On the Repetitive Injury Cycle

Lately, I’ve been hearing more young athletes (and young people in general) complain about pain.  These aren’t normal growing pains either.  I’ve dealt with hockey players under 18 that have had multiple concussions, rehabbed countless shoulder injuries, and corrected back issues from the lumbar to cervical spine.  Most of the problems I deal with come from two types of client– those that are willing to commit wholeheartedly to a training program to get out of pain, and those that have tried everything else and are now willing to commit wholeheartedly because they’re still in pain.

In our sports culture, kids are being groomed for elite play as young as second grade.  Grooming a child may lead to a very specialized athlete down the road, yes, but is it because of or in spite of their training?  Humans are bipeds that use a lemniscate (rotational) motion to move through space.  While most of us can confidently say we have chosen either our left or right hand and foot, we walk on both feet and talk with both hands—we balance with both. As soon as sport specialization begins, we forget the natural balance of the body’s limbs.  To go to the furthest extreme, imagine fighting hand to hand with someone and injuring your good hand.  Can you just stop the fight right there because the tool you want to use is no longer available?  Doesn’t make much sense to me (or your metaphorical assailant), go southpaw like Rocky did.

If I haven’t lost you yet, you may be asking, “what does this have to do with why my kid’s knees hurt?” to which I retort, “balance.”  Proper biomechanics is all about balance.  There are hundreds of tools, video series’ and gurus out there to help you improve your kid’s swing (cable rotations!) but do they actually pay attention to how the body actually moves?  How each lever arm interacts with each other?  Remember most sports are open chain activities, as soon as you add an anchored band or a machine it becomes closed chain.  And what about pain?  The great majority of people don’t need constant trigger point therapy and chiropractic adjustments.  If your coach frequently says “ice it,” I’d suggest you find a new coach.

Sports will injure you, period. (Crossfit is a sport. Argue with me.)  The injury may occur this year or it may show itself in 50 years, but the body cannot take such repetitive stresses without altering itself.  The key word here is repetitive.  If your kid is complaining about back pain because he swings a club/bat/hockey stick every day, don’t send him to a trainer to reinforce that motion.  This would be like waking up with a terrible cramp in the right side of your neck after falling asleep on the couch, then saying you need to go make the right side of your neck stronger because it hurts under those weird conditions.  In a linear sense, yeah, I guess the internal range of that muscle could probably be strengthened, but why the hell would you do that?

The pain comes from doing it wrong.  Over-facilitated, overused muscles need to have their weakened antagonists (oppositional muscles) trained properly.  The great majority of aches and pains are because of overlooking this simple concept.  Trainers of course make a fortune off of this ignorance by prescribing all sorts of sexy exercises, but do they actually work?  Don’t confuse creativity with productivity (sometimes easier said than done).  Sport-specific training regimens require movement-specific de-loading regimens.

As a coach, my first goal is to educate my clients to become their own best therapists.  We need to stop treating our bodies as foreign vessels when it is literally the only possession we can retain and maintain with any certainty.

Listen to your body, not your ego.




And on a personal note, Golfers:  stop swinging weighted body bars, you’re ruining your swing and spine.

2 thoughts on “On the Repetitive Injury Cycle

  1. Great article! We know how to move, it gets turned off with specialization at such young ages. And you are dead-on with the sexy/fancy exercise prescription, lot’s of bells and whistles and little reason or thought.
    I’ve seen this as well, not lately as I’m just home with the kids, but I see it with children at my son’s sports. Young girls, 8-13, complaining of back pain in gymnastics, pitchers with growth plate issues, etc…


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