Case History of an Injured Runner

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Mary Peck is a 19 year old girl. She's also a runner. A good runner. Maybe a great runner. She dreams of the 2004 Olympics.

Mary ran a 3:11 in Boston 2000, and this past November, ran a 58:00 plus 15k in cold, hilly upstate New York. Very promising. Until her back gave out. With no warning, her entire back ceased up on her. She could barely walk let alone run. She couldn't get beyond 4 miles without the back going into a full spasm. Her sole identity had become that of a young, promising runner, and now, she was unable to run. Mary's success has been a result of her commitment to hard work. It was now out of her hands. The situation was beyond her control.

Seeking Answers

Mary went the normal route, seeing several doctors, looking for solutions that would allow her to keep training. Tests, treatments and hopes didn't produce the results she needed. Mary was now an injured runner with no "program". This feeling was foreign and unacceptable to her.

I first met Mary at a clinic I gave last August at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. Mary spoke to me after the clinic, and there was no doubt she was a focused and committed runner.

It was now mid-December, and Mary Peck was on the phone. She briefly explained her situation. We set up an appointment. After going through her history, a couple things jumped out at me; first, no doctor had convinced Mary they knew what her problem was, and second, she was still as bad as the day it started, almost 30 days prior. Mary was living in a freeze-frame and unable to run.

One of the doctors Mary had seen was a chiropractor. She'd been seeing him for several months. Mary liked him. He was a sportsmedicine expert. His treatments were once per week before she became injured, and once injured, he re-took her x-rays to see if there was anything "seriously" wrong. He found nothing, so his treatment continued at once per week. Even Mary recognized the illogic here, and decided to look elsewhere.

Using the x-rays that were taken at his office, I immediately noticed Mary's sacral base angle, which is normally 36-42, was 50. An increased sacral base angle will cause the low back to cease up prematurely under stress (such as in running). Ceasing up equates to spasms in the low back. The muscles go into a defensive mode to protect any stressed areas in the body. Typically, this is a cumulative condition, the result of many influencing factors. Simply put, once a person's workload reaches a certain level and their body mechanics are imbalanced, problems occur.

The abnormal sacral base angle was the most telling finding in Mary's structural exam. Coupled with her other findings, a corrective program was set up. Although it was met with discouragement on Mary's part, I reminded her that 19 is a very young age and life is a very long time, so let's be willing to give up 6-10 weeks of training in an effort to create a successful future. She agreed to the plan.


Mary turned into the perfect patient. She complied 100% to the restrictions, guidelines and treatments that were prescribed. Improvements came quickly and re-x-rays were taken approximately 8 weeks after treatment began. Her 50 sacral base angle was reduced to 40 and she was now able to increase the demands on her back. He symptoms were pretty much gone by now, and Mary was well into returning to a full running schedule.

A combination of specific treatments, spinal exercises, improved habits, our Muscle Management Program, a slow and deliberate return to running and her vision on the long term has helped Mary to come back strong. She is now training up to 40 miles per week with no setbacks. Her back feels strong, her spirit feels impenetrable and the road ahead looks bright.

The key to it all is to locate the cause of the problem through a Structural Fingerprint exam, and to pay the necessary rehabilitative price to correct that cause. There are so many reasons runners don't do this, from being impatient to having a hard time finding a doctor who thinks biomechanically. But, the benefits are so grand when approaching back, neck, hip and other structural problems this way, that the price you pay to do it right is minimal compared to the price you pay if you don't. Simply put, the sooner you learn your "Structural Fingerprint", as Mary finally did, the sooner you can begin to improve any imbalances or defects that may be preventing you from reaching your full potential. Not to mention, the elimination of many nagging symptoms that have bothered you for years.


Dr. Tim Maggs

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