Genetic hip defect and some other weird hip diagnosis brings an end to my competitive running career

hip-diagnosisThrough this entire 18-month ordeal with my leg injury, I’ve had two MRIs and seen about a dozen physical therapists. The thing I’d never done was see an orthopedic surgeon, which is someone who specializes in diseases and injuries to the body’s musculoskeletal system.

On June 26, I finally saw an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in maladies of the knee and hip. After one X-ray and a short examination, this M.D. gave me some crushing news: I have a genetic defect in my right hip joint/socket area and the condition is so bad that surgery would not fix the problem. He said running will make the problem worse and whether I run or not I will develop severe arthritis in my hips and will be needing a whole new hip in the next 10 years or so.


Running career: over.

At least that’s what the doctor told me. I’m going to get a second opinion. Believe that. And since I still, oddly, don’t have any pain accompanying such a macabre diagnosis, I’ll continue to run here and there; every other day for short distances instead of everyday. In some recent runs I’ve been doing 3 minutes on, 30 seconds off. With this type of slow interval running, maybe I can get in 15 to 20 miles a week – if I’m lucky.

But clearly, the writing is on the wall. No amount of stretching or strengthening my hip is going to get me out of this bind. My competitive running career is over – unless  this really really really smart doctor is wrong.

The Doctor Said What?

The scientific name for what I have: Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI) and labral tears; and hip dysplasia. In the past I never thought to get an X-ray because 1) I wasn’t in pain, 2) The MRIs showed nothing and 3) The dozen or so physical therapists who examined me thought what was wrong with me was fixable.

I was referred to the orthopedic surgeon by a friend whom I’d run with occasionally. She was experiencing the same symptoms as myself, but was in a ton of pain and was facing surgery to repair her hip. She too had been diagnosed with FAI.

So you’re asking – FAI is a condition effecting my hip joint characterized by abnormal contact between the femoral head (hip ball) and hip socket. This abnormal rubbing – or impingment – of my hip ball and hip socket has caused small tears to my labrum, he said. (Well, the X-ray did not actually show that I have a torn labrum, but the doctor said, “I bet you 10 cents over a dollar that your labrum is torn.) I can’t remember everything the doctor said, but I do remember him saying that the FAI in my case is so bad that surgery would not help.

Hip dysplasia is the condition I’ve inherited, he said. It is basically an acquired deformation or misalignment of my hip joint (and might also be causing the FAI). Hip dysplasia is why I have difficulty rotating my right hip inwards (little or no internal hip rotation) and it is why certain hip exercises are very painful.

I saw the X-ray comparisons of my right and left hip and could clearly detail the deformities. As I said earlier, I will get a second opinion to confirm this diagnosis. But this development makes sense and helps me answer a lot of questions I’ve had about my running over the years: the weird cramping episodes, the sense that during some runs my right leg was disconnected from my body.

Running is Joy

From the time I first started running in 2004 until early 2010, I saw improvement in my running times. Each workout felt better and better. I was PRing with every other race it seemed. Then, the improvement slowly stopped and I began regressing. It took greater effort to achieve the times and paces of yesteryear.

Being diagnosed with a stress reaction on the left side of my pelvis in early 2011 was the beginning of my problems. I went from 40 to 50 mile weeks to no running at all by the end of 2012. And as a man in my 40s, this is supposed to be the prime of my running life. So I knew something was wrong. I just knew it.

And now I know. Finally, I know.

So, I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t say I am pretty devastated by all of this. I know there is biking and swimming and other cross-training activities I could do. But there is nothing like a good run. Since I laced up my first pair of running shoes, I’ve gone through a divorce, lost jobs, been unfriended and unfollowed; but running has been the one constant, feeding me daily endorphins and giving my mind an outlet to think through the day’s problems. Running has provided me with a social currency that’s lead to countless friendships and trips to faraway places to run marathons.

Running was the inspiration for 5ksandcabernets.

I’m probably not as religious or God-fearing as my mom would like, but I truly believe the old saying that when God closes one door, he opens another.

Right now, I’m looking for that door.

6 thoughts on “Genetic hip defect and some other weird hip diagnosis brings an end to my competitive running career”

  1. I’m sorry for the terrible news. I can only imagine what it would be like to be told that I could no longer run. I have been known to complain about running in the heat, speed workouts, and those peak long runs during marathon training, but truth be told, I can’t go more than a day or so between runs. Your description of running as the constant in your life and what running has given you is right on the mark. You do still have a way to connect with running, however, and that’s with your blog. It may seem less than what you want, but I’m sure you can turn it into your running outlet. Keep it up!

  2. Sorry to hear that but you seem to have a pretty level-headed and reasoned outlook on the entire saga and its near-conclusion. I would bet a dollar that you will soon find that new door: maybe it leads you to rowing on a C-2 (and of course there’s lots of lakes around Austin, no?) or mountain biking or some other pursuit which will deliver the same kind of satisfaction and where you will be able to make equally rapid improvement, in a competitive environment.

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