn’t firing and I’m not supposed to make jokes? Who do you think I am, Mother Teresa?

  • Moomser

    2012/01/04 at 2:48 pm

    Your posts are always so informative, I had absolutely no idea one good have a lazy butt cheek.
    I, of course, would use this as an opportunity to hang up my running shoes and finally veg out on the couch with a tub of ice cream and no guilt, but as you are crazy exercise lady I hope you can get your right glute into shape pronto so you can do something absurd, like run another marathon.

  • virtualcarly

    2012/01/04 at 3:03 pm

    Have you ever looked into Iyengar Yoga? Not other kinds of yoga. Very alignment centric. Very technical. Lots of props. I reeeeeeally think you would like it. But I realllllly don’t want you to write about it causing my yoga studio have sold out classes every day of the week, nomesay?

  • ksommers

    2012/01/04 at 3:50 pm

    Hey Heather… how about swimming? or Bike riding. NOT SPINNING, just cruising on a bike at intervals. Those are generally two things I was told I could do as they are really light on the joints. I don’t suggest skiing or ice skating however… I also don’t know if he recommended a roller, but those things are fucking TORTURE, and amazing all at the same time. I had to quit running about 1.5 years ago because of hip pain related to my IT badn until i was able to manage it, then i got depressed about infertility so i didn’t run then, and now I’m pregnant with twins. And since i got out of shape I’m not really allowed to do exercise but yoga and prenatal swim (aka water aerobics for the youthful) until I pop these kids out. Anyway, You might consider training for things like triathalons instead of marathons to even things out in your body. 26 miles of running is whole hell of a lot for two little knees to deal with.

  • luv and kiwi

    2012/01/04 at 4:08 pm

    Oh Heather…I just sent your post to my best bud Jenn who ran the marathon with me. SAME thing happened to her…SAME diagnosis and probably the same therapy you’re going to have to undergo. I hope she writes you so you have someone who can help you through it. She’s a bad ass in the gym now but it was a frustrating couple of months as she did her PT.

    It’s good you were diagnosed properly…now just do EXACTLY what the doc tells you and don’t beat yourself up over it…

  • laschwarz

    2012/01/04 at 4:11 pm

    I was diagnosed with what sounds like a similar injury as a rower in college. As part of my PT (to re-teach my butt to fire), I had to climb a set of stairs in the training room, WITH my hands on my ass the entire time, to confirm that I was using those muscles, and not my IT band. Of course, without fail the room was always full of other athletes (hot, male athletes) when I had to do this, and oh, the mortification!

  • Pandora Has A Box

    2012/01/04 at 4:14 pm

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked myself into a state of grand athleticism. And then had an injury and been forced to take a break/re-evaluate/do frickin’ tai chi/ride a recumbent bike. It always sucks. I’m always resentful. Then, like Sisyphus, I get back up and push that damned boulder back up the hill again and again until it is easy.

    My advice? Take a deep breath. Pat yourself on the back for running a MARATHON. Give yourself a month of low impact exercises (gentle laps in the pool or Pilates on a reformer) and massages. Then wake up one morning in February and say, “Wow! I feel great! Let’s run the shit out of this day.”

    You are very fortunate that you didn’t hurt yourself more seriously than this. You don’t, for example, need surgery.

    Also, how awesome is Leta for writing a book?! High five, sweet girl!

  • danise

    2012/01/04 at 4:17 pm

    My butt works, but I have dealt with IT band issues for ~15 years. Find a chiropractor who is certified in ART- Active Release Technique. You will question why you’re paying someone money to stab their thumbs into your soft tissue as hard as they possibly can until you’re sweating in pain, but it really, truly works wonders.

  • JenDary

    2012/01/04 at 4:40 pm

    Oooof. Sorry to hear that. Hang in there and keep to the recovery plan… if it’s any consolation, you’ve just convinced me to get off the couch and get my ass on a run. 🙂

  • Riverdruid

    2012/01/04 at 4:46 pm

    I had a similar problem and went to see Mary at Rolfing Salt Lake. It was painful, but I no longer have any pain. I would highly recommend it!

  • bigpathan

    2012/01/04 at 5:02 pm

    A couple of things that might help: – the guy is a genius and following his mobility/stretching routines will save you from further injuries
    Minimal shoes can help – it doesn’t have to the Five finger, you just shouldn’t wear shoes with giant heel lifts.
    Strength workouts that really target your butt.
    Someone else has said it in a previous post but Crossfit would be perfect for you AS LONG AS you get good instruction and don’t over do it. Good luck with the rehab!

