Sheila is 29 and lives in Santa Margarida de Montbui (Anoia). This is where she starts many of the daily training sessions she has to complete as an elite athlete in mountain running. She began doing athletics and throwing the javelin when she was only 10 years old. Years later, when she was studying for an INEFC degree at the University of Lleida, she discovered mountain running thanks to friends from the faculty. “There I was able to connect with nature and I fell in love with mountain running”, explains Sheila. “Running is my me time; it requires perseverance and a great deal of effort, but it pays off too”, she stresses.
The UTMB Mont-Blanc OCC is one of the most demanding mountain races in the world, and Sheila also took part in 2019, but had to drop out due to severe pain in her ribs. “I thought it was trapped wind, and at kilometre 30 I had to drop out”, she explains with resignation. This year, after many months of preparation, she was able to return. “I trained for one and a half months in the field, and I knew the route by heart. I didn’t think I’d win. It was very exciting”.
It was not until she went to the Blume Residence that they were able to diagnose that she has slipping rid syndrome. Later, she ended up in the Pain Unit at the Hospital Clínic Barcelona, led by Dr. Christian Dürsteler, to try to find a form of treatment that would allow her to continue to practise sport and continue winning mountain races. Dr. Dürsteler was able to apply an innovative treatment, “that relaxed my back and worked very well allowing me to gain kilometres and train without so much pain”, says Sheila.
Sheila explains that “running with pain is a limitation, but you end up getting used to it”. It is a pain that adds to the pain of the race. To be in pain and live with it requires a great deal of mental effort, but when I run I feel free. I’m lucky to be able to do what I enjoy doing”, she stresses.
Dr. Christian Dürsteler is head of the Pain Section in the Surgical Area of the Hospital Clínic Barcelona. He is Sheila's doctor and explains that the slipping rib syndrome she has involves the rubbing of a floating rib, which causes very severe pain during repeated movements”. Dr. Dürsteler explains that “Sheila’s case is a clear example of an athlete with pain. All athletes have a relationship with chronic pain. They train with pain and compete with pain. In order to treat this and other cases, a comprehensive approach is essential. We don’t just use drugs and infiltrations. We also get involved in the social and psychological aspect, which is of key importance in the patient’s recovery”.
Sheila Avilés spends many hours alone running, and thoughts go round and round in her head. “Negative or defeatist thinking sometimes develops. Psychological support and psychological therapies to reverse negative thinking are very important. These therapies also help reverse the pain”, explains the pain treatment specialist at the Hospital Clínic.
Dr. Christian Dürsteler believes that athletes giving advice to other patients about chronic pain could be a very interesting strategy. In addition, he says that pain treatment professionals have been able to give Sheila Avilés “ultrasound-guided infiltrations in the painful area using innovative techniques”. Moreover, he explains that "we can't use some drugs due to the risk of doping, and we have had to be very careful to avoid Sheila testing positive in a drug test. This has also complicated our work”. “We have formed a good team and the result has been excellent", Dr. Christian Dürsteler says with satisfaction.