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.

Foot Sensations

The foot has thousands of proprioceptors in it that can affect the way the entire leg moves, potentially causing life long ankle, knee, and hip pains. What is a proprioceptor?  It’s a sensory receptor complex that receives stimuli from within the body, especially as related to balance (paraphrased from probably Webster’s).  We come into the world ready to experience through sensation the environment around us. These sensations are integral to our survival. A simple example is that if we don’t remember that the stove gets hot, we get burned. Easy enough, right?

The proprioceptors in our feet serve us in much the same way. If we don’t allow our feet to move and rotate as they are naturally meant to, our joints burn out. that’s right, we get burned. As a former soccer and hockey player, I can see the stark contrast in the way the equipment affected my foot and ankle health, and ultimately led to the compounding of my hip problems. Playing soccer I had sprained ankles from time to time as I’d reckon every young boy does, but always managed to bounce back because I would spend my time at home barefoot. This didn’t change at all when I played hockey.

My skates were so damn uncomfortable because I did what the pros did, wore them 2 sizes small without socks to maximize blade control (this is beyond the scope of the article so with no further explanation I say this was stupid– don’t believe everything you read on the internet). When I’d take off my skates my feet would be about a half inch narrower than they were when they went in. I’d  go home and stay barefoot to allow my feet to decompress, but this was also high school and I had to wear actual shoes every day because of rules or whatever (this too, for me, was stupid). You see, soccer cleats are nothing but a sheet of leather and a super hard sole with spikes on it. They don’t cover the ankle, have very little arch support, and they’re almost impossible to lace up in any fashion to impinge natural foot motion. My ice skates were literally heated and pressure formed to my foot to completely restrict any motion. The shoes I wore to school didn’t go to that extreme but did restrict the fluidic motion of the bones in the foot to some degree. This too is wrong.

It’s comparable to wearing someone’s prescription glasses longer than a few minutes. Your eyes will adjust and, depending on how long you wore them, may never go back to normal. The same can be said about cushy running shoes and booted sports. The muscles that are inevitably restricted or poorly recruited will atrophy, leading to imbalances and pain in the knees and hips first, and if improperly attended to, eventually the shoulders, neck, and jaw. When I work with young athletes now, I stress the importance of keeping the freedom of motion in the foot and ankle. It is imperative to have a solid foundation for building a successful athlete.

For those of you that are reading this and saying “well I’m an old athlete, what can I do?” don’t worry, you may not be completely ruined! There are ways to free the restrictions in the fascia that cause the muscles and bones to eventually lead to a repetitive injury cycle. Now we reach the point where the ego says, “yeah, but I just want to look good.” I get it and that’s completely fine, but this brings us back to the proprioceptors in the foot. If your foot — the foundation of strength — senses instability, then the power available to the rest of your body for all those sexy vanity lifts will be limited– in short, you won’t look *that* good. Pay attention to your feet and the rest of your body will thank you. It’s not sexy, but it works.

Drink and Move

A lack of movement can kill you.

Before we get into all that though we’ll keep it light with a little bit about growing up in Texas. Growing up here was a little bit different than some areas, I could wander around in the woods near my house with a giant machete and a paintball gun/ blow gun / sometimes actual gun and be in nature. My best buddy, Will, and I were always out among the trees and creeks doing this stuff things for no apparent reason.  Building forts and shooting at each other (with paintballs not bullets) in the Texas heat was fun but sometimes we had to step (or fall) into a creek to cool off. Our parents were good parents and warned us about the dangers of stagnant water. When creeks and ponds get stagnant, dead fish and bacteria float to the surface, forming tepid pools of rotting filth during the dry seasons. We knew not to get anywhere near that for fear of getting water in our ears or noses and having our brains eaten by infections, which is perhaps a bit farfetched, but also a real thing.

This is relevant because we have an unfathomable amount of “streams” in our bodies through which our fluids circulate. Consider perfect anatomical posture to be a conglomeration of freely flowing streams in the body– a network of structures that pump fluids, all of which are comprised primarily of water. Now consider all of the uncomfortable and unnatural postures we adopt to do whatever it is that we feel compelled to do, whether it is twisting from right to left to swing a hockey stick, or curling over to clean a patient’s teeth, or wearing a tight poly/spandex suit and hunching over handlebars for 4 hours. These positions function, posturally speaking, like the dams that Will and I built in the creeks of south Dallas growing up. Good flow and circulation in the creek would wash them out, but when inevitable dry spells hit, the pools we created would go stagnant. This understanding can be directly applied to the body. We go through life damming up the tubular and crystalline fascial network causing impingement in the flow of water. If you drink enough water and move frequently,  it can in some cases take years for problems to manifest. A lack of water, though, has significant effects in compounding the stagnation. What is a stagnant pond in the body? Inflammation, infection, necrosis.. cancer. The list goes on. Of course, there is a lot to consider with the more severe conditions, but a significant amount of issues can be solved by just drinking water and moving more.

