Friday, June 27, 2008

If one leg is longer than the other leg?

I am thinking, thinking, and thinking constantly trying to figure out how to even out my stride. I am trying all sorts of ideas: scrapping some and keeping others, but still have not found the "key" that will get me back to a healthy and efficient stride. It probably makes for a boring blog as seem to complain a lot and go off in all sorts of divergent directions. I think many of the things I have tried would be extremely beneficial to many injured runners, but for me they seem to lead me to right back where I keep starting from. Last night the back of my left hip was tight and causing me to limp again. I woke up a few times in the night and tried different stretches, joint mobility drills, ect. and I was just moving on the floor and got myself into a "child's pose" yoga position ( I think that is what it is called. It is where you sit on your knees, and bend forward over them and rest. This time I moved my arms and body to the left over to the side of my left hip. I may have even rotated my knees and legs to the right. All of a sudden things felt loose and free. There was no click or pop or anything like that. Just loose and free. I got up. No more limp. I thought that was strange and walked around and things felt very good. When I woke up things continued to feel good. The pressure on the back hip was gone and I moved much better.

That was a good start to the day. But over the years I have had moments where I do certain movement, or put pressure on a certain points, and that eases the discomfort I have been feeling but I can never replicate the movement and get the same results again. It's bizarre but that is sometimes the way my body works. Anyhow I decided to ride one of my bikes. It was actually the first time I got a real bike ride in on this bike. It is a K2 Mach 1 bike like the one on the top of this page except it is black. I found it on clearance in L.L.Bean over a year ago. It is a $650 bike but I saw a clearance price on it for $200 something and then I saw there was another clearance of 30% off. I did some quick math and realized I could buy this bike for less than $200. But my wife wasn't there to OK the purchase and so I walked around the store for awhile doing the math and holding the bike because two other customers realized it was a good deal when I asked a salesman if I could really get it for that price and they were following me around seeing if I would put it down. Now I really didn't "need" a new bike. I have a 1985 Centurion bike (although the frame was made in Italy by Cinelli). That one took me through many a triathlon and bike race. Here is my Centurion with me aboard catching up to the pack in a race that went around a motor speedway in New Hampshire. It must be around 1992.

I also have a Cannondale aluminum (talk about a harsh ride) triathlon bike that I bought off a friend awhile back. Plus I have my kickbike which I like more than regular cycling.

Anyhow this K2 bike which I did buy has not been very accommodating. I realized it was a clearance bike because something was wrong with the back tire. I first pumped up the tires when I got it and rode it around the block a few times (it was winter). The next day I noticed it had a flat. Last summer I went to fix it. I found that the tire was really tight on the wheel. To get it on and later to put it back on took lots of effort. It was hard to move that bead over the rim. It would take 15-20 minutes. I fixed it once, pumped it up and heard air escaping. I fixed it again and again. No spokes were poking through so I figured it kept getting pinch flats. I gave up and tried again a couple of weeks ago. I got 2 miles down the road and saw I had a flat again. I finally bought I new tire. It still fits tight but it holds the air. So anyhow I took this bike out for a spin today. I went 10 miles and kept it easy. It felt nice. I remembered the wonderful feeling of riding a bike on a hot day and feeling the wind on my face as I ride. I'll have to do this more often.

Anyhow one thing that felt good was the inserts I had found at Goodale's Bike Shop when I was buying the tire. They are made by Specialized and are called Body Geometry High Performance Footbeds. They have shims you can put in them to alter the forefoot angle within the shoe. It adds height to the inside of my feet. Despite all my running problems I had even worse problems with cycling. My left leg would never be comfortable when riding bikes. I even used to play around trying to make shims on the bottom of my cleats to try to even out that foot. Particularly when starting up a cycling program the bottom of my left foot would always be sore as all the pressure was on the side of the little toe. If I tried to hold that leg flat and even in the shoe my knee would pop into the bar on my bike and my knee would not go up and down, when peddling, but around in circles (in and out). It was always uncomfortable and that is why I used to adjust my saddle some to point to the left side a bit. None of this was good for my back. When I cycled today the bottom of my foot felt fine and the knee was going up and down not around and around. Of course my butt still hurt sitting in the saddle. I did enjoy the ride even though it was a short ride. I was just glad the tire didn't go flat again!

My hip still felt good after the bike and later in the day I went out for my run. Again my hips turned wobbly and as the run progressed it never loosened up and just got worse. So I resorted to thinking things through again.

I am waiting to get the Sacral Aligner in the mail to try that, but something else is definitely wrong in the world of my biomechanics. I am having a harder time then ever trying to run and I am putting more effort than ever in trying to strengthen and mobilize my joints for running. I feel better sitting and walking than in past years, but when I run things start to get worse. So I started evaluating what it going on.

