Massage therapy: there's no gain without some pain

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 January, 2009, 12:00am

For the past seven weeks, Anneliese O'Young has been torturing her 'non-runner body' for the Standard Chartered Half Marathon on February 8. She is raising funds for the Cancer Fund in memory of her mentor, veteran reporter Kevin Sinclair, who died of cancer a year ago.

I have been on this journey for nearly two solid months and am happy to report all is well. I have yet to inflict any major injury upon myself. My drinking stamina has suffered while my social life has become a flurry of excuses for not showing up or showing up late after a run. But let's stick with the positives - I can now run 14km and have lost one precious kilogram.

While the results of my seven-week intensive training cannot be seen with the naked eye, the one thing that is very pronounced is my Quasimodo-like limp. The repetitive pounding on the pavements has resulted in a bum knee, which has driven me to see Elton Ng Chun-ting, sports physiotherapist at the Centre of Rehabilitation & Exercise Specialist in Tsim Sha Tsui.

I explain to Elton about my knee and tendons. As a marathon runner himself, he nods his head and starts his physical exam of bending and rotating my joints, limbs and ankles as if I am a big green Gumby toy.

'Does this hurt? This? This? This?' he asks, rotating my leg forward, sideways, diagonal and backwards.

Oi - watch it buster. My leg doesn't bend that way!

'You don't have any major injuries and all is well,' concludes Elton, who explains that on marathon day about a fourth of the runners suffer from major injuries from training. I assume major injuries boil down to patients with crutches and wheelchairs. While I am grateful to be mobile, I am keen to get back to the good old days when I could climb out of a chair without groaning.

Elton says I suffer from iliotibial band friction (ITB) syndrome - when the group of muscles on the outside of your thigh tighten up and make running painful.

'Your ITB is very tight,' he says, pushing me onto my side and showing me some deep friction massages.

I nearly leap off the table.

'I am barely touching it,' he says with a deadpan face and I see that, indeed, he is barely massaging the afflicted area.

'You need to do these deep tissue massages every night as well as before and after your runs,' says Elton, who performs these massages on himself daily. 'Stretching doesn't work.'

I am shocked to hear this. I take stretching seriously!

'Yes, stretching helps with easing the soreness you might feel the next day, but it does not work with injuries,' explains Elton, who moves on to my knee.

Already suspicious, I watch as he starts moving my knee cap with an ease that borders on dislocation.

'Not to worry, what I am doing is moving the kneecap around to its original position,' he says, very laissez-faire.

With that comment, he starts digging his steel-like talons into my cartilage and I double over to protect my sore knee from the clutches of this crazed man.

'What I am trying to do is improve the circulation while desensitising the surrounding cartilage,' he explains. 'You can do this at home in order to keep the inflammation down.'

Elton takes my limp hand, showing me how I should massage the afflicted cartilage. Wowsers, I think I might have a masochist streak because there is such a thing as good pain! All is definitely well.

Elton doesn't stop there and moves down to the tendons around my ankles. They, too, are submitted to more of the dreaded deep tissue massage.

'It may sound very repetitive,' says Elton as he digs into my tendon with vigour, 'but these deep tissue massages help. When a person runs, the impact on their body is about five to eight times greater than their body weight.'

I start massaging my own tendon as Elton jumps around animated, illustrating his talk about alignment of the body.

'When you first start running, everyone uses the best form,' says Elton with a beaming smile and moving his arms in perfect form. 'As the race goes on, you get tired, then your hips start sagging, your legs become bowed. It all starts falling apart.'

His Raggedy Andy imitation elicits laughter from me - and that's when he delivers another body blow.

'I have some exercises to help you with that,' he beams.

I muster up some enthusiasm and try not to think about the arm-length list of daily exercises I already put my body through.

'This hip rotation works the muscles and keeps the hips aligned,' says Elton, who hops up and down, kicking his leg forward and rotating it to the side. 'It's about building the muscles around your hips to keep them aligned, even when you are tired and nearing the end of the race.

'Lunges are also great and challenge all muscles and mimic the motion which is similar to running. These exercises strengthen the muscles you need to keep things aligned.'

These days, the stars may not be in alignment considering my ailments, but my bum knee and inflamed tendons are nothing in comparison to Kevin's reaction to the harsh therapy.

In his blistering take no prisoners-style, he would tell himself, 'You've lost a fifth of your body weight and are down to 70 kilos, you've got no veins in your arm, a bloody great cut across your stomach and it's tiring to walk a couple of hundred yards. BUT ALL IS WELL!'

This week, I clocked 38 kilometres, a mere 2km more than last week. The mountain of work and injuries tried to get me down but I am not too worried. With this great weather and crisp blue skies, I can feel it in my knee - all is well.

No stopping her

Anneliese is clocking up the mileage, with her total this week climbing to: 38km

Age: 29 Height: 173cm Weight: 67kg BMI: 22.4 Fat: 28.8% (-0.2%)