Sesamoid Update – 1 year on

oct c 2014

“At some point you need to stop making a comeback and start running towards who you are meant to be next” – Lauren Fleshman #womanup

Hoorah for beating the odds – once again!

Sesamoid fractures have a pretty serious reputation for not going well. There is little evidence-based research available for treating practitioners on best standard of care, and even when that has managed to be achieved, they tend to be slow to heal and long to recover from.

Being a Physiotherapist and knowing all of this information, I was shaking in my boots a little at what I was staring down the barrel of just over a year ago now. Compound that fear with the knowledge of what I had done to my foot (doing an Ironman on a stress fracture is not something I will ever do again…), along with my history of poor-ish bone density thanks to a decade of Anorexia, and I was pretty much crawling with my tail between my knees into that surgeon’s office and pleading with him to save my life. Ok, dramatic…but running IS my life, my first love, my sanity and makes my soul happy. So NOT running again was simply not an option.

I am happy to say that even with the odds seriously stacked against you, with a great medical team and some serious dedication to a long and conservative rehabilitation process one can come out the other side flying. Once I got to the point where surgery was the only option left – 8 months of conservative treatment already tried and failed – I had to make a choice. I had to put my big-girl panties on and suck up the situation; there was zero time for feeling sorry for myself and about 24 hours a day to dedicate to doing an awesome job of this rehab process. As discussed in previous posts this included everything from sleep to nutrition to Physio – and most importantly, a great medical team: a brilliant sports physician who understands my passion for running as well as my medical history; the best foot and ankle surgeon in Australia; and a sexy Physiotherapist (OK that was my husband so I may be biased….but it probably helped the treatment come along….!!).

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Which brings me to the now. My surgeon was clear and stern with me from the start that it would be a 9-month rehab process before running would even begin, and 12 months before my foot would be adapted to what we had done to it: bone grafting the sesamoid plus breaking, elevating and plating the 1st metatarsal (dorsiflexion osteotomy) to take load off the sesamoid underneath it. 8 weeks in plaster non-weight-bearing was followed by another 8 weeks partial weight-bearing in a boot; then a very gradual increase in walking and loading the area. When I was in plaster I was doing a lot of Pilates, strength work and all-importantly, resting and eating well. My arms got pretty buff at this point – crutches plus strength work= guns!! As soon as I was out of plaster I was into the pool. Initially not allowed to deep water run, but I was allowed to swim if I used a pull-bouy and didn’t push off the wall with my right foot. This made me feel about 100% more human just being back in the sun and in the water again, even if it was limited. Towards the end of that 8 weeks in the boot, I was able to start deep water running and freestlye swimming (kicking). Then came the fun part.

The “real” rehab began once I was walking more and out of the boot. My right calf muscle was over 3cm smaller than my left at this point…I had a lot of work to do. Not to mention adapting to my new biomechanics – the first time I stood on my right foot, I felt like I had a marble under my 2nd metatarsal! Now a lot more of my weight would go through that bone rather than the 1st metatarsal/sesamoid complex, and so I had to go slow to allow the bone to adapt – it’s common at this stage to get stress fractures in the 2nd metatarsal if rehab is too aggressive, due to the increased load. I was allowed to start cycling (using carbon-soled bike shoes so the toe doesn’t bend) at this stage.

Due to my job being so physical – Physios are pretty much on their feet for 8+ hours a day – it would be another month or two before I could introduce any extra walking outside of work, which was frustrating. This was (mentally) probably the hardest part – not being ‘disabled’ any more, but feeling like you’re not actually working towards running either. My patience paid off and once I was able to walk for exercise, things moved quickly – at 7 months post-op, I was walking 30mins every other day with minimal swelling and less than 2/10 pain (ie. Acceptable pain levels given the surgery I had)….which meant I was allowed to jump on an Alter G treadmill and start running, 2 months ahead of schedule!

My surgeon was very strict with the Alter G protocol to follow. I started with 50% body weight for 20mins at just 10km/hr. This felt easy as my fitness was pretty good by now from the swim/bike/deep water running routine; that was a key part of this stage going so well. Over the next month I built the AlterG sessions up to 40 mins at 70% body weight including intervals, allowing me to build some speed and rhythm in. I had the luxury of having my husband and Physio accompany me and give me feedback on biomechanics and technique – it was like getting used to running on someone else’s foot! It felt very strange. I will be forever grateful to my sports physician for making access to an Alter G so available to me; not everyone has the luxury or the joy of this.