I think that as I have been strengthening and doing joint mobility work I am starting to get my legs into a more normal position. I think my left knee is not knocking in as much and my left leg is straighter. However as I do so I "wonder" if in straightening out the leg I am getting rid of the "compensations" that my body has resorted to over the years to run injury free despite an actual or functional leg length discrepancy. Possibly what my body has done (due to a longer left leg?) is to roll that leg in and knock the knee in so that the hip is lowered. A PT said last year that that hip does drop down as I walk. Maybe that is what kept me running and although not pretty and definitely not pain free that is how my body accommodates the leg length difference.

There is a precedent for thinking about this theory. Back in Junior High when they did a scoliosis test, both my brother and I were picked out as needing a second look. Eventually we both ended up many times at the Boston Children's Hospital as they studied our legs and and determined their growth rates. One year my brother went in for surgery and they took out a portion of his femur (near the knee) and reversed it when putting it back. This was to stop the leg from growing so his other leg would catch up. Except for stitch marks on his leg it may have worked. He is an academic and does not do sports however. When they wanted to do surgery on me in high school they said I would not grow taller than 5'8" tall. I was a tiny high schooler. See here I am (the short guy out front) in tenth grade.

However I was away at a prep school and when I came home that year I was already 5'10" so my parents decided not to follow up on that. I would not have allowed the surgery anyhow I was running cross-country and felt no pain so what was the point? By the way I grew to 6'0". If I had that surgery I would have a leg maybe 4 inches shorter now!

I have played around with lifts in my right foot before. The last time when I got a pair of orthotics about 10 years ago. I was told the leg was a little short. When I wore the orthotics the imbalance "seemed" greater (could that be because the left leg was straighter?) . So I added a lift, then more lift. It felt real good when I got up to about 1/2 of lift in the right foot. Strangely enough a chiropractor x-rayed my hips. As I put lifts under the right foot the right leg appeared to get shorter and shorter. Maybe the hip was moving up. He puzzled over that and then dropped any discussion because he could not figure it out! I thought things were going OK. The hips and legs felt more balanced but my back was taking a beating. I was running the Cape Cod Marathon that Fall and just holding my right back stiff for mile after mile because I could feel something was wrong. I hit a water stop at 16 miles and leg go of using my muscles to hold my back in place and it went into an impossible spasm. It took about 10 minutes to grab a tree and ease down to the ground. I had to wait for the bus to pick up the stragglers and then they drove all the way back to the last runners on the course to pick up any other stragglers before getting me to a medical tent for ice and treatment. That spasm was no fun and I think that is when I put an end to orthotics and ditched the heel lifts forever (I promised!).

So now I am wondering if the ceaseless nature of fixing my biomechanics may really be do to that leg length difference. The Children's Hospital was saying it was close to a 1/2 inch difference back when I was growing up. Or I think it may possibly be a functional difference, possibly due to the way my left leg works. Because that knee knocks in and the foot everts out, that leg does not bend as much as my right leg. What if it "acts taller" because it bends at a smaller angular degree pushing that hip higher into the pelvis and throwing everything off?

Well that is what I thought about as I ran today and things got stiffer as I lumbered rather than run. Could improved leg strength and mechanics of the left leg be causing more pelvic imbalances and the pains in my hip? Does a lack of compensation in its movement patterns mean it is harder to run? I really don't know but massages, chiropractic visits, ART visits, stretching, strength work, mobility work, and everything else I am documenting here are not working to make it easier to run. In fact it is getting worse and if I had a normal mind I feel like I should just quit, but I don't want to give up on figuring this out.

As I was finishing up the run today. I had pains in my hip. It rotates all wrong and doesn't even feel like the leg is in the hip socket correctly. I guess that leaves me to wonder about leg lengths. It felt good to wear a lift last week for a couple of days. Maybe I will order these lifts and slowly see if adding a little bit of height in my right leg can balance things out. I really don't know what else to try and this is starting to make sense. I will certainly give it a try at this point because nothing else is working and it may be time to revisit this and see if this is the root of my problems.

Here is a wall hip mobility drill I saw posted on Youtube. It sort of reminds me of riding a kickbike. Anyhow I like the range of motion by kicking the leg out to the side and then across the back of the other leg.

The same person has a hip circle drill that is another way to mobilize the hip, but a bit different than the Z-Health version.

Also I noticed and ankle mobility drill that is also somthing like a Z-Health drill. These may be good ways to introduce yourself to mobility work.

There are some other drill and exercises posted by the same person. Or you can go to the listed website There you can find more warmup and mobility drills in the exercise library.

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