Over the course of my running career, I’ve racked up a laundry list of injuries, ranging from run-through-able (runner’s knee) to walking-boot-confining (a stress reaction). Throughout these experiences, I’ve become quite familiar with the running injury pipeline, if you will:
Step 1: Realize something doesn’t feel right. Hem and haw about what you should do for an amount of time that is directly related to your level of pain and, in my experience, inversely related to the amount of time you’ve spent running (the longer I run, the more likely I am to seek medical attention early).
Step 2: Depending on my insurance status and willingness to wait, schedule a free injury screen at a physical therapy clinic (deductible not met and/or want to get in immediately) or schedule an appointment at either the sports doctor or sports podiatrist, depending on the location of the potential injury.
Step 3: Receive a diagnosis and a prescription for physical therapy
Step 4: Wither away (mentally; get stronger physically) in physical therapy for six weeks to six months
Step 5: Run until you feel pain again, rinse and repeat.
This pipeline, in my experience, has been an effective way to recover from an injury, but is wildly frustrating when something doesn’t feel quite right, but also doesn’t feel quite wrong enough to need a month and a half of physical therapy – maybe I could use a session or two, but good luck getting a doctor to give you a prescription for one physical therapy appointment. Since the only way to get a PT appointment in Illinois is with a prescription, if you just need a little help getting over that hump, you’re stuck.
That is, unless you know about the Chicago Recovery Room.
The Chicago Recovery Room contacted me around the middle of the summer to give their services a try, and I’ll be honest: I didn’t have a clue what to expect out of the experience. I had heard about CRR before, but I didn’t think I was its target clientele. Recovery facilities with their fancy compression boots and ice baths seemed like the place where people who can qualify for Boston go to keep themselves in tip-top shape, not a place where a schlub like me, who has never run a marathon at a sub-11:00 pace, would hang out.
My trip to CRR started out with a three-mile run with Keelan, an athletic trainer at the facility. As we ran along the Lakefront Trail, he told me a bit about the story of the Chicago Recovery Room. Liz Yerly, the founder of CRR, began her career as a physical therapist, and found that both she and her patients were frustrated by the red tape required to get into a PT clinic for an appointment. To make herself more accessible without the need to travel through the injury pipeline, she got certified in athletic training and massage therapy, and eventually decided to open CRR. The goal? To provide athletes of all abilities (even 4:52-on-a-good-day marathoners like myself) with access to medical professionals who can offer PT-like services–ART, Graston, etc.–to people on a short-term, cash-payment basis, thus eliminating the insurance piece of the equation. It’s that insurance piece that makes up a fair amount of the red tape when it comes to physical therapy, so by cutting out that middle man entirely, athletes from all types of sports can access trained professionals who can provide them with a minor “tune up” to help nip a potential injury in the bud.
Sometimes, though, an athlete doesn’t really know what he or she needs in terms of medical treatment (*raises hand*). If that’s the case, CRR offers injury screens, where a staff member can take a look at you and help you decide the best course of action. Maybe somethings nagging you a little, but isn’t bad enough to require a full-blown PT prescription. In that case, you can schedule a tune-up or two at CRR to help you get back to normal. 30 minute tune-ups cost $60 each, and while that may not be free, it is most CERTAINLY cheaper than a PT appointment, which generally bill your insurance company for around $350 for an hour. If your plan doesn’t offer a co-pay on PT–I haven’t had a co-pay on PT appointments in years–and you haven’t met your deductible, you’ll probably on the hook for a good $150 of that. And remember, an hour of PT usually comes out to 30 minutes of hands-on work and 30 minutes of you doing supervised exercises. If your injury is more severe, however, CRR can provide you with a doctor recommendation. If you’ve ever attempted to navigate the process of finding a doctor on your own, you should know how helpful having someone who knows what they’re talking about can be. If your doctor determines you need physical therapy, CRR now has a physical therapy arm, Impact PT, that can take care of you if you’d like to continue seeing the same people who started this journey with you.
After my run with Keelan, I had the chance to check out all of the recovery tools available at CRR. If you don’t need a tune-up or an injury screen, CRR can still be a huge help to you in your day-to-day training life. You can buy a day pass, a 10-pack of day passes, or a month-to-month membership. CRR has every recovery tool you can imagine, from accessories you see in PT clinics (Therabands, etc.) to every foam roller under the sun to NormaTec boots, which I am convinced are magic.
CRR has NormaTec compression technology for your legs, hips, and arms. You zip yourself up into whichever method you choose, then turn on a machine that uses air pressure to create compression. I only tried the boots, so I can’t speak for the hip or arm devices, but the boots start at the bottom of your legs by your feet and slowly work their way up, slowly adding pressure and releasing pressure in a way that’s designed to encourage blood flow to help your muscles recover. You sit in the boots for 20-30 minutes, and then continue about your day. I found the experience to be slightly uncomfortable at first, but I got used to it very quickly and was bummed when my session ended!
I finished my time at CRR with a seven minute ice bath. I’m no stranger to ice baths, but this was a whole different ball game. CRR has a tub that maintains a constant temperatures at 51 degrees, so unlike an ice bath in your bathtub at home, which starts out cold and warms up quickly as your body heat melts all the ice, this ice bath starts cold and stays cold. I wasn’t brave enough to go all the way in, but that’s okay – you can sit on the edge of the tub and just put your legs in if you prefer.
I went to CRR when I was still having pain on a semi-regular basis in my left knee. I had actually run four miles to get to the facility, and when I finished that four miler, my knee was definitely whining. When I left CRR, however, my knee felt perfectly normal for the first time in weeks. That alone was enough to convince me that these recovery tools aren’t just a bunch of talk–they really work.
I left CRR beyond impressed with their facility and the purpose they serve for local athletes. Out of everything I’ve ever reviewed for this blog, CRR is far and away the one I’d recommend most highly. I think anyone, even a turtle like me, can really benefit from what they have to offer. If you’re an athlete in any capacity, this place should be on your radar.