At 8 months I was given the green light to start my road running return program, which was also very conservative…it started with 30 minutes walking with 8 x 1 minute run throughout. But I was the happiest person on the planet! I kept up the Alter G sessions for a few more weeks just for my sanity more than anything else – it was still a novelty and better than drugs being able to push myself again (from a cardiovascular perspective), plus the fitness boost it gave me was invaluable and transferred beautifully onto road running.

I was slowly building week by week and up to running 5-10km, 3-4 times a week when we got pregnant this time around….and so I have maintained that level of running over the last 5 months, and will continue to for as long as I can into the pregnancy (I’m now 5 months along and 4kg up). Ironically, the extra relaxin hormone boost from the pregnancy has allowed me to get my full flexibility back in the foot post-op and so running feels better than ever! This could have taken a year or more to achieve without relaxin. I can honestly say now that I don’t even think about my foot anymore – it feels “normal”, strong and functional.

Oct E

Of course, I am missing racing immensely – between the surgery and pregnancy, it’s been almost 2 years since I’ve raced an Ironman and I cannot wait to get back to it. I am hoping to do an Ironman about 10-12 months after the baby arrives; it would be nice to go back to Busselton where it all went down in the first place and get some unfinished business out of the way!

What I have learned about Sesamoid Stress/Fractures:

– Get a health care team on board that KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING. Search for someone who has experience with treating sesamoids; if your GP/Sports Doc/Physio/Podiatrist does not, then call around until you find a team that does. Don’t be afraid to ask upfront.
– Use an MRI for diagnosis and follow-up progress scans. XRays are not sensitive enough and bone scans are not specific enough. The cost is worth it to know what you are dealing with.
– You need to be aggressive – from day dot. These are typically not super painful injures (well nowhere near a femur or sacral stress fracture – of which I’ve had both – hence being able to finish an Ironman on it without realising), and so they can be deceiving. But you need to take them very seriously, as hard as this can be early on,
From the moment of diagnosis you should be in a boot; either partial-weight bearing or full weight-bearing if pain allows – needs to be <2/10 pain at all times.
– Use contrast bathing or ice/heat protocols – 20mins of each, 1-3 times a day, to flush swelling and increase blood nutrients to the area.
Give it TIME. Prepare to be in the boot for 8-16 weeks. Yikes! I know….but trust me, this option is much better than having to go through surgery. Sesamoids have poor blood flow and don’t heal well, but if you treat them like gold from the start you will give it your best shot at healing conservatively.
– Statistically, following the above protocol, 50% of sesamoids will heal and 50% will not (at 12-16 weeks). It depends where the break is, what the blood flow is like, and how well you rest it during this time.
– If you are a serious athlete, love your sport, or have a job that requires you to be on your feet, think about getting a referral to a very experienced foot surgeon early in the process. They typically take a couple of months to get into, and it doesn’t mean that you will have to have surgery – but if it’s a slow healing fracture, they will give you an all-important educated opinion on your time frames, options and prognosis. You can always cancel the appointment if you’re going well, but it’s hard to get an urgent appointment if and when you do need it so plan ahead!
– If you do need to go ahead with surgery, ask the surgeon how many sesamoid stress fractures they have treated and how they have gone. You want the most experienced surgeon with good long-term outcomes ie. Return to full sport pain-free.
Avoid removing the bone at all costs. Unless it is completely shattered, a good surgeon should be able to either bone graft, pin or shave off part of the bone to salvage it. A foot without one or both sesamoids is, biomechanically-speaking, a disaster zone for arthritis and injuries and is not very conducive with a future running career!
– Further, if you do need the surgery, plan it well and be prepared for a long haul. Be ready mentally and physically to put in the hard yards from a rehab perspective (exercises, pain and swelling management, and lots of rest…), but even more so be ready to be patient from a psychological perspective. There is no point going through major surgery only to rush it on the other side.
– Be rest assured that with a good surgeon, and an even better rehab protocol (think slow-and-steady), you CAN and WILL return to your old athletic self. It’s possible you may even come back stronger after all the time spent with rehab and core strength work, and in my case, biomechanically improved because he fixed the 1st metatarsal angle at the same time, decreasing my chances of getting the injury again.

Currently sesamoid injuries are highly misunderstood by the medical profession and usually by athletes as well, but over the next decade I believe there will be huge improvements in understanding and treatment from medical professionals. In the meantime, those of us who have walked this path beforehand can hopefully shed some light, advice and much-needed hope that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel!

Happy Training

K xoxo

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From Rehab to Racing

8 weeks post-foot surgery, happy to be out of plaster and trying to stay positive...

8 weeks post-foot surgery, happy to be out of plaster and trying to stay positive…

I flew today.