  • klate

    2012/01/04 at 5:29 pm

    I’m with many above commenters. Massage (Find an ART or clinical. Will hurt like a son of a bitch, just grit teeth and breathe. Or swear), foam roll it out and stretch. Does wonders!! I’m running Disney this weekend after a pretty annoying ankle injury. Running is HARD on the body so a million kudos for doing it.

  • kdw

    2012/01/04 at 6:14 pm

    Swimming- you may just fall in love. You’ll experience endorphins after you’ve finished a swim AND you can entertain the idea of a future triathlon.

  • annabananna

    2012/01/04 at 6:25 pm

    I’ve had this too, I did physical therapy that included ASTYM treatments with these kinky looking plastic tools that the PT would press up and down the side of my hip, thigh, and knee. It hurt SO good, like a deep tissue massage and I had awesome bruises! After about 8 weeks I felt great!

  • poopinginpeace

    2012/01/04 at 7:17 pm

    Hey Heather! My sister is a nurse practitioner in Milwaukee and she specializes in orthopedics. Want me to see if she can write you a prescription for some good drugs? That and some whisky should do the trick! Then you’ll feel no pain when spinning! Can’t say how your head will feel afterward however….

  • Isabel Kallman

    2012/01/04 at 7:45 pm

    i was just re-diagnosed with IT Band syndrome and start PT on Monday. I had the same injury 12-13 years ago and the PT helped with active release massage and teaching me different stretches. I also rolled on a foam non-stop. I can’t wait to start and feel better soon. In the meantime I have been using a tennis ball to release tightness in my thighs and hips. That has helped as I have waited to see my orthopedist.

    My orthopedist is a lot more constructive about it and given my past experience I’m optimistic I’ll feel better soon after I start therapy.

  • curlsz

    2012/01/04 at 7:49 pm

    Can you do pilates reformer – not mat pilates but the actual reformer machine – it has changed everything about me and has even helped me improve my other workouts like spin – i have craptastic knees and it even helped those!

    also i’m a big proponent of foods helping the body heal itself – if you haven’t seen the documentary Food Matters go now – NOW!! It’s a little dry – I had to watch in two sittings – but amazing information!!!

  • jhankamer

    2012/01/04 at 7:58 pm

    I hope you feel better soon! I’ve had severe back pain for years, and I use a chiropractor and massage therapy to help with the pain. Good luck!

  • Buddahkat

    2012/01/04 at 8:23 pm

    I just wrapped up my physical therapy for something similar. I have a weak left hip which appeared to cause IT band syndrome, but it was not. Anywhooo…the physical therapist gave me some really weird exercises that I did everyday. Then my PT had me run on the treadmill with a camera rolling. He slowed it down and we critiqued my form and he gave me hints. It was awesome and it works. Especially checking form. I went to the U at their big Physical Therapy dept. Good luck and get on it! The Moab half Marathon is in March!!

  • kristinwg

    2012/01/04 at 8:27 pm

    I will bet money you saw an osteopath. If not, you saw a very well trained MD. I would love to hear if you saw a DO. 🙂

  • chapstickmeg

    2012/01/04 at 8:56 pm

    Dude. Look into minimalist running techniques—they are far more gentle on your joints.

    Also. Do some WALL BANGERS! Not as sexy as they sound, but regular wall banging has basically cured my husband’s previously horrible IT band issues.

  • saltchic

    2012/01/04 at 9:14 pm

    I had the same problem, one part of my butt was weaker than the rest. Take the time, do the PT and you can run again. I did it! I don’t even like running or do nearly as much as you have but as long as I am doing the right cross-training I am good.

  • laurabalaura

    2012/01/04 at 11:08 pm

    So sorry to hear about all of this. As a person whose mental health depends on the exercise bandwagon, I totally sympathize. I’m a modern dancer, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with a dance teacher who does movement re-patterning. Basically, she works with people who have spent too much time working out or in dance class, causing muscle imbalances and injuries. Maybe you can find a help from someone who does similar somatic work? I also recommend Moksha or Bikram yoga– a great workout without the impact.

    Swift healing, Heather!

  • ValJean

    2012/01/05 at 2:15 am

    I know nothing about those kinds of injures, but I would bet that something awesome will come out of the time and energy that you usually would have spent at the gym. And I look forward to reading about it, whatever it is.

  • Kristanez

    2012/01/05 at 4:07 am

    My husband has a similar problem, and it was starting to twist his pelvis as well. He was given daily exercises which helped a lot and also got some aggressive needling (a form of acupuncture) and this combination seemed to make a big difference for him.

    That said, every body is different – good luck finding your solution!

  • tommykirchhoff

    2012/01/05 at 8:35 am

    I am in Salt Lake, and I can show you how to fix yourself.

