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Treating my Shin Splints and Plantar Fasciitis with ASTYM and Dry Needling

I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon every year from 2010 to 2013, and every time I did the race, I seemed to have more problems with shin splints and foot pain than the previous race – and yes, I follow a really good half marathon training program by Hal Higdon. My legs hurt so much during the 2013 race, I was pretty sure I ran the race with three stress fractures in my tibias (two in my left, one in my right).

After the 2013 half marathon I rested my legs for months, but I was in pain within weeks of trying to run again. I decided to suck it up and get professional help. I started with an informal evaluation at one of Runner’s Den’s weekly injury clinics. I described my pain to the doctor and he immediately referred me to Endurance Rehab for ASTYM®. And then he warned me – ASTYM hurts.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. I used to be a gymnast. How bad could it be?

The next day, I called to make an appointment at Endurance Rehab and relayed the injury clinic doctor’s recommendation that I receive ASTYM and she warned me – You know it’s going to hurt a lot, right?

Ok now I started to worry a little bit if the receptionist was warning me. I did some research on YouTube to get an idea of what I was in for.

A few days later I met with my physical therapist, Eric, who did a full athletic history and evaluation. He said my shin pain was due to the fact that I had a lot of scar tissue my legs, which is why they didn’t get better with rest alone. His plan of action: break up the scar tissue with ASTYM, strengthen my leg muscles, and train me on a better running posture to prevent recurrence.

My calves after a session of ASTYM - early in the process

My Legs after ASTYM – Early in the Process

My ASTYM included both anterior tibialis muscles (front outside lower leg), my left posterior tibialis (front inside lower leg), both calves, and the bottoms of both feet. The video above must have been done on a person who didn’t have any injuries because Holy Fucking Shit ASTYM hurts! The first time Eric did ASTYM on me, it hurt so much I was shaking by the time he was halfway through. (He said I was the first person he’s seen have that reaction.) I never shook again, but it is not uncommon for me to cringe, grunt, scream, swear, and pound the table during ASTYM. I’ve pulled my foot away a few times, and each time Eric patiently holds out his hand until I give it back.

And did I mention the bruising? We’re all glad I did this during winter because if I wore a dress or shorts outside, everyone would wonder who’s beating me.

The good news is the pain gets better and the bruising decreases over time as the scar tissue breaks up. When he works on me, Eric uses ASTYM and manually massages my tibialis muscles. His hands are bright red from the pressure he’s putting on my muscles and except for a few small areas on my plantar fascia and my post tibialis, I’m pretty comfortable compared to when he first worked on me.

Dry Needling - 20 Needles in my Post Tibialis

Dry Needling – 20 Needles in my Post Tibialis

We also did some dry needling in my post tibialis during physical therapy. Dry needling uses the same gauge needles as acupuncture but they go all the way into the muscles. It’s based on the premise that the needles cause micro-trauma where they’re inserted which stimulates the healing process. There are people on both sides of whether dry needling is an effective treatment or only placebo. I don’t care. It seemed to help me.

It felt really intense when the needles were in my leg, especially when they were going in. I had an urge to point and flex my foot after the needles were in but I figured that would hurt a lot so I opted to do it with my non-needled foot instead.

I’m happy to share that my legs are on the mend and I’m starting to run again. I’ll write another post soon about the process of learning to run with a completely different running form.

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