Well, it felt like it. 6km run at good pace with minimal foot discomfort, able to find my rhythm for the first time since July 2013. Excited much?! I was smiling from ear to ear for the rest of the day!

It’s been a huge challenge, a very long 9 months, and the biggest mountain I’ve had to climb in my post-ED life. But I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Today I entered two 5km fun runs, and an Olympic Distance Triathlon which I will do as a team (as my surgeon is not giving me the green light to run 10km at race pace just yet!).

Still a long road to another Ironman finish line but every day is a step forwards

Still a long road to another Ironman finish line but every day is a step forwards

So what have I learned along the way? Patience. Something I never had a lot of before. I’ve learned how to apply my discipline to my rehab like nobody’s business. That applied effort has allowed me to return to running 2 months ahead of the schedule my surgeon set out for me post-op. In fact, when my psychologist was warning me about the danger zone I am currently in (given my raging exercise addiction, it was a fair concern!) – I reassured him “don’t worry. I am treating my rehab program just like I once did Ana – I am aiming to be the “perfect” patient, which includes following the program to a tee, eating every nutritious food I can get my hands on, and doing every recovery strategy that is validated in the research – compression, ice, physio, you name it.” I’m not sure he 100% approved of my approach but was nonetheless impressed by my creativity and my insight into my personality characteristics (well, they weren’t going to go away just because my foot got cut in half and I couldn’t run for a while, let’s face it. May as well make use of them).

Full steam ahead: back on the bike and loving the training!

Full steam ahead: back on the bike and loving the training!

So, as my coach would tell me, it’s “onwards and upwards”. Every day is another opportunity to “practice perfection” – every stroke on the bike, arm turnover in the pool, step on the run, and weight in the gym, all tiny building blocks that will one day form the strongest Ironman body I’ve had yet. Every new day is another chance to be thankful for my health and my happiness. To breathe in the fresh air and feel alive.

I don’t believe in luck, but I do believe in Karma. And I am grateful for the chance to rebuild my body and to live life to the fullest.

Happy training everyone!

K xoxo

Our Body Responds to the Messages We Give It

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I have a friend in Brisbane who has just taken up Ironmans, which I am over the moon about. At first glance, she has all the right ingredients to make a solid long course athlete: she’s tall, muscular, mentally pretty tough and she has the support of her family – her husband also does Ironman triathlons. And boy does she like to train.

Before her first Ironman she was understandably nervous, and wanted to skype with me to pick my brains about a few things; I was more than happy to help out. I had a lot of fellow Ironman athletes take me under their wing when I first started out, and along with my coach I felt extremely well prepared going into my first race and subsequently had a great time. I was excited to be able to do the same for her, and so I wrote down some key nutrition, pacing and training concepts that work well for me (mainly female-specific things).
So you can understand my shock when no more than 5 minutes into said skype date, she blurts out “well of course I’m only doing Ironman to keep my weight under control – for the same reason you and every other girl does it!” she laughed. I was not laughing. I was actually trying not to choke on my espresso.

SAY WHAAAAATT??!!

Firstly, let me get this off my chest. Ironman is sacred. It is a place where you go to search the depths of your soul, to find out what you’re really made of in a way that daily life just doesn’t allow for. It is a celebration of the human body and mind, of the incredible things it can achieve. It is a magical place with a finish line that feels better than ecstasy. And when all is said and done – the months of discipline, the long, long rides with fellow athletes who become friends, the many memories made, the body chiselled and honed, the mind strengthened and the self-confidence firmly built one brick at a time – you become part of the “Ironman Family”. And THAT is what Ironman is about. Nothing short of a celebration of life in all its glory. Amen to that.

My second thought was “oh boy you are going to crash and burn in a big way, you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons”. (I didn’t say that out loud….). I do Ironman to celebrate my recovery, and to be around a couple of thousand people who don’t make excuses about why they can’t do things, they find a way to do things and be happy and loving and I am addicted to the joy and self-confidence that Ironman has brought to my life. I now respect my body for what it can do, NOT what it looks like or what the number on the scale is. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it has saved my life, by taking me away from Ana and onto richer pastures. I can’t believe how amazing this body now is, and also feel mortified sorry for the things I have done to it in the past.

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The third thought – and this is where the scientific nerd within kicked in – was “you’re not going to lose weight by doing what you’re doing, if that is your goal….”. She refused to take any nutrition other than water during any training sessions, scared that it would make her gain weight. Then she would try to restrict her calories during the day as well, to try to cut more corners. (Subsequently I am sure) she hated long rides because….well….she probably felt like crap, running on empty! Not surprisingly, she had a few niggles that she couldn’t settle and she wasn’t able to push the training up to the next level.

