It has been a whirlwind these past couple of weeks, but really this journey began last December and has finally come to an end yesterday. Now, however, I am starting a new chapter for the season and beginning a recovery process into a better 2009 and beyond.
Last November when I began training again for the 2009 season, I felt quite a bit of frustration. Many of the symptoms I have been dealing with since an ankle injury at the Lisbon World Cup in May of 2007, had ceased to go away. All last year, I was dealing with a bit of pain, but I believed my ligaments in my ankle were loose from the fall and were getting better with time. I felt I needed to continue strengthening my ligaments. Although that thought mentally got me through the season last year, I was correct in that something was not quite right with my left leg, but the issue was not the ligaments in my ankle, but a peronial nerve impingement near my knee. What I mean by this is, just below my knee on the left side of my leg, my nerve was entrapped by some tissue (possibly scar tissue from my ankle injury). An MRI of my knee also showed a cist near the same area. While exercising, especially at a high intensity, the area swells and the nerve was getting cut off (much like a garden hose that gets pinched off). The symptoms I was feeling while racing and training while running were a result of my nerve not being able to fully send the correct message to my muscles; therefore, not being able to work correctly. I was not able to perform at 100% and I definitely want to be competing at 100% and training at 100%, so I went through several months of testing, patience and discovering what was really going on with my leg since this is not a normal injury.
Fortunately, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Dr. Roberty Bray, a neurological surgeon, who runs the D.I.S.C. facility in Marina Del Ray, CA. Feel free to check out the facility at: http://www.discmdgroup.com/index.asp. He was in Colorado a couple of weeks ago as a volunteer doctor at the training center. He invited me out to California to have all tests and procedures completed under the care of him and his team of doctors. His goal was to get the tests and procedures done as soon as possible so that I could get going with my season, but to also know 100% what exactly was going on with my leg. I had a nerve conduction test completed and found that post-exercise I have a 57% loss of nerve function with my peoronial nerve near my fibular head. This causes my foot to have weak dorsiflexion (ability to pull my foot up) so this causes problems with the push off on my run and bringing my foot forward (I have foot drop). I most likely damaged my nerve when I sprained my ankle and the scar tissue was trapping the nerve. It was felt the cist needed to be removed as well, which could have also contributed to the irritation on the nerve. On Monday, Feb. 23rd, I went under a minor surgical procedure (although I have never even had stitches before…so this was very new to me!!) to release the entrapped nerve (Dr. Bray performed) and remove the cist (Dr. Millstein). The surgery was completed in less than 90 min and I was able to stay awake….although I was “relaxed” with some help from some drugs. My leg was also numbed (and continued to stay numb for 24 hours) by a femoral nerve block (similar to an epidural, but in my leg). This feels very, very strange not being able to feel your leg!!!!
Today I am not in too much pain, but of course walking is a slow process at the moment. After a week off, I should be able to get back into the pool and after a couple weeks I can get back on my bike and three weeks I will be cleared to start running! Although this means I will miss the first part of my season, my goal is to be ready to race by June. I know I will take it day by day and will first focus on smart recovery.
I am so relieved to finally figure out what was hampering my leg…it has been almost two years and I am fortunate to have figured it out because once the nerve gets irritated, it only gets worse over time. I know that I could not have continued to race and train at this level because I could have potentially caused my leg permanent nerve damage.
I have an appointment with the Dr. Bray this afternoon and I will get my full report of recovery protocol.
I am looking forward to this next phase of my career and excited to begin moving forward.