DIY physiotherapy for the fed-up and injured


I have struggled with injury since completing the Vanguard Way in mid-June. My succumbing to injury was all the more frustrating as I recall thinking on the final miles of 68 what a relief it was to be ‘intact’. Tired and fading, but intact. Or not, as it turned out. A ball of tightness gathered behind my right knee in the following days. I rested. No change. I ran a little. No change. A fortnight rolled by. I visited a physio who diagnosed an issue with the gastrocnemius, a muscle I had never heard of. She advised stretching. I stretched. No change. I tried running again. No change. I hoped to wake up one day with the pain gone. That would not happen. Suddenly, the meat of July was on me. The Scottish hill races I had noted expectantly on my calendar months earlier came and went. A second physio visit followed. A new problem, apparently, had emerged. The popliteal fosso. More foreign words. Light running and stretching, she recommended. I stretched like I have never stretched before. I almost became bendy. I touched my toes. Running? No change. What is the point in touching your toes if you cannot run?

Fed-up. Frustrated. Exasperated. Desperate times, desperate measures. In a hotel room in Gairloch – surrounded by hills I could not run up – I appointed myself physiotherapist. Self-diagnosis (and subsequent treatment) is like cutting your own hair. Such action may seem the best idea you have ever had at the time, only to end in disaster and humiliation. I proceeded nonetheless. I examined my calf, feeling for discomfort. I found some on the inside back of my left leg below the knee. I pushed, poked and prodded until the muscle felt bruised. I found pressure points and squeezed. Was this the troublesome gastrocnemius? Who knows? The tightness behind the knee was loosening and the self-inflicted pain was cartharsis. That was all that mattered.

The next day I ran: 21 minutes and three miles in one direction, 18-and-a-half minutes and three miles in the other. Was I cured? No, of course not, but I felt immeasurably better. Was the improvement physical and the result of my crude handiwork? Or was it psychological? Had taking ownership of the problem, not simply waiting and seeing, not relying on the actions of a physiotherapist (a real one) made the difference? Who knows? Pummelling my calf with a pair of thumbs seems to have had an effect. I can only hope that DIY physio does not come back to haunt me like a bad haircut.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. John says:

    I had a problem with my gastrocnemius earlier this year. It got better with rest, lots of self massage and rolling the area with a frozen water bottle.

    1. heightsofmadness says:

      That’s good to know, thanks. I’ve a bottle of water chilling in the freezer as I write.

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