And sure enough, after her first Ironman, she didn’t enjoy the experience. She was too focused on trying to keep her weight under control, and stressing about not training in the couple of weeks after the race.
Here’s the thing. This may come as a revelation to non-athletes and to Anorexics, but our body responds to the messages we give it. If you starve yourself, it learns that food is scarce out there in the world and it better slow down its metabolism and store fat for the long cold winter (we still have the same DNA as our hunter-gatherer ancestors, remember). It learns that it better prioritise only the essential life-giving functions, like breathing and brain activity – so those niggles don’t heal and the muscles don’t repair from the hours of training. Minimal training adaptations occur, so you don’t really get fitter either, you just keep breaking down. Not to mention hating the training because, well, you never really feel good! In the short-term or if you get extreme about the starvation yes, you will lose weight (hello eating disorders). But eventually that weight loss slows down. And I can tell you from personal experience that after 10 years of it, your metabolism becomes very smart and very thrifty. I could go days on minimal food and not lose any weight. My body just knew it had to conserve to keep me alive.

On the flip side, if you train hard, and fuel your body, it will get the message that you want it to become fitter and stronger, and that since there is plenty of food around, it’s therefore safe to make those adaptations. You’ll lose fat, and gain bone density and muscle. Your mental health, sleep and mood will improve. You will have more energy through the day. And on race day, you will perform well and likely also enjoy yourself and the experience (which is the whole point, right?!).

Matching shoes and nails: check...

Matching shoes and nails: check…

And then the best part of all is the famous post-ironman “afterburn” phase, which lasts between 1-4 weeks depending on your metabolism and fitness and genetics. This is where you pretty much eat whatever you like, do minimal exercise, and lo and behold – you get leaner. It’s hilarious. Your body is working so hard to repair everything, and it’s still zooming from the 12-hour race, that if you feed it with A LOT of food, you will then set it up beautifully for the next phase of training and racing (or just life in general if you so choose). BUT if, like my friend, you decide to hardly eat anything at all after the race, you will actually halt that process and force your metabolism to really, really slow down. Your body is madly trying to repair and recoup, and if you don’t nourish it now, you will set it up for an ever slower metabolism and, unfortunately, you will likely actually lose muscle and gain fat. Which is what happened to my friend. And so the cycle continues, as she has signed up for the next race in order to “control her (now higher) weight”…..

I know it’s hard to get your head around the fact that eating more could result in losing weight. It certainly took me a long time to believe it. I tried it as a one-woman experiment and took all my measures weekly. Sure enough, over the course of 6-8 weeks I got leaner, stronger and my performance and recovery were better than ever (read: I was kicking my husband’s butt in training). The key is to keep the food as nutritious as possible, and to eat most when your body needs it most – before, during and after training. It still feels odd for me to do that, but it’s worth the mental discomfort in order to now feel like an athlete.

As a final disclaimer, I’m not saying that there aren’t people in Ironman who have eating disorders and abuse the system, and I’ve talked about this in previous posts. But they aren’t the ones succeeding in the long term. They’re the ones you see at one race, who look super fit and fast, but who end up walking the marathon because they have no fuel or endurance. They are the ones who, after 1 or if they’re lucky 2 years in the sport, you never see again. Or the ones who are one big chain of injuries one after the other – they never line up on race day 100% healthy. And they certainly aren’t the ones with the sparkle in their eyes, who will still be doing it when they’re 60 years old. Now those guys are the real superstars!

We all have one body in this life, and we all have a choice. We can nourish it and let it flourish to its true potential, or we can cut corners and watch it struggle.

I choose life!
Happy training.

K xo

The Dirt on Dieticians

Everything you’ve wanted to know that the internet won’t tell you.

“Experience is the father of all wisdom.
And assumption is his bitch” – Brett Sutton.

Cake.  It's just cake....not the spawn of the devil.....

Cake. It’s just cake….not the spawn of the devil…..

If there’s one thing certain to strike fear into the bones of most humans, it’s someone knowing the intimate details of your daily doings – every morsel of food and fluid intake scrutinised, every measure of fitness and body fat calculated, every minute of calorie-sapping exercise tallied. And judged. Usually by an underweight and pale young woman sitting unusually upright on the other side of a cold desk (sorry for the stereotype but I know a lot of dieticians and it’s hard to argue with it!).
OK so they get a bad rap. But here’s the thing – they can be your ticket to freedom and your greatest ally. They can get you what you want, faster than you can get there on your own. They can take you to new heights of perfectionism in the body composition department and by default, they can lift your athletic performances through the roof. And lower your injury and illness count. They can help you learn to eat more normally, without necessarily putting on weight.

