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When injuries interrupt exercise: Readers weigh in

MisFits columnist Lenny Bernstein
MisFits columnist Lenny Bernstein
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 1:35 PM

I got some great feedback on my Jan. 27 column about the sudden interruption to my running regimen, "Coping with an out-of-the-routine injury." Here are edited excerpts of what two readers had to say, followed by excerpts from an online Q&A nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott and I did with readers.

Using an elliptical machine

I also have been dealing with an injury that has sidelined me from running, but I'm 75 percent healed. It sounds like you already understand that you need to just do something to keep up your cardio and put you in a better place mentally.

I have been using an elliptical machine as 85 percent of my cardio workout and 15 percent easy jogging/walking on a treadmill. But I've also been doing core, balance and upper-body work since I know these things will help with my running when I'm healed.

One thing you wrote about that I would clear with a doctor first: You are "stretching a lot more." Muscles are similar to rubber bands, and when a rubber band has a weak point, it can rip. I tend to do more massage and very, very light stretching. And even then, I make sure the muscle is warmed up first and do active instead of static stretches.

- online comment from jdoe1

Massage therapy

Lenny, I was so sorry to read about your injury. I was wondering if you have looked for a massage therapist with training in sports-related injuries. Because nothing was found on your various tests, it is possible a muscle spasm is involved. Stretching is always good, but it sounds like you need serious massage therapy a few times a week for a while. Good luck.

- online comment from donnalmt

When someone stops lifting weights after doing it frequently, what happens to their muscles? I know that they atrophy, but I was wondering to what extent. What are some ways to prevent this without going to the gym as much?

Talbott: This is one of the major problems with being forced to take some time off from your workouts. Muscles start to atrophy within a few days of being sidelined, which makes it extremely important to come back slowly when you're able to resume workouts. Studies show that we can maintain our levels of fitness with short, high-intensity workouts, so that can help when you're pressed for time but still is a problem if you're injured and can't exercise.

For eight to nine months after a groin pull, I couldn't play tennis or walk fast. I've had painful cramps in that area, usually in summer. I was recently diagnosed with very low Vitamin B12 and high uric acid. Any connections?

Shawn Talbott: If you've been diagnosed with low B12, then your doctor will probably recommend a course of Vitamin B12 injections to help bring your levels back up to normal. This will probably be followed by a daily supplement of B12 to maintain your levels. Low B12 can be associated with nerve damage, depression and general fatigue, but not typically with muscle cramps.

For cramps, you'll want to look at your electrolyte intake (sodium, potassium, etc.) and perhaps consider taking a sports drink like Gatorade along for your tennis and walking workouts.

You don't realize how much gets taken away from you when you can't exercise. I am 36 and a runner and I had to spend last year undergoing treatment for breast cancer. I went back to running as soon as I could, and I actually started crying when I took those first steps jogging because it marked a time of feeling back in control. However, since I let myself have so many sweets during treatment, it's hard to break the sugar habit. Any suggestions?

Talbott: It is often said that "exercise is medicine" because it can help with so many physical and psychological ailments. A great deal of emotional eating is driven by changes in stress hormones such as cortisol, but sugar cravings can also be caused by flucuations in blood-sugar levels. A few ways to break the sugar habit are:

1. Getting as much sleep as you can.

2. Combine protein and fat with any carbohydrates you eat. Example: Put peanut butter on a slice of bread. The protein and fat will slow the absorption of the carb and help maintain blood-sugar levels longer.

3. The carbs you eat should come mostly from "whole" sources, such as fresh fruits and veggies and whole grain breads.

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