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Running And Injury - A Marathoner's Drive
Often Detours Them to Physical Therapist

By Lauren Beckham Falcone - Boston Herald

Marathon season is to physical therapists what tax season is to accountants: unbelievably busy.

With torn ligaments, blown knees and swollen feet, marathoners-in-training are the walking wounded. But many refuse to hang up their sneakers, which is why many local PTs' office hours are booked solid during the months before the Boston Marathon.

"It's a busy time of year for physical therapists," said Nicole Connerton, a physical therapist at New England Baptist Hospital in Chestnut Hill. "Everyone seems to be running the Boston Marathon this year. And there seem to be a lot of injuries, too."

Marathoners, that bunch who run a distance most of us wouldn't want to drive, generally don't seem fazed by shin splints or tendonitis. However, before a big goal race such as Boston, would-be Joan Benoit Samuelsons and Johnny Kellys hope they'll heal up fast enough to cross the finish line.

And that's the problem, experts said.

"Marathon runners come in with these huge goals," Connerton said. "And they run and they run, and then they start having problems. The thing is, it doesn't go away unless you take a break, and most (runners) won't."

Connerton, who is a marathoner herself, said she tries to talk reason to her patients and friends who are overdoing it, but sometimes they don't run with her advice.

"I tell them it's not going away unless they stop running," she said. "But telling someone training for a marathon to stop for four weeks makes them want to shoot themselves."

Connie Mooney, 39, of South Boston has had to deal with a few aches and pains while training for her first marathon, but she's not as gung-ho as some of her fellow racers.

"On one really icy trek I developed a sore ankle," said the mother of two. "And then I went looking on the Internet, diagnosing myself. I rested for a week because I was so worried about making it worse. And it worked. But some other runners? They just pop a Motrin before a long run and hope for the best. And I heard lots of people are getting a prescription for the painkiller Vioxx."

Yet, in doing so, marathoners are running the risk of postrace pain and possible surgery.

"Marathon running pounds your body," said Kevin McGovern, physical therapist and founder of McGovern Physical Therapy in Revere. "Some human beings are made for it, others are not. And that's when you see plantar fascitis, which is basically a catch-all for tendonitis of the bottom of the feet, disc problems and back problems."

Like Connerton, McGovern tries to tell injured runners to rest, but he hates to waste his breath.

"There's no such thing as rest to a marathoner," he said.

But that mentality can turn a marathoner into a couch potato in no time.

"Oftentimes, minor injuries are left untreated until something more serious occurs, such as a stress fracture," said James Onate, assistant professor of athletic training at Boston University's Sargent College of Health and Human Sciences. "The minor injuries may also contribute to articular cartilage degeneration and possibly the early onset of osteoarthritis."

That's not including the slipped discs, torn tendons and knee injures, and the list of maladies associated with endurance training doesn't end there.

According to recent research by the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., marathoners, cross-trainers and triathletes can run the risk of making themselves sick.

Evidence suggests that bodies strained by prolonged and strenuous exercise without proper rest are vulnerable not only to muscular and skeletal problems, but to infections and perhaps even disease.

Matthew Rufo, 27, of Brighton is one of the Boston Marathon's casualties. An avid sportsman who "has to" go to the gym seven days a week, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst fund-raiser decided to run the marathon two years ago. He endured the aches and pains of training. On marathon day, his knee gave out on Heartbreak Hill.

"I had to be carried to the nurse's station," he said. "I don't remember a lot, but I guess I screamed like a girl for an hour."

Now, because of his badly injured knee, he is recuperating from arthoscopic surgery and is in physical therapy for at least three months. His marathon days are over.

"I'll always want to run it," he said. "But I don't know if I ever will."

McGovern understands most Boston marathoners, injured or not, can't be dissuaded from running, but if they're experiencing some aches and pains, he's got some last-minute advice.

"I suggest taking off a good three to four days before the race," he said. "Do nothing. If you have to do cardio, then try the Stairmaster. No pounding. Take some over-the-counter pain medicine, ice the pain, keep stretching and hope for the best."

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