So what’s the catch? Like any industry, there are bad ones and good ones, and you need to get it right. A bad experience can be nothing short of traumatising, so do the work first to limit the chances of hitting a bad one.

Look for an Accredited Sports Dietician (whether you’re an athlete or not…).

In Australia to become a dietician requires a 4 year-degree. During that time they learn a lot about a lot….but don’t become specialists in any one field. They’re basically good at general nutrition and hospital nutrition. To then become an Accredited Sports Dietician they have to do an extremely difficult course which involves training in the specifics of manipulating body composition in athletes and also in dealing with eating disorders, which come with a host of specific challenges (physiologically, metabolically and emotionally). I actually know good dietician friends of mine who openly admit they won’t treat ED’s, so challenging is the task. So rule number 1 to avoid a horrible experience with a dietician is to find a good one with appropriate training, and you can minimise that risk by searching on the Sports Dieticians Australia website (or relevant body in your country).

Even better: Find a Sports Dietician who has an interest in treating Eating Disorders (note I did not say “find a dietician who obviously HAS an eating disorder….).

I’ve had several bad experiences with the stereotypical uptight-skinny-hospital-dietician in my time and while they were great at boosting my weight when I probably needed it, they weren’t great at inspiring my faith in the recovery process being all rainbows and unicorns (it’s not, but it doesn’t have to be as bad with the help of someone more useful and “real-world”). So how do you find a good one without totally blowing your cover? Well I was lucky enough to have a close friend go through the dietician process first, and I knew that she was seeing someone but not gaining any weight. I probed. She confided that she instructed the dietician that she wants to learn to eat more normally, but only under the proviso she didn’t gain any weight and didn’t have to stop exercising. And the dietician obliged. I booked in the next week.

Failing being that lucky, the internet is a good resource for searching – most good dieticians will have a bio on their website and state their treatment interests. Also check their photos if they have them and see if they have a glint in their eye, shiny hair, glowing skin, no collarbones sticking out…..the healthier they are the better off you’ll be with them.

“The thought of fronting up for the first time makes me want to vomit”, “they’re going to see straight through me!”, “I’m too fat to have an eating disorder”, “If they find out how little I eat they’ll tell my family” …..and other irrational fears.

I 100% understand all of the above fears and many more. So having been through it myself, here’s the actual facts of the matter.

Yes, they will likely see straight away that you have disordered eating of some type but they will not bring that up with you, at least not initially. They legally cannot tell anyone, unless you are under 18 and extremely, about-to-drop-dead underweight (if you are over 18 you will have a say in the matter). Anything that is said to them – exercise patterns, food intake, weight etc – is legally confidential. It’s a safe space. A good dietician probably won’t weight you, and especially won’t if you ask not to be. My dietician always took other measures like circumferences but never told me what they were, just whether they were up or down. People with dietary issues come in all shapes and sizes – seriously sick bulimics can be overweight, just like someone who’s had anorexia for a very long time can be normal weight due to metabolism dysfunction – so they will never, ever look at you and think “you’re too fat to have an eating disorder”. Ever. Promise.

If you’re seeing a private dietician, and you’re paying for it, their job is to facilitate you with your goal. Whatever that goal is.
If you go in and request to eat more and stay the same weight (so long as you’re not about to die on the spot from malnutrition, in which case a hospital dietician is actually more useful to you), they will work with you on that. When I first started seeing my dietician, I was 8kg less than I am now, my “healthy adult weight”. So, not grossly underweight, but not ideal either. I was hardly eating anything, exercising the house down, miserable…..and my metabolism was getting more thrifty by the year (making it harder to lose weight). I was over it.

What she did then single-handedly prompted my recovery, in earnest this time. Over the course of a long time, she introduced more foods and more volume, and – miraculously – I actually maintained weight, even lost it at one point. During this “trust” experiment, we also included a period of 2 weeks of zero exercise, to overcome my greatest fear – of putting on weight if I stopped training. It was the scariest thing and still makes me feel sick remembering how stressful it was. I actually lost weight, which gave me a huge confidence boost in my mind and body.

Of course, I did need to gain weight in order to be healthy. But she never pushed me, just gently supported me and taught me to trust food and my body. I maintained that weight for a further 3 years, then eventually when I was ready I allowed my weight to very slowly increase to where it sits today. And I can honestly say, now that my body has hit its set point, I can pretty much eat whatever I like and it stays within 1-2 kgs. I put this down to having such a good program to start with.

