Zebra woman

A zebra hugging a giraffe.

A zebra hugging a giraffe.

"When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras" That has been my approach in life to all that ails me, whether illness or injury. I am not unique and my problems are common. That is what I have always told myself, it helps me have faith that an answer exists and that I can find it if I relentlessly pursue the answer. With my most recent progressively worsening injury, I took this approach and attacked it with vigor. But nothing was working and no relief was found, if anything it was become worse. More than once, I have thought “this is it!” and then been utterly wrong. Thankfully, my sister had an idea and it turns out she was right.

About 6 weeks ago, I went in to have my doctor remove my copper IUD. I was having frequent bad periods and wanted to try something else. Except, my doctor couldn’t get the IUD out. It moved when she tried to remove it, but got stuck, ouch. So I scheduled with a gynecologist and went on my merry way thinking it was merely an inconvenience to have to wait 3.5 weeks to get the damn thing out. Except the next few days, my leg started feeling like it wasn’t working. It would warm up eventually, but 10 days later things really started to go wrong. By the time I got to Romania to race, I could barely walk getting off the plane. I did exercises and PT and foam rolled and managed to get my leg working for the race. It wasn’t ideal to race with one bum leg, but I had hoped it would show up on race day. I didn’t have a great race, but at least my leg seemed to work. I flew home and had my IUD yanked out (literally) 3 hours after I landed. The next day I tried to have a new one put in and my body rejected two attempts to insert a new one.

After the race, I had been hopeful that my leg was improving and that a week of rest would fix me. Except it didn’t. It got progressively worse and almost daily PT/Chiro/ART/NKT/massage did not produce consistent results. My leg just felt like it had forgotten how to run. My quad started to shrink up and I developed a hobble when I tried to run even when there was no pain. My sister suggested the IUD removal could have been the source of my problems. She has two kids and had some of the same symptoms when she had her first child.

As a nulliparous woman (a woman without children), no one was thinking about this connection. No doctor ever suggested that an IUD removal could cause me grave consequences like loss of functioning in my leg. But on my sister’s suggestion, I went and saw a pelvic floor PT. She determined that my tailbone was tucked down and sideways which was pulling my whole pelvis to the right and tipping it forward and the pelvic floor muscles were all very contracted. This in turn caused the femoral nerve to be compressed somewhere and caused my symptoms. After the treatment, I have felt like my leg suddenly remembers how to run and function has returned. I am lucky that I have so many good mother runner friends who have openly talked about how their bodies have been affected by pregnancy and birth. I am lucky that my sister made the connection. I cannot imagine how far down the rabbit hole I could have gone. How much money would I have spent on treatments that didn’t work, how many hours lost to chasing answers. Would I have ever found answers? I share this because many people commented on the last post that they had similar problems and I wanted my experience to be helpful. I think there is a serious failing in the way that we treat both child baring and childfree adult women athletes, I think there are women who are suffering from pelvic floor dysfunction that persists because it is not something that they are even aware is a possibility. 

I don’t think that what occurred for me should be a “zebra” problem. I think it is probably much more common than we think. I have been reading the book “Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick” by Maya Dusenbery and she writes: “In fact, one wonders whether the disease would have been recognized at all were it not for the minority of male sufferers”. Medicine is pretty far behind on understanding issues that affect women predominantly “And it's worth considering to what extent its relative neglect by the medical system is because it mostly affects women, whose complaints are so often heard not as a roar but as a whine”.  After this experience, I know realize that I must take a more feminist approach to my own health. I have given the medical establishment my faith time and time again when instead I should have had healthy skepticism. Until a few years ago, I had never really considered the realities that Dusenbery points out in her book such as the fact that women have not been included in the majority of medical studies, something that is only recently beginning to change. As outside magazine pointed out in this recent article, women have predominately relied on training protocols, nutrition guidelines and injury guidelines that are based on research conduct on men. But women are not small men. And so, I begin the journey back, a bit frustrated by the circumstances but vastly grateful that I am surrounded by smart, open women who talk about their bodies and how it is affected by training, by having kids, by being a woman.

When you hear the sound of hoofbeats, remember women aren’t little horses, they are zebras.