Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Mysterious Pain in the Butt and the Athletic Identity

I broke my butt in November. At least I thought I had.

Uh oh! I thought. This feels exactly like the hambutt episode that occurred in late August 2008 that turned me into an ultracyclist in early 2009 because I couldn't run. But a doctor thought differently.

It's piriformis syndrome! he said. Get thee to a physical therapist. That I did. And the thumb in the bum therapist didn't help.

So I went to another physical therapist. It's your sciatic nerve! he said. We must improve your posture and core strength. (Those two things would've been good to work on anyway.) But it didn't improve after 5 weeks of physical therapy.

And so, today, I saw another doctor. It's your hambutt! he said. (Well, hamstring, if we're being professional here.) Get thee an MRI.

And that's where it stops. I'd rather have a new bike. And for the price of an MRI, I probably could.

So far, I haven't run for over two months. I haven't been on my bike in an effort to not irritate my maybe/maybe not pissed off sciatic nerve. (Sit up straight! Don't arch your back!) I even stopped flip turning in the pool so I wouldn't curl up in the fetal position and put tension on the nerve.

But now I am confused. Maybe I have a pissed off hambutt AND a pissed off sciatic nerve. Throw in athletic disillusionment derived from this lethal combination and I have developed an athlete triad never before defined.

This all got me thinking about the athletic identity.

I'm just an amateur athlete. Nobody pays me to do this. But training structures my day, and gives me a steady stream of goals. Racing lets me show off what I've done in training--and keeps me on schedule. Even if I'm just attempting to kick the butts of other 25-29 year old female weekend warriors.

What about athletes who are paid to show us what they've got? They have a lot more riding on their physical form. What happens to them when they're knocked out for a season or more because of an injury? Do they have an identity crisis? Do they get sad? Can they see a bigger picture?

I'm currently working on an article about Chris O'Riordan, a former Stanford baseball payer who was drafted by the Texas Rangers organization in 2002. He had a knee surgery that sat him out two entire seasons (2004-2005), and that played a factor in his leaving professional baseball. He seems at peace with it all now, about 4 years after leaving, but I wonder what 23-year old Chris was feeling after surgery and during those two seasons off.

...damn nervy hambutt...


  1. Oh no Erin! This does not sound good at all. Hang in there!

  2. DAMN! You're good. I feel for you as an athlete, but as a writer and journalist, you kick hambutt.

  3. Merci beaucoup, Professeur Rheingold!

  4. I just stumbled across your blog and this post and your sciatic nerve poem (so accurate, haha) in a desperate attempt to find someone who can empathize with this pain [in the butt] and agony. I haven't run in weeks now and I'm irritable, mopey, and basically tear up every time I see someone running, knowing that I can't. I'm supposed to be doing a race this Sunday, but obviously that is out of the question, because I'm in far too much pain to run (unless I just do the swim and then bike and ditch out at the end, but that seems pretty pointless).

    Any luck with treatment and overcoming the butt pain? Did you wait it out? Stretch like a fiend? Take as much pity on yourself as I'm presently doing...? *sigh*
    In the meantime, I'm cycling and swimming my ass off. Or at least I wish I was, then this wouldn't hurt.


  5. Oh no! I'm so sorry to hear that! I felt exactly the same way! I went to see a physical therapist, so now I know all the things to do if I get a sciatic nerve problem--they didn't help me, though, because it turns out it was my hamstring all along!!! Misdiagnosed. Not that sciatic nerve exercises are bad. Here's what they told me to do: focus on strengthening your core--especially lower back and lower abs. Take a look at your aero position and sacrifice some down-low aeroness for a less pinchy angle on your nerve. Lie on your back and bring your knee in to your chest with a towel behind your hammie, then slowly extend your leg up and out to just before it hurts. (They called that nerve gliding.) I feel your pain. But you must be in killer swim/bike shape! Do a relay where you do the swim/bike and someone else runs--I made coachubby do that with me and had the fastest run split of my life! :D

  6. Hahaha I like the relay strategy. Thanks so much for the suggestions. I'm going to wait it out and groan and grumble some more about how I'd neglected stretching and core work in the past little while... and make up for lost time by doing a LOT of it now. Good luck with your own training, I'll be sure to pop in on your blog!

  7. Good luck, Julie! I'll be sending you happy-butt vibes :D