You don’t need a referral from a doctor to book in.
In Australia you can call and book with a private dietician without a referral. You do not need to tell the receptionist over the phone what you want to be treated for. The cost will vary, depending on the practitioner (generally better ones are more expensive); you can claim about half the fee back from your private health cover.
Ultimately you are paying for the service and hence their job is to meet your goals. They will discuss your goals with you and go through relevant information, give you little things to work on. They’ll send you off for a couple of weeks to work on it and then remeasure and continue. Every single day they see patients who have exercise addictions, want to improve body composition, have disordered eating, thrifty metabolisms and crazy dietary practices, and who think “they’re too fat to have an eating problem”. There’s nothing they won’t have seen.

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My road to recovery would have been a rollercoaster of metabolism riots and psychological warfare – as opposed to a relatively smooth upwards progress curve – had I not made the mighty step to make contact with my dietician. How do I know? Because I’d tried the other way for a decade beforehand. And it was failing miserably.

“You do not drown simply by falling into dark waters; you only drown if you stay beneath the surface” – Paolo Coelho

You can do it.

K xo

Stress Fractures – Dealing with the Emotional Backlash of Injury

Part I: Prevention

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“And so that I do remember
to never go that far,
Could you leave me with a scar?”
– Missy Higgins

So you’ve found yourself staring down the barrel of some time away from your most-loved activity, likely due to impending injury, an exercise ban, a fatigue-related illness or something similar. It’s not bad enough that you feel like your legs have been cut out from under you however it is bad enough that you feel some fear and insecurity fast-arising in the knowledge that you need to rest, and you’re not very good at that. I’m going to focus on strategies to help specifically with preventing stress fractures in the early stages, mainly because of the high incidence of them in athletes with disordered eating of some sort. However many of you will find these tips helpful for other situations as well.

Eating disorders occur in up to 19% of male athletes and 45% of female athletes, according to the literature. Which logically speaking puts this group at the highest risk of sustaining the dreaded stress fracture, simply put – too much overload on a weakened skeleton, too much exercise, and not enough nourishment to keep up with the bone turnover. The most high-risk sports for sustaining stress fractures are also those with the highest rates of disordered eating: ballet, distance running, skating, gymnastics and rowing.

But here’s the thing: stress fractures are also arguably the easiest of the overuse injuries to prevent from happening, or at least prevent from worsening once they start. They are thoughtful little devils, in that they give you warning signs as they gently create microcracks in the bone, one painful step at a time. Should you choose to ignore the progressing microcracks, they will get crankier day by day, eventually making it painful for you to walk. Should you choose to really blow them off, you can run yourself into a full bone fracture – bringing with it night pain, throbbing and swelling at rest, and usually some time non-weight bearing (in a cast for the lower limb, crutches for the hip and femur, typically 6-12 weeks IF you eat well during recovery, longer if not).

So while health professionals and researchers are spending oodles of money researching how to best prevent and treat these debilitating injuries, I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room. The fact that most of these stress fractures wouldn’t eventuate, if the athlete made the choice to stop the aggravating activity when it first surfaced its head. A newly formed stress reaction (the stage before a stress fracture) will heal with just a couple of weeks off running – you can usually keep walking and doing all other exercise. Seems simple – just stop running, or dancing. Have a week off.

Only it’s not that simple, because you can’t. You have a voice in your head that wants you to push through the pain, because if you stop running, you’ll get fat and lose everything you’ve been working for. You try to argue with the voice, reasoning that a week off now is far better than 8 weeks in a cast if you keep running…..but you can’t. Simply put: the pain from ignoring/fighting the voice in your head is worse than the pain of the stress fracture. Far worse. And that is something that only someone who has been through an ED would understand; certainly your doctor or physio is unlikely to get it. “You have such a high pain threshold”, they say. Oh if only they could walk a day in your shoes! Physical pain is a mere annoyance; mental pain on the other hand is nothing short of crippling. And it never stops. Like a repetitious steak knife to the brain.
So, my goal for myself and others is to work out strategies to help fight the beast at this crucial moment in time when things are make or break, quite literally:

1) Fight the Fear Head-On. In this day and age, with a little Google-action combined with the high IQ of most high-achieving individuals, it is likely that you already know when you are at risk of an impending stress fracture (Google “foot pain in a runner” and see what comes up….). Next step then: google the treatment protocol. While I spend much of my work life as a Physio hating when patients self-diagnose, in this case it can be useful as a head-on tool for fighting the ED voices that are insisting that you push through the pain. Sometimes, having the weaponry of “if we keep pushing through this pain we won’t be able to run or walk for 6 weeks!” is helpful in the daily warfare and can assist in avoiding a full-blown bone break.

