Is it ever not worth it?

The last 14 months I’ve been dealing with a lingering injury that as been from bad to good and back again. My adductor longus is tearing off the bone in my pelvis, and I’ve been through all sorts of treatments to try to get it better without having to take months off of running. Our athletic trainers keep it in good enough condition that I can continue running. Unfortunately hurdling in the steeplechase is the hardest on it, so we’ve been doing extra things to try to fix it for good before this outdoor season. My most recent treatment is the one that made me to want to write this post. It’s called a PRP injection.

PRP stands for platelet-rich plasma, and it’s honestly a pretty cool idea from a medical standpoint. In the past, the go-to for muscular and tendon injuries like mine would have been cortisone injection. Studies have been finding recently that those actually end up deteriorating your tissue, so even though it hurts less you actually have a higher chance of rupturing it. That’s why PRP was invented. For a PRP injection, they draw blood from your arm and put it into a machine that separates the red blood cells from the plasma. The plasma that gets separated is the same stuff that is circulated normally throughout your body so that you can heal naturally. The idea is that you inject a whole lot of it into one area and it speeds up the healing process.

It’s pretty awesome, but there is one catch to a PRP injection. It hurts. A LOT.

The first time I ever got a PRP injection was my sophomore year of college when my plantar fascia was tearing off the bone in my heel. I was really racing well before the injury, and PRP sounded like exactly what I needed to get back to running. When I got the injection I figured it would probably hurt since the area was already pretty tender to the touch, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be honest. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the PRP injection I got in my heel was the most painful thing I’ve experienced in my entire life. I’ve broken bones, pulled muscles, pinched nerves, and bit all the way through my top lip and none of those even come close.

Once my blood was ready and the doctor came in, he sat down next to me and started talking me through it. The first thing he says is, “C.J., I’m not going to lie to you. This is going to hurt a lot.” Next he pulls out the needle, and I realized it was the same kind that they used to draw blood with. “Looks like we ran out of the small needles,” he jokes. “I’m gonna have to poke this in the spot that hurts the most to make sure that we get it where it needs to go. Once it’s in there I’m gonna have to wiggle and poke around a bit to perforate the tissue so we can get all the fluid in there. I’m gonna have to pepper the bone a little too.” Next he started searching for the spot in my heel that hurt. He poked around with his finger until I was practically jumping off the table. “This is the spot?” I confirmed and he went right for it.

What was probably only the next 15 seconds or so felt like an eternity. It took my breath away and my vision started getting all fuzzy and dark. Once it was over the doctor left me and let me lay there for a while while I tried to remember why it was I was going through this.

Now we fast forward back to my adductor issue. It’s practically the same injury in a different part of my body, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the doctor suggested we do a PRP injection. I’ve always said I will do anything to be able to run at my best, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t hesitate before agreeing to get another PRP injection. I did agree to it though. We ended up getting it set up pretty quickly after I agreed, and I took off one of our indoor track meets to get it done. I’ll spare you the details this time, but this one didn’t feel great either.

Being in the middle of the season, I only got to take one day off. Two days after the injection, I did a bike workout and had to cut it short because it hurt too bad where the needle had ‘perforated’. I ended up being able to run some the next day, and by the end of the week I was back into my training and raced that weekend. A couple weeks later I had a checkup to see how the injection was going.

It turned out that we weren’t seeing the results we wanted to because I didn’t get enough time to rest it. I would have a week off in between indoor and outdoor track and the doctor wanted to do another PRP injection then.

I said yes quickly so I wouldn’t take time to think about it. I knew that once I started thinking about it I wouldn’t want to. This time, I didn’t have the bliss of not knowing what to expect or the naivety of passing time. The injection I had gotten just a few weeks ago was still painfully fresh in my mind. There were a few times I wanted to talk to my coach and tell her that it wasn’t worth it. That I would forfeit being able to run the steeplechase to not have to get another PRP injection. I honestly couldn’t bear the thought of putting myself through that shit again.

I never ended up backing out, and the day finally came. I couldn’t take ibuprofen, but the doctor said I could take tylenol if I wanted. It didn’t help. After the doctor left this time, I just laid on the table for a while. I questioned a lot that day.

Was that worth three more months of running?

I think that the more you do something, the more your self-worth is tied to it. If you have this big thing going for you and all of a sudden it’s not going how you want it to, it totally changes how you feel in general. I’m lucky to have passions that aren’t running, like computer science and music, but running has become such a big part of my life. It’s hard to not find my mood closely entangled with my performance. Ever since my plantar fascia injury my sophomore year, it’s been a struggle to get back to where I was before that. And now I’m starting to recognize how much that’s been eating away at me. In the last 3 years I’ve only had one season that I felt really good about, and now I can feel myself start to doubt whether this last one will go the way I want it to even with the injection.

The scariest part of all of this is that months of progress could immediately be ruined by re-tearing my adductor over a steeple barrier any given week. At the end of the day though, I can’t control the cards that are dealt to me. All I can do is do my best and trust that it will pay off in the end. Like I said, running is now such a big part of my life. I don’t think I could forgive myself for not making the absolute most of it within my realm of capability. My last indoor season didn’t end the way I wanted it to. If I can get three more months to try to end on a good note, I’ll face my fears and do what it takes. This one last PRP injection was surely worth that chance.

Is it ever not worth it?

I’ve had plenty of moments throughout my years of running that I’ve wondered, “Is this worth it?” Every time I reach the same conclusion, though. I love running and I accept every bit that comes with it. At the end of the day, my desire to do well will always overcome my struggles. The worst is behind me, and now it’s my job to leave no doubt that it wasn’t for nothing.

[Proverbs 3:5-6]

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