Today I ran 9.6 miles in 91.5 minutes.

Never in a million years would I think I could have done that three months ago, when I decided to actually train for the BOLDERBoulder 10K Memorial Day race. As you may recall, last year I ran it with no preparation at all. This year, I credit my coach, Matt Hensley, for safely guiding me to becoming a regular runner with a varied workout that alternates between increasing levels of challenge and planned active-recovery days that include slower and shorter runs.

There’s another aspect to my ability to run better. Part of Matt’s strategy includes a significant focus on injury-prevention exercises, including ones for the hips and core. I diligently followed Matt’s routine, and then I had a breakthrough—a session with Mitchell Yass, doctor of physical therapy.

For more than three years, my hips and my groin muscles (sorry to be so graphic) have been insanely tight. I assumed that it was partly due to the excessive amount of sitting that I do every day in my “cushy” desk job…combined with the spiritual notion that our hips are the major thrust in moving our bodies forward and that the stresses of guiding Bottom Line forward in the challenging information industry was living in my hips. Whatever it was, getting in and out of the bathtub required sitting and spinning from the side of the tub (no straddling) and getting on and off the bicycle was the most challenging part of my summer rides. Ride a horse? Fugettaboutit.

Enter Dr. Yass. He’s a longtime F-O-B (Friend of Bottom Line)—he has been an expert source on many stories regarding joint and muscle pain…one of our most popular bloggers and a guest on my latest podcast (more on the podcast later).

There are thousands of physical therapists out there, so what makes Mitch so special? He sees things in a way that the rest of the orthopedic community simply doesn’t. “Simply” being the key word. With a background as a bodybuilder and the son of a physics professor, Mitch has a unique ability to “see” the source of pain and follow its trail from where it hurts to where it starts. It’s all angles and connections. A pain in your knee may have started in your back, and a pain in your foot may also be radiating from your knee. To twist a cliché, “it’s not where the pain finishes, it’s where it starts.” The problem is that most practitioners treat the end pain—cortisone shots…surgery…opioids…and sometimes they say, “Try these exercises,” but far too often, the exercises don’t work.

For Mitch, the pain is about muscular imbalance. A pain here means something is out of balance or weaker there. Your knees are held together with a series of muscles and ligaments. If one side is stronger than the other, it will pull harder and create pain on the weak side. It’s not an arthritis problem…it’s a weak muscle problem. Weak muscles allow the joint surfaces to rub, creating wear and tear. The same thing happens throughout our bodies. Shoulders. Backs. Hips.

I previously had gone to one of the top orthopedic practices in the country out in Colorado. There doctors ordered an MRI and found that I have a slight tear in the cartilage surrounding my left hip. Their advice: Have a cortisone shot and see if that relieves the pain. If so, then the tear is my problem. If not, then it might be something else. No, thank you. I knew it wasn’t simply a tear because the pain changed character—sometimes better and sometimes worse…and sometimes different sides.

So I tried something else—a chiropractor. He adjusted my back several times, but that made absolutely zero difference on my hips. He gave me stretches. Again, zero difference. Then I went to a physical therapist in Connecticut, where you are allowed to go for treatment without having first gone to a doctor. Super-smart guy. Super-caring. Stretched me and did exercises with me that worked on muscle groups. He even tried dry-needling, which is a trendy technique to ease muscle pain. Still no improvement.

I gave up and simply ignored the pain and slid into the tub. Then my sister had a knee problem. She did the same thing—went to an orthopedist…when to physical therapy multiple times a week for a month or two. Again, no change.

Then she had a Facetime session with Mitch. He watched her walk. He watched her stand. He gave her three exercises. She did the exercises, and within days, her pain was gone. No joke. What’s the difference? He saw the muscle that was weak and gave her very targeted exercises to strengthen the weak muscle.

So simple, yet no one gets it?

As Mitch and I discussed in the podcast, most doctors are focused on MRI results for diagnosis and most physical therapists simply execute the “diagnosis” from the doctor. The problem is that pain and MRIs often are mutually exclusive. Just because you have pain doesn’t mean that you have a physical anomaly…and just because you have a physical abnormality (e.g., a bulging disc in your back or a cartilage tear) doesn’t mean that you have pain. This has been documented, yet the medical community continues to live by the religion of technology.

It’s dangerous and costly. Useless surgeries. Excessive medication. Tragic, really. That’s what we talked about in the podcast because everyone needs to understand what he/she is up against and the right way to fix most musculoskeletal problems.

What did Mitch do for me? Same routine as my sister—I stood…I walked…I ran…all while he watched me. He could see my knee collapsing in and my feet brushing when I walked. Why? My gluteus medius on the outside of my hips simply aren’t strong enough to balance my other muscles. Three exercises using only resistance bands one for my gluteus medius, one for my gluteus maximus (my butt) and one for my hamstrings. Three sets of 10 reps three times a week. Period.

No joke…within days, I could lift my leg into the tub.

I will admit that I am not pain-free. I may never be. But in just two weeks, I have more range of motion than I’ve had in years and my body isn’t aching at every step as it had been.

By the way, during the podcast, I was surprised to hear what Mitch had to say about that standby for all athletes—stretching. You should listen. The Bottom Line Advocator podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify…and it’s free.

I have five weeks to go until the race. My original goal was to run the 6.2 miles (10K) without stopping and (hopefully) in 62 minutes, which would pace out to 10-minute miles. But now I’m thinking I’m playing a little small. Do I hear nine minutes/mile? Hmmmm. With increased flexibility and reduced pain, anything is possible.

Thank you, Dr. Mitchell Yass.

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