by Heather Nielsen
In 2001, I was in a bad accident on New Year's Day where I almost broke my back. From then on, I had to practically stopped running all together. I couldn't even carry a backpack weighing more than 5-10lbs, which was devastating as I used to be a runner and an avid hiker. So, I switched to cycling about 8 years ago and it turns out, I love the bike and the sport of bike racing far more anyway so it all worked out.
Three years ago while racing a nationally recognized stage race in Southern California: San Dimas stage race, I tore my right hamstring in the middle of the circuit race while climbing out of the saddle. It was excruciating and I had to drop out of the race all together. I, and others, had surmised that my hamstring injury was caused from muscle imbalances and weaknesses. I spent the next two years trying to work on my muscle imbalances and core to alleviate the pain from my hamstring and back; but it never really went away.
The physical part of injury is a very fine line. We suffer as bike racers & learn to embrace the pain. The pain from injury is different from the pain of pedaling past your ‘perceived’ physical limits when someone attacks, or you’re on a climb. Learning to listen to your body to accurately discern between ‘I can and need to keep pushing through this pain’ and ‘riding through this is only going to injure me further’ takes a long time and a lot of self awareness.
This summer during my racing season my hamstring got to where it was hurting constantly. I was encouraged by a sponsor to go to a physical therapist rather than a masseuse. I'd never been to a physical therapist and we both did some research and made an appointment with Kinetic Sports Rehab. My first visit was nothing short of comprehensive, professional and energizing. I truly felt like they listened and applied their best knowledge and skills to getting me back on track. They gave me a series of PT exercises to do every night and since I know how recovery is just as important as training I was as consistent as possible. They also discovered that my hamstring injury was caused because my hips were rotated which caused an uneven pedal stroke and an over-use of that hamstring. Upon further diagnoses, they found that my hips were rotated because of my old back injury. So a 3 year injury was caused by a 15 year old injury and over time my body compensated; and although I did get stronger on the bike, eventually that imbalance caught up with me.
Staying consistent with my PT exercises and weekly visits paid off and within a few weeks the pain in my hamstring almost completely disappeared and I won the most prestigious criterium in the state of Washington: The Ballard Criterium, my first win at the Professional level.
My physical therapy program continues to evolve as my body adjusts and heals and I work with the professionals at Kinetic Sports Rehab on a weekly basis to stay on top of my recovery, muscle imbalances and core strength. I'm so grateful that I was put in contact with them, that they helped me find what has caused my injuries and how to heal from them.