How much is enough? Halve your bodyweight and drink that in ounces per day for a good baseline. Do you drink coffee? Great! You now have to offset that 2:1 (eg. 12 oz coffee =24 oz water *in addition* to the aforementioned baseline). If you drink alcohol, prepare yourself for a 3:1 offset. This is where most of my clients say something to the effect of, “that much water makes me have to pee all the time and I just don’t have time for that.” If that’s you, you’re in luck!  Your body will be sick soon and you’ll have plenty of time to think about that while trying to get better!  Clear the dams in your internal streams or stagnation will eventually force you to consider why you made the choice not to. After all, having read this post it is now, for you, a conscious choice.

a recipe for time

“i don’t have time for that.”  we all say it.  what we’re really saying is “i don’t care to make the effort.” so, today i don’t have time to worry about capitalizing my letters.  i’ve been cooking myself a decent breakfast and, as usual, it took longer than expected.

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doesn’t it look delicious though?  it was, and it was real food, which is my favorite part.  i don’t have time to do this every morning and neither do many of you, so here’s what i’ve done in the past.

you’ll need a mixing bowl, a dozen or however many eggs, and whatever else you want to put in your eggs.  that’s it.  i like to put a little cheese in.  sometimes a lot.  be bold and make your own decisions.

crack all the eggs, stir all the other stuff in, and pour it into your pan.  bake it for a while and you have breakfast for 1-5 days depending on your appetite and/or self control.  i’m no chef, i don’t remember how long you bake it, but man is it good when its done.  just keep an eye on it.

that reminds me, the best part is that in one swift move you’ve eliminated 75% of your stand-in-front-of-the-stove-like-an-idiot time.  good for you!

 

you don’t have time to eat breakfast?  i don’t have time for that excuse.

4 Benefits of Cold Immersion

I’ve had a lot on my plate lately but have nevertheless been able to keep myself to personal deadlines, one of which you are experiencing with me as you read this.  Today, I have to write my first blog post.

I’ve shared through my facebook page an article on the benefits of starting the day with a cold shower, and some of you know I’ve been doing the Wim Hof program for the last few months and it’s all about breath control and cold water immersion.  Learning to control my body with breathing and temperature manipulation has taught me more about my own psychology and physiology than I ever expected to learn.  I’ve wanted to write about the experience at length, but just don’t have the time right now, so I’m going to leave it to the four benefits I’ve found to be most pleasant, and I’ll (hopefully) have the long form version to you soon.

  • Increased Immune Response – Wim’s students have been shown in lab settings to be able to increase immune response to endotoxin with just 4 days of training. In apartment settings, I was able to initiate a response to the first signs of winter respiratory issues.
  • Increased Athletic Performance – By increasing the secretion of anti-inflammatory cytokines, cold immersion therapy increases the response of anti-inflammatory cytokines. I’ve been having back and hip issues for the past six months and cold water immersion has helped tremendously
  • Muscle Retention – Because of the back and hip issues, I’ve pretty much relegated my workouts to ELDOA and myofascial stretching with some segmental strengthening as well, and I’ve gained muscle. Cold water immersion increases an expression of cold shock proteins that have restorative effects on the brain, heart, and muscles, decreasing atrophy. (and segmental strengthening is the most efficient way to train a specific muscle)
  • Increased Endurance – Cyclists engaging in cold water immersion therapy have been shown to retain over time the benefits of endurance training. As my back and hip are healing I’m becoming more active and seeing that I’ve retained some of the benefits of my interval training.

Those are just a few of the benefits I’ve found, so if you haven’t taken an ice bath or a cold shower lately, try it.  It’s helped me out tremendously and has allowed me to enjoy random opportunities a little bit more.  As a surfer, I’ve grown to detest cold water, but both of my recent trips to California found me playing in the surf in my underpants with a complete lack of regard for the cold (or social convention).  That much alone has made it worth it for me.  I’ll write more about it soon, and I invite you to send any questions or comments.