My early Christmas present is the gift of hope. I won’t knock it. Hope is better than despair at my age. I’m hearing too many stories about disabling pain and incurable illnesses. I should be grateful for an ache and a twinge to remind me of my mortality.
Yesterday, I concluded my final physical therapy session for a nagging iliotibial band problem. I wrote about this in early November when I started treatment. Back then I feared the pain in my hips that radiated down my legs might be degenerative arthritis or spinal nerve damage. My primary care doctor did not indulge my pessimism. The fact that the pain was occasional and, remarkably, disappeared when I played basketball or racquetball indicated some kind of muscle tightness. He referred me to a physical therapist.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot more about the iliotibial band, which is a thick band of tissue that begins at the hips, runs down the outer part of the thigh, and crosses the knee to attach into the top part of the tibia. Various muscles attach to this band. When the band gets too tight, it can start rubbing against hip, thigh and knee bones, causing inflammation and pain. It’s a relatively common sports injury arising from overuse or faulty body mechanics.
I went into treatment hoping for a miracle cure, perhaps a deep massage that would break up accumulated scar tissue and free the muscles to do their thing. That happened once with a hamstring problem I had. The physical therapist pushed and pulled on my legs and marveled at my tightness and limited rotational range. He also noticed my left leg was weaker than my right. The IT band problem, he suggested, probably didn’t start overnight. Perhaps I had been overcompensating for weakness on my left side after my 2005 hip replacement.
For the past eight weeks, I’ve been introduced to a variety of stretches and muscle-building exercises to loosen me up and equalize the strength in the hip and thigh area. The process has served as a good reminder to get specific treatment for specific injuries. I often hear guys at my athletic club diagnosing their injuries and grumbling about long recovery times. Go see a physical therapist, I say.
Progress has been steady but slow. I would say I’m 75 percent better than eight weeks ago. I’m putting in 60 to 90 minutes a day on the exercises, in addition to the regular stuff I do at the athletic club. Nice to be retired so I can get my nap in. I feel less lower back stiffness when playing basketball and have learned techniques to relieve some morning and evening pain.
My progress points toward full recovery. I plan to follow the therapist’s recommendation to continue the IT stretches as a part of my daily routine. I also get the idea that increasing my overall flexibility will help stave off other injuries.
Preventive maintenance will be my rule for the coming years.