Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Acupuncture and My Grossly Big Achilles

One thing I completely avoid talking about is my left Achilles. Only Sage really knew how much my Achilles affected me since he gets to see my limp around every morning and night. Even with him, I don’t feel much need to talk about it as it’s an obvious problem.

My left Achilles has been a curious thing though. I actually hurt it quite a long time ago when I was still playing basketball.  I went to a physical therapy for a few weeks and didn’t run during that time. As soon as my insurance ran out and I started playing basketball and running again I noticed it came back a bit. However I was OVER resting and monotonous physical therapy drills so I just ignored it. This worked for years and unless I did a long run with tons of vertical, it really didn’t bother me. Then a year ago, it got worse. There wasn’t a moment I knew it got worse, it just kind of did. Though my Achilles was stiff every morning and night, after a mile into a run the pain would (for the most part) subside. Thus, I’ve just been running through it and limping around whenever my Achilles wasn’t “warmed up”.
It's really amazing it doesn't hurt the whole time I'm running!

 To add to the  problem, the years of ignoring it led to the area around my Achilles growing huge! By looking at it, I figured somewhere along the lines I probably partially tore it and since it never healed a lot of scar tissue built up around it. Looking at my Achilles, I figured if I wanted it fixed a Dr. would tell me I’d have to have surgery to remove the scar tissue and I’d be out from running. After my experience with a little procedure earlier this summer, I wanted nothing to do with a hospital and a knife cutting me open (though I realize the importance of hospitals).

Oddly enough, I started giving up hope on my Achilles healing at the same time I become extremely intrigued by natural and integrative healing. Then, Sage got a great sponsorship by Integrative Healing Acupuncture & Wellness LLC here in Boulder. Miraculously, the awesome guy who helps out Sage,  Jeff Paulson (also a trail runner so he “gets it”), thought he could do something about my grossly big Achilles.

Sage using the Normatec Boots at
Integrative Healing Acupuncture & Wellness Center
I went to the appointment not knowing what to expect, but I was very open minded to anything.  Very quickly, Jeff confirmed my thoughts that I probably had partially torn my Achilles a while ago and scar tissue had built up around it. Then, much to my surprise, he said he could help heal it. All of a sudden  I had hope again. He then got to work learning about my muscles, seeing what areas were too tight and what areas were a little weak. As he did this, he shared his knowledge of the human body and I tried to take in everything I could. After trying to release some tension in my muscles, Jeff then asked me if I was willing to try acupuncture. I had no fear in agreeing to try it since I have read so many positive things about it. Plus, an extremely thin needle seemed a lot better than a knife going into my Achilles. Not to mention that I was almost positive it wouldn’t hurt as much as running up a mountain above 11,000 ft. like I had earlier in the day, nor as much as my Achilles hurts the morning after a lot of vertical and miles.

Jeff, keeping up his awesomeness, explained to me how acupuncture works and what exactly he would be doing. One by one, needles were placed in me from head to Achilles. Nothing hurt, though I will admit it was quite an unusual sensation as Jeff got my muscles to contact after a needle was placed. Then, I got a special treat I had never heard of, electro acupuncture!  I felt like a kid in a candy store (I’m obviously fascinated by this stuff).  Little electrodes we amazingly attached to the super thin needles in my left calf and Achilles. After I began to feel the steady pulse of the electrodes, they were left alone so they could do their work inside my calf and Achilles while my mind could relax.

To wrap this up:

I couldn’t have been more pleased with my experience. I really appreciate going to a place filled with nice people who understand athletes and the ways to keep them going without surgery or unnatural medicine. It really makes me feel like I’m doing something good for my body in every aspect. In May/ June when I had one doctor tell me go to other doctors to see why I wasn’t absorbing iron properly and what was going on in my stomach, I felt really uncomfortable and out of place. Since everyone at Integrative Healing Acupuncture & Wellness LLC is used to dealing with athletes and believe 110% in what they are doing, I felt like I was in the right place.

Today, one day after the appointment, I did two loops up Mt. Sanitas. Probably not my best idea, but I don’t recall thinking about my Achilles as I started up. Of course, since scar tissue has been building up for years, my problems aren’t going to go away overnight. However, with a little treatment from Jeff and doing the things he told me to do on my own, I believe that my Achilles can be healed in a way that I am comfortable with, and in a way I can keep running.

Run Wild, Run Happy,


Integrative Healing Acupuncture & Wellness LLC. 

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  1. I've had achilles issues in the past as well and tried various treatments including shockwave and low intensity laser, but have had the best success with acupuncture. Good luck! I'm sure you'll notice a pretty significant initial improvement.

  2. I had AT last year off and on for about three months. It wasn't until I started strengthening the area (left achilles) that it started to improve and not bother me (eccentric heel drops). Although it never really seems to totally go away but you can run on it with limited to no pain. I had acupuncture and it did feel better with time..that said, I am not a patient person. However as soon as I started upping the mileage and hill work for the 100k, it slowly crept back in. Don't fret, it can be managed. Good luck, as you know 15 other aches/pains always happen during an ultra, what is one more :)

    1. Oops, just realized that you beat me to the eccentric heel drop thing before I posted. Perhaps I'm more patient than you - I'd consider myself 100% cured.

  3. It's really surprising that your Achilles didn't hurt while you're running, Sandi. However, the injury might get worse after your run. Thankfully you've considered acupuncture treatments. How's your Achilles now? I hope the sessions helped a lot to your recovery. :)

    1. Hi Karina,
      I agree, it's really surprising I could run through it and it only hurt the first few minutes after a run, though it really hurt days after races or a lot of vertical. The treatments have been wonderful. I can actually walk at night without limping and it's definitely getting smaller. :)

  4. It's really surprising that your Achilles didn't hurt while you're running, Sandi. However, the injury might get worse after your run. Thankfully you've considered acupuncture treatments. How's your Achilles now? I hope the sessions helped a lot to your recovery. :)

  5. You've probably already been through this, but in case not, Alfredson's eccentric calf drop exercises have been clinically proven to greatly improve the condition of your achilles when suffering from tendonopathy. It certainly helped me a couple years ago, though patience is required (3+ months to get to a pain-free state). I see no reason why you couldn't continue doing acupuncture while on this regime.

    By the way, Dr. Alfredson's description of discovering the technique as a grad student is an interesting/funny read. Long story short, he accidently cured himself while trying to deliberately tear his achilles in an attempt to force his advising professor to operate on him.

    Good luck!

  6. It's normal for runners to experience injury, especially if they run daily. However, it's important that we know who to call in case we incur sports-related injuries. It's nice to know that you're satisfied with your acupuncture experience. Moreover, it's nice to have practitioners who believe in your advocacy as a runner. How are you now? :)

    Jessi Casas @ FoxValleyAcupuncture

  7. It really is nice to see how acupuncture has helped you with your Achilles heel problem. It really does have its benefits. Maybe you really should go easy on straining it just so it won't come back again.

    Vanessa Adams


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