Out There: Hips Don’t Lie

Injured often? It's all in the hips.

Sometimes the best solution really is the simplest one.

After five months of not running, I landed in Dr. John Ball’s office. Normally doctors don’t get an introduction to my alter ego, Hot Mess Susan, until the second or third appointment, but I had reached the end of my rope. Between wails laced with despair and snot, I outlined my knee injury for my new doctor.

His response was completely different than expected. Where other doctors came up with elaborate hypotheses for the cause of my knee pain, Dr. Ball kept it simple. My knee was fine, he said, but my hips were the main problem.

It seemed almost too simple. After all, the doctors I had seen previously wanted to try cortisone injections and exploratory surgery. Besides, if my knee was so fine, as he said, then why did it hurt so much?

But for some reason, I trusted Dr. Ball. Hot Mess Susan didn’t seem to faze him, probably because most other athletes come to him in a similar state: tired, frustrated, and desperate for something (anything!) that would get them running again.

As it turns out, he was right. Almost every single problem I have as a runner can be traced back to my hips. Since my first day in his office, it’s become a recurring theme:

“Dr. Ball, my knee hurts.”

“It’s your weak hips.”

“Hey, so my hamstring is doing this weird thing…”

“Because of your hips.”

“So this weekend I was running and…”

“You got a weird pain? Yeah, weak hips.”

“I think I’ve got strep throat.”

“Blame the hips.”

“I burn toast.”

“Hips.”

It’s gotten to the point where Writer’s Block means a trip to the gym, because, you know…the hips.

Shakira was right, y’all: Your hips don’t lie. Scientists have confirmed this time and time again with studies identifying weak hips as the culprit behind many biomechanical issues and injuries in runners. It’s especially true for female runners who are more prone to weak hips (I believe it’s related to carrying around what scholars call “my humps, my humps, my lovely lady lumps,” but scientists have yet to return my e-mails on this. Rude.).

The hips need to be strong in order to support the movement of all the other parts used in running – the feet, ankles, knees, abs, back, even the shoulders. Yes, your body is one big beautiful kinetic chain, and when one link is wonky, everything else gets thrown off.

You might think, working at a running magazine, that I’d know all of this already. And you would be right. Kinda. Sorta. Not really.

One of my editors, Mario Fraioli, also happens to be my running coach. He has sent me helpful strengthening exercises and continuously reminds me to balance my run training with a regime to strengthen the entire kinetic chain. All of these e-mails were moved to a folder in my inbox titled “Crap from Coach Dude.”

While lamenting my knee pain on Twitter, my friend Jason Fitzgerald (also a running coach) asked if I had considered weak hips as a possibility. I believe my answer actually included the words “pish-posh,” because when I make an ass of myself, I really go all out.

Around the time I became injured, my colleague Matt Fitzgerald wrote a piece about my very condition, prevention, and cure, yet I refused to believe the solution could be so simple. Instead, I went from doctor to doctor, collecting different diagnoses like Taylor Swift collects ex-boyfriends. And, like my girl Taylor, I wrote about my mélange of maladies.

I made the same mistake you probably make, too. Humans have a tendency to ignore information if it doesn’t apply to us right this second. Like flossing, saving money, or – yes – strengthening exercises, we brush aside expert advice because dentures, retirement, and injury aren’t a pressing issue.

Or so we think.

Future-You would like it very much if Current-You would get your head out of your ass and do all of those things. Not tomorrow, not next week – now.

It wasn’t until I landed in Dr. Ball’s office, desperate to avoid the needle and knife of a cut-happy surgeon that I finally got it.

Several months, dozens of ART sessions with Dr. Ball, and thousands of Clam Shells later, I’m finally running again. Though my initial pace has been slow, I can already sense I’m on the road to becoming a better, stronger runner than before.

Sometimes the best solution really is the simplest one.

****

About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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