  • crikkett

    2012/01/05 at 9:15 am

    I had almost the exact same injury around the end of 2009. I’d just run a marathon a few months earlier with no real problems (I trained for it for 4+ months). I went out to run an easy 7 miles, out and back from my house. I was right at the midpoint when I felt a sharp ‘pop’ pain around my right knee. This was before I had an iPhone, I had no phone on me, and had to limp 3.5 miles back to my house. It was excruciating.

    Turns out it was an IT band injury, specifically near my right knee. At first, I couldn’t even run 1/2 a mile without being in pain. I was told to ease back into running, and that with time I could go farther. In my experience, it took about 7 months to heal. I used a foam roller a lot, and starting seeing a chiropractor (who was also a massage therapist, SCORE) weekly. I ran a half-marathon in October of 2010, and four more in 2011.

    I say all this to say it will get better. It really will. And all the work you did is not in vain. You’ll be surprised – when you are able to get on that spin bike again, your endurance will come back faster than it took you to build it the first time. Try doing other things, like a recumbent bike, or a rowing machine, and keep lifting weights. It will get better!

  • tommykirchhoff

    2012/01/05 at 9:25 am

    crikkett advises the very practice that broke your body– strength and endurance training. This is unsustainable practice, and she too will one day quit. crikkett will probably get injured again. I can teach you everything you need to know, and I can introduce you to a Chinese doctor like no other who lives in Salt Lake City.

  • crikkett

    2012/01/05 at 10:01 am

    Yes, tommy, because you know everything. This was only my own personal experience. I just wanted to relay my experiences and what has worked for ME. Everyone is different – I am glad you’ve found something that works for you.

    But thanks for predicting my future! I will stop worrying about it now. Or maybe I’ll just retire to the sofa for the rest of my days, you know, since obviously I’m going to injure myself and quit anyway.

  • Rivercat0338

    2012/01/05 at 10:39 am

    Ah, yes, the nefarious IT band. I’m just about done with a round of physical therapy after IT/hip bursitis prevented me from running for 5 months. Sadly, few hot guys at my PT even though several professional athletes have endorsed him. I think they get special home treatments, unlike the rest of us crippled slobs.

  • Caro

    2012/01/05 at 10:45 am

    Hi Heather,

    Here is a very short (15 min)TED talk on pain by Lorimer Moseley, a Physical therapist, pain researcher and neuroscientist. He also co-wrote, along with David Butler, another PT, the book Explain Pain. The information in the book is presented in a very accessible fashion.

    Many physical therapists are starting to embrace different paradigms with regard to pain: quite simply that Pain is an output from the brain and that injury to the tissues is neither sufficient nor necessary to produce a painful complaint.

    Physical therapists who work in Moseley’s approach will incorporate a lot of pain education, graded exposure to exercise and movement and giving your brain lots of novel input ( via non threatening, non-painful movement for example. )I hope you find such a professional in your area. One way of finding out if your Pt is neuro conversant is to ask if she is familiar with central sensitization.

    Note : I am not affiliated nor am I employed by any of the groups mentioned in my posts. These are just friendly suggestions. May you recover promptly Heather and get back to your happy, ”spinning” self ASAP!

  • brionyrose

    2012/01/05 at 11:05 am

    My sympathies. After six years of ITB issues and trying every treatment I can find, I’m getting them surgically released next year. Keyhole surgery, minimal recovery time, and apparently the results are excellent. *Cannot wait.*

  • missaudreyhorne

    2012/01/05 at 11:23 am

    I see others have recommended yoga to you. I am not familiar with Moksha or Iyengar, so maybe those would be great. And Bikram makes me want to barf. 105 degrees? No thanks. But I do power yoga (otherwise known as vinyasa yoga or ashtanga yoga or baptiste power yoga) and it feels just as active as going for a run (maybe not a spin class, that’s next level), is heated to a tolerable 90 degrees, has minimal impact and ways to adjust your poses to work around your injury. In fact, many use yoga as a way to heal an injury. A lot of people will tell you that yoga is more for meditation and it isn’t a real workout. Well, I don’t think they’ve tried power yoga. I can’t lift my arms above my head today, pretty sure that means I got a workout.

  • sunnygirlsf

    2012/01/05 at 11:46 am

    so i was in a car accident this year that left me unable to work out apart from swimming – because of injuries to my back, neck, hip and one knee. I needed more..and was referred to Teresa Tapp’s workout is 15-45 minutes (you choose) 3 to 4 times a week – non-impact but it KICKS your BUTT. I needed it..and with your recent injuries, maybe it would help you too. (I am not associated in any way with the workouts..) 🙂

    seriously. I work out yet learning the movies (proper form is everything) had me wanting to toss my remote at the TV. I became so much stronger and even lost inches by doing the 15-minutes “basic workout plus” a few times a week.

    t-tapp is a physical therapy approach to working out. just check out the founder’s photo. she looks like a barbie but hasn’t worked out with weights for 30 years… she only does non-impact.

    just sayin’.

