The Teachings of Tendonitis

human sesamoid bones

human sesamoid bones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the Peachtree Road Race went off without a hitch. The monsoon held off and the temperatures stayed blissfully mild. I made the decision to run in my Vibrams so that I wouldn’t risk ruining my Mizuno Waveriders in the mud and rain. The result? My Mizunos are safe and sound. Unfortunately, my foot is not.

The Vibrams really aren’t the problem. They were just the final straw. With the freer schedule I enjoy in the summer and the milder temperatures this year, I have been hitting the running trails. I know better than to increase my mileage too quickly. I just ignore my own advice.

And then I pay. I’m prone to tendonitis at the base of the big toe due to an anatomical deviation that affects about 10% of the population (one of my sesamoid bones is split) along with my high arches. It became a problem in 5th grade when I aggravated it by too much tininkling (no, not tinkling:) It’s a Polynesian dance that uses bamboo poles. I pushed through the pain and ended up on crutches.

Since that initial brush with sesamoidsis, I have been relatively trouble free. Whenever I have noticed the first twinges of pain, I have backed off and rested the foot until it heals.

But recently, I ignored that warning. I felt it start to ache a couple of weeks ago but I was enjoying running and yoga too much to back off. So now what started as a minor ache has now become a major pain.

Tendonitis is a tricky injury. As it is usually caused by repetitive motion rather than acute injury, it can sneak up on you. It is slow to heal since tendons do not receive much blood flow. It can be deceptive, with great pain signaling a relatively minor injury and a lack of pain not indicating that it is healed.

As I sit here now, with my foot immobilized and elevated, I share with you the teachings of tendonitis. Maybe you’ll listen better than I did.

Gotta Have Balance

Tendonitis occurs from repetitive motion. Runners, baseball players and tennis players are especially prone but it can happen from any activity. I once developed tendonitis in my thumb from too many pushups from doing Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred every day. Oops. If you are involved in a sport that requires repeated movement patterns, make sure to mix it up. If you run, alternate hills and level ground. Add yoga to your routine to stretch the tendons and surrounding tissues. Tendonitis loves a static routine. So add in some surprises.

Maintain That Form

If your form is altered due to poor biomechanics, an injury or improper training, you are putting yourself more at risk for tendonitis because the joint is not working at its optimal level. It’s worth taking the time to check (or even better, have someone else check) your form to make sure that you are moving efficiently.

Listen to Your Pain

Yeah, this is the hard one for many athletes. Tendonitis hurts but the pain is not so bad (especially at first) that you cannot push through. Don’t. A little rest at the beginning of the injury will pay dividends later. If you play through the pain, the injury will only worsen. Learn to recognize the early pains of tendonitis and take their message seriously.

Take a Break

Just don’t do it.

Accept Aging

I like to pretend I’m still 20 but my body likes to remind me that it’s not. As we age, our tendons (and other tissues) become thicker and less flexible, making them more prone to injury. It’s appropriate to change your routine and the time allotted to rest as you age. Don’t worry, your body will remind you.