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Runner Therapy: Reader Question, Blood Clots and Running

Posted Mar 02 2011 9:31am

Question via Twitter: Wondering if you have addressed this blood clots and running ? What are the risks ? Symptoms ?

Marisa, Runner Therapy: A blood clot (also called a DVT or deep vein thrombosis) refers to a mass of coagulated cells which sits in any deep vein of the lower extremity or pelvis. Symptoms of a suspected clot include redness, swelling, warmth and pain, generally in the calf or behind the knee. Keep in mind, these can also more commonly be symptoms of a simple muscle strain, so try not to jump to conclusions. Hypochondriacs, don’t say you weren’t warned!

Generally, they can occur after a period of immobilization, such as a long car or airplane ride, or after a surgery or illness that keeps you bed-ridden. For those of you who have had surgery, that’s why you unknowingly paid some doctor or nurse an exorbitant fee to show you how to pump your ankles up and down while wearing lavender socks with grippy anti-slip bottoms on them. I digress…

Because it is a large mass of cells, a clot can block the normal passage of blood from the legs back to the heart. (As you may recall from high school biology – unless you were too busy passing notes to your sweetheart – an artery carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the working muscles, and veins carry deoxygenated blood back to the lungs to pick up more oxygen).

The real problem occurs if this mass of cells breaks loose from the vein and travels back to the lungs. This severe condition, called pulmonary embolism, can interfere with breathing and can even cause sudden death.

Because it can be a risky condition, most doctors do not advise running, much less much exercise at all when dealing with a blood clot. They are too worried the constant forceful movement of the muscle will dislodge the clot and send it right to the lungs.

Usually, for treatment, the individual is put on blood thinners and the doc constantly monitors the blood to see that it is thinning out appropriately.

Some clots in smaller veins have low risk of returning to the lungs, so doctors may just keep monitoring for progress and clot thinning and may allow some running. In either case, they may have you refrain from eating vitamins and minerals that coagulate the blood more, such as leafy greens. Make sure to ask specific questions about your intended mileage…what seems like a short run to you may not be to your doctor!

In either case, a treatment plan must be discussed with your doctor to assess your risk of complications and to monitor your progress. Then, when you are given the green light you can be confident when you run…although probably out of shape!

Bottom line, see your doc. And listen. This is not something you can run-through despite medical advice.

Do you have a concern about blood clots?  Do you have any questions for Runner Therapy, if so put them below and we will answer them.

- Marisa

(Marisa, a MS PT SCS ATC, is a member of  iRunnerBlog’s team and writes Runner Therapy, she is a physical therapist in private practice in midtown NYC.  She one of a dozen or so therapists  in the state of NY to be board certified in sports.)

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