    I love that I can work out even with injuries. that ROCKS!

  • sunnygirlsf

    2012/01/05 at 11:47 am

    *correction: learning the “moves” not “movies” although movies would be nice too.

  • mommica

    2012/01/05 at 6:21 pm

    Oh dude, that’s weak ass.


  • Bea_OT

    2012/01/05 at 8:37 pm

    I’m sorry to hear you’re hurting. Take care of yourself…as you already seem to be doing.

    Don’t forget to take care of your mental/emotional health…as these tend to get fragile with chronic pain.

    I’ve suffered chronic pain (fibromyalgia) for 15 years…as a result of a neck injury…which I ignored.

    So take time to heal, so you don’t get anything worse.

    Sending you love and peaceful vibes.

  • miaow

    2012/01/06 at 1:09 am

    The glute that does not fire. I have one of those. Check out Katy Bowman – the alignment guru who also wins points for being anti-Kegel at Aligned and Well. She writes a very funny blog as well as being a hardcore biomechanic.

  • hokieamy

    2012/01/06 at 7:00 am

    I had IT band issues after my first half. I did a ton of research, and finally ended up doing massage therapy. I had 4 massages in 2 weeks where the guy worked on my IT band for the entire hour. I cried it was so painful, but it worked.

  • sheena scott

    2012/01/06 at 7:27 am

    Two words. Matrix Repatterning.

    I’ve had SI joint issues, glutes firing incorrectly, etc etc etc.
    I spent years in Chiro, Physio, Massage, Osteopathy, Acupuncture, you name it. Matrix Repatterning has literally changed my life and allowed me to return to my regular gym routine after 2 frustrating years.

    Though the clinic is in Toronto, perhaps you could find someone who uses this method in your area.

    Matrix works on correcting issues at the root cause versus focusing on the symptom.

    Good luck to you!

  • montana mommy

    2012/01/06 at 9:31 am

    IT band put me out last year at this time too. such a bummer. did they talk to you about ice massage? or ask your PT about it. i did pt, massage, cut back mileage, roam roller, and it finally got better after ice massage. i’m sure it was a combination of everything, but this was noticeable.

    i ice massaged with Dixie cups filled with ice (fill the cup with water and put in the freeze). Peel off the paper from the top and then rub the ice directly onto the spot for 10-15 minutes, i ended up rubbing it along my IT band from my lower knee up to mid thigh. push really hard. the first few times kind of suck but after that it didn’t feel too bad. i did this like 3-5 times a day for about a week. eased back into running and it hasn’t bugged me since. everybody is different and every injury is different but this will get better!!

  • cjmama

    2012/01/06 at 4:48 pm

    I developed IT band problems in the same location as you while training for a marathon years ago. Switching my gait from heel striking to landing more midfoot and doing lots of IT band stretches fixed the problem.

    I recently switched to minimalist running (I didn’t like the five finger shoes, but I love the Merrell Pace Gloves) and developed a minor hip injury. I saw a sports medicine doctor at the University of Utah Orthopaedic Center who diagnosed it and referred me to The Running Clinic at the U of U physical therapy clinic. It’s basically just one therapist who offers this service. Her name is Laura LaMarche, P.T., and my experience has been phenomenal. She films you running from all angles and then watches it back with you to show you the causes of the injury. I’m warning you, it’s torture watching your butt jiggle in slow motion on the big screen, but it’s worth it. She’s given me exercises to strengthen weak areas (it’s my left butt cheek that is slacking) and done some gait retraining. She has had me return to running at an extremely gradual pace, but I cannot believe how much better I am doing. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    You need to be consistent with the strength exercises and training, but I get the impression that you won’t have any problem with completing the assignments you are given. Maybe you’ll be the valedictorian of The Running Clinic. Although I might give you a run for your money. I hope this is helpful to you.

  • Jayseaka

    2012/01/06 at 8:18 pm

    Ouch. I also had IT-Band from running. I switched to road cycling instead and havent had knee problems since! I hope it heals soon!

  • jaggednib

    2012/01/09 at 9:45 am

    A lot of running injuries stem from footwear. Have you ever tried barefoot running?
    This is a really great video that explains why shoes aren’t great for us, especially if you’re a runner.

    Good luck and I hope you feel better!

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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