Sometimes fear of the impending "worst case scenario" can help you to protect your body before the worst happens....stick it somewhere you see it often

Sometimes fear of the impending “worst case scenario” can help you to protect your body before the worst happens….stick it somewhere you see it often

2) Verbalise what is going on to someone that you trust. It’s OK to say “I don’t trust myself to not run at the moment”. Even better if you can get some company – ask a friend to come walking or to the gym with you, so that they can be in charge of not letting you hurt yourself. Or tell your dance teacher or coach what you are and aren’t allowed to do. It’s OK to ask for help, and it’ll give you that exercise outlet without having to fight the self-destructive urges for at least a small amount of time.

3) Create a plan, write it down, and obsessively stick to it. Channel the beast into a set program of a different kind – one that won’t cause further hurt. If you’ve caught it early, you’ll likely need about 2 weeks off pounding activities. So write a plan filled with core work, swimming, cycling and other safe activities and commit to recording your sessions. Often the objectivity of having a written plan helps to quieten the irrational urges that surface.

4) Create a goal that relies on you not worsening this injury. You may have a dance concert in 3 months, a fun run in 4 months, an Ironman in 6 months or even a holiday or event that you’d love to be strutting around in high heels for. Get something visual to remind you of this, and stick it somewhere you’ll see it – screensaver, dresser mirror etc.

5) Visualise yourself at your fittest and healthiest. Defend your health at all costs – you only have one body. Whenever we break it down, whether it be through malnutrition or injury, it takes a huge amount of time and energy to rebuild the body. Same with the starvation cycle – every time you go through the process, your metabolism gets damaged just that bit more and it’s harder for it to bounce back (trust me after 10+ years of that cycle the body becomes very thrifty!). As painful as the ‘now’ is, try to focus on the bigger, long-term picture as much as possible.

6) Distract yourself. Plan activities ahead of time, so that idleness doesn’t allow for unhelpful thoughts to sneak in. Anything you love that maybe you usually don’t make time for when you are training – baking, art, writing, reading, coffee with friends, photography. A gratitude journal can be extremely helpful at this time for focusing on all the wonderful things that you do still have.

7) Failing all of that: get your Physio involved. I have both been a patient, and had patients of my own, who need to be “protected from themselves” (or more accurately, Ana or an exercise addiction or both). You may think you are insane asking for help, but your Physio (if they are decent) will already know that you are struggling to stop exercising, and will have treated others like you before. There are options to put patients in a cast or boot or on crutches even in the early stages of a stress reaction if they aren’t able to stop themselves from making the injury worse. ‘Do no harm’ is always the number one priority, whatever form of protection that comes in. If you can muster the strength to tell your Physio that you cannot stop yourself from running, they will take over with the rest and you are allowed to feel the sheer relief of not having to fight the beast, at least for a few weeks.

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In part II of this post I will go into strategies for psychologically coping with more serious injuries or down time from your beloved sport.

K xo

Sesamoid Fractures

D10 Post Op Review
Day 13 post-Op

“Your journey has moulded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think that you’ve lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.”

So it will be two weeks tomorrow since my foot surgery, what a whirlwind of a fortnight. This is going to sound like stating the obvious but I just cannot wrap my head around how much it has taken out of me – I mean, I can do an Ironman and run 3 days later, but this surgery thing is in a whole different ball park! Even as a physio, I am constantly amazed at how exhausted I am and how little it takes to get fatigued or to swell up the foot…..but I am learning, often the hard way, and trying to be very patient with myself (doesn’t come easily!). I guess I figured that I was super fit going into the surgery and I had done so much “pre-hab” that I would just breeze through it – ah, close but no cigar! As promised, for the medical nerds out there I’ll go into the juicy details; if you’re not into it then feel free to let your eyes glaze over momentarily while you fast-forward past this section.

The fracture to the medial sesamoid happened 8 months ago; because of the difficulty in diagnosing this injury and because it was literally Christmas time there was a 2 week delay in getting the MRI results and a definitive diagnosis, then getting into a boot to offload the bone. Sesamoids are well known for being very difficult to treat and even with 8-12 weeks in a boot, your chances of it healing are statistically about 50%. This is mainly due to the location of the bone (under the forefoot so it gets your full body weight with every single step), and the poor blood flow to it – which is usually only one small artery for supplying all the nutrients needed for healing. Often when it fractures, you either break the artery or the swelling compresses it, further limiting the blood flow. I’m sure the delay in diagnosis would not have helped nor – I’m sure in retrospect – would me working 40 hours a week on my feet while in the boot; lesson learnt and I would never let a patient of mine do that. (Got to love the benefit of hindsight) So long story short, 4 months after this I had another MRI that showed no healing through the bone despite the mandatory time the boot, and I found myself sitting in the very swish office of a well-known sports surgeon in a big city far away from home.
He explained that we had a few options, and after a lengthy chat and a lot of questions from me, we both decided that the best shot I had at competing in Ironmans in the long term was to operate. He planned to do a bone graft from the hip and screw it into the sesamoid, but also do a dorsiflexion osteotomy of the 1st metatarsal at the same time, which would effectively offload the sesamoid and hopefully prevent me from having this problem again in the future.
So far so good, but here’s the kicker: it was fairly major surgery. Two hours under the knife, overnight stay in hospital, 10 days in a backslab, 6 weeks in a cast non-weight-bearing, then a further 6-8 weeks in a boot partial weight-bearing and a grand total of 9-12 months before I start a return-to-run program. Gulp. I asked him how long we could put off the surgery – I needed time to think! – and he gave me a couple of months. I needed every bit of that time to process how I was going to handle the situation (mentally and physically, not to mention the logistics of work etc) and to most importantly psychologically prepare myself so that I would be able to maintain good nutrition for healing and not revert to old habits throughout this challenging time.

Which brings us to the now, 13 days post-op.

The surgery itself did not go to plan in that when he got in there, the fractured bone literally “fell apart like an eggshell” and so he set about salvaging what he could of it. No bone graft was done but he re-attached the ligaments to the new smoothed out bone and the outcome should remain as favourable as if the bone graft was done. The osteotomy went well, and when the backslab came off it felt like unwrapping a present to see two relatively big but very neat incision scars and everything coming along well. Surgeon’s happy means I’m happy. He didn’t let me leave without a 15 minute lecture on training and not overdoing it, but then he does work exclusively with athletes so I am thinking I was not alone on the receiving end of that spiel! My next review is in 5 weeks to get an XRay done and hopefully we can remove the cast and get into a boot shortly after. I am allowed to do upper body weights and Pilates as long as I do not put my right foot on the ground, but nothing else. I will hopefully get back into swimming and deep water running, plus cycling in the boot on the turbo trainer, once the cast is removed.

The things I have handled well include preparing work and home so that I can still be keeping my mind occupied – that is, running the business from home and still overseeing my junior staff treating my patients etc. That has been huge for me, because without running AND my work I go mad. Take away running – and Physio becomes my main crutch, excuse the pun. So the surgeon was happy to work with me on that one, I was upfront from the beginning and he has been brilliant with setting clear guidelines. As of next week I will go back to the clinic and see selected patients during half-days so that will be even better – the worst thing you can do in this situation is have only yourself to focus on! I was also lucky to have my closest friends around me throughout the whole process, as well as my husband’s family who I am closer to than my own. They all knew in advance that I would be in need of lots of laughs, some sense of “normality” and zero sympathy (I am NOT a good patient! Business as usual….well, as much as possible!). Anyone in my life that I thought would not be able to abide by those guidelines I haven’t spent much time with (yet). I need to make sure I have a strong support network around me and it has been worth its weight in gold; I would do the same for any of my friends. (Don’t be afraid to tell people what you need – your true friends will actually feel more comfortable as they will likely be upset seeing you so busted up as well! This was a lesson in life that took me a long time to learn but that has been invaluable). And of course, there has been plenty of baking coming from my kitchen (therapy for me and a great “thank you” gesture for said friends). Equally as important as anything else has been making sure I eat great quality food, regularly, and getting enough sleep – not as easy as it sounds with zero appetite after all that my body has been through. Of course, this is hard for me when I can’t train as the two remain inextricably linked for me (ironically I am healthiest food-wise when I am in full Ironman training mode), but having prepared mentally for it beforehand was very important. I have no intentions of gaining any weight during the next few months, but by the same token now is not the time to be depriving my body of any vital nutrients – the success of this surgery depends on it. My long-term running depends on it. And that, my friends, is non-negotiable!!
What I have found most challenging has been pacing myself – I am so used to going 100 miles an hour every waking moment of the day; obviously being in plaster non-weight bearing slows you down but having to stop and REST every hour or two is a HUGE ask for this little duck! The other complications couldn’t have really been predicted – I have low blood pressure normally (110/70) and a low resting HR (55) which I put down to being fit and possibly a bit of after-effects from the ED; but my body really struggled with the anaesthetic – the night after my BP went down to 70/40 and things got a bit hairy for a while there. But all is well now, onwards and upwards, time to rebuild this body!

Anyone wanting more info about sesamoids and stress fractures can head to this brilliant site:
and of course I am happy to answer any questions on this tricky topic or with coping with injuries.
Happy training!
K xo