Some musing from an old blog:
“What’s wrong with my ________ ?” I hear it all the time & get picky on the language. Why do we so often follow the sensation of pain with an assumption that something is WRONG?
It’s true that sometimes something IS wrong. Trauma occurs, for sure. Yet even then, so much is RIGHT. Our bodies are brilliant in communicating with us & in healing. The sensation of pain is a part of this process & essential to our survival.
However, so often I see our interpretations of these sensations turning into sticking points. We often follow the unexplained with fear & confusion. It doesn’t help that we have a plethora of information stored in the back of our minds about what COULD be wrong. We have a difficult time not jumping to worst case conclusions based on stories we’ve heard from friends & media, often determining that something is ‘broken’.
I most often see nothing innately wrong with clients. In our modern world, so often our bodies simply need some assistance. The supporting musculature of our joints need to be better supported or our power muscles need to be freed in order to participate optimally in movement.
By learning where our weaknesses & imbalances are & addressing them head on, injuries can become OPPORTUNITIES & great teachers. A look at our attitudes about pain & its meaning combined with faith in the healing properties & wisdom of the body can go a long way. I’ll always love a good physical therapist or movement educator for help in solving these puzzles & guiding this process.
So often, this is our moment to become stronger than we’ve ever been.
“My hamstrings are tight because I’m not stretching enough.”
“My feet hurt because I’m not stretching enough & need new shoes.”
“My hips hurt because I’m not stretching enough & need new shoes & sit too much.”
“My back hurts because I’m not stretching enough & need new shoes & sit too much & am getting old.”
“My knees hurt because I’m not stretching enough & need new shoes & sit too much & am getting old, but what should I expect when running so much!”
The attitudes toward our bodies in movement & in healing are never more apparent than when a client is on the massage table describing their symptoms – WITH explanation. I’m often surprised at how many people seek me simply for symptom management, with a limited view of their healing potential. Stretching them toward a more hopeful & empowered mindset ends up feeling like an important part of my job.
Because after all – negative or positive, passive or assertive – the overabundance of information from health care providers, science & media can be conflicting & confusing.
“Stretch more & get more supportive shoes.”
“Take six weeks off & you may want to consider becoming a swimmer.”
“Stretching isn’t helpful & neither are your supportive shoes.”
We desire to understand. Having an understanding, ANY understanding, helps us feel better. As is the case with having a course of action – ANY course of action is oft accepted. And even though we can argue that we’re smart enough to not fall susceptible to bad advice or even lack of advice – we are intelligent & proactive people – in the absence of accurate solutions addressing us specifically & resulting in positive change, the voice in our head saying something is (eek!) actually wrong – irreversibly wrong – may become louder & even (double eek!) accepted.
When I was in seventh grade I was told by a coach that because of knee pain, I’d forever have to take Advil before every run . . . if I still wanted to attempt to be a runner. The top chiropractor in the state (people bragged about being her patient) gave me a brace to wear & suggested I may need to depend on it for my mysteriously floating patella . . . if I really felt the need to feed this strange desire of using my body. Luckily, even at fourteen, I understood that something was not right, but didn’t feel I was broken. I wanted to better understand my body – I didn’t want a bandage.
This was the beginning of my list of many injuries, all of which HAVE had explanations & solutions & have taught me much about all bodies. I was lucky early on to find people who believed in the body’s ability to heal & be strong & functional – some great physical therapists, massage therapists & coaches. I didn’t always seek help or even listen when I did, but in important moments when fear could have taken over, I’ve been influenced positively by many. Using my body & hurting it & healing it & wondering & learning became a process.
Not that we have to become injured, but we will experience pain. And when we do, I encourage us – on all sides of the equation – healers, healthcare providers & health seekers alike to consider how much power we are giving to what we think we know & to what we’re being fed as explanations & solutions. When things feel a bit complicated, do we grasp to something –anything?
I started writing this post after a client eagerly & respectfully shared his acknowledgement that running is a skill, as are dancing ballet & playing guitar. Many who are willing to LEARN running see it this way. Obediently & excitedly, “Tell me what to DO!”
As this story sat in line to continue my musings about influence, I was sidetracked by recent works of others. These new works demand, as do a variety of methods & as my client thought, that in order to do it right, running must be learned.
On the flip side, it is common for top coaches & athletes to point to elite runners with wide-ranging form & conclude that technique varies between individuals, that there is no standard to which we can or should hold. Leave well enough alone & just run.
In the grand scheme of things, I disagree with both.
Running is a completely natural movement which requires no form of intervention. Not in the form of instruction. Not in the form of corrective footwear. Nothing to LEARN. Unlike many activities which we wouldn’t know unless we were taught or had someone to closely observe, in normal circumstances humans crawl, walk, run, jump, climb, lift, carry, throw & catch as a natural progression of knowing our physical selves. We do this perfectly.
Sadly, however, most of us moderns start losing connection to our bodies at a young age. This is partly due to our privileged lives – overprotective adults limit our play, we become inactive & sit for unreasonably long hours at ridiculously young ages, science & experts & teachers often encourage us to fear our bodies & movement.
We become confused users & there comes a time when a modern body needs help. But in regard to running instruction, what are we teaching if there’s nothing to learn?
From what I’ve seen, rules of what to do & not do when running, if anything, get in the way. I often find myself un-teaching runners who have busy minds of what to do to achieve perfect running form. Or worse, what not to do. Even if the information is correct in technicality, I most often see the concepts of many teaching methods stored in the brain producing mind-controlled & rigid, unnatural movement.
There need be nothing wrong with knowing what good movement should look like & I will definitely help a athlete understand how this translates to running. But good movement doesn’t start with running. IF we need intervention with our running form, we really need intervention with ALL our movement – with how we use our bodies. The good news is that THIS we can learn! When the body knows how to support itself & move with fluidity, good running simply happens –which also means we are healthier in our bodies in everything we do.
I want to give most people I see some help in how to reconnect with their movement, whether they’re a client or I’m randomly observing someone moving through the world. There is so much improvement that can be made! In regards to running, even most modern elites have many ways in which they could improve their form. If there is not a standard, there is definitely an ideal. And the ideal is to reconnect with & understand the body in movement & keep improving on that until all of the muscles of the body perform their assigned role perfectly.
On the other hand, there are people I refuse to teach. I’ve had lifetime farmers visit for instruction. I’ve not wanted to influence them in any way besides to tell them to keep doing what they’re doing unless something comes up along the way later. They’ve been great movers. And not to overuse the point of the Born to Run famed Tarahumara, but I’ve been down to run in the Copper Canyon with them multiple times & will say they are all nearly perfect movers. I wouldn’t want to insert outside influence on most of them even if they wanted it. Their attunement to their bodies has not been interrupted.
Primum non nocere. Considering the negative potentials of intervention is essential. Less is often more. Sometimes we are better off doing nothing. First do no harm.
This is all just a word of caution. Question me & anyone else who attempts to insert their influence upon you.
Is the teaching helpful?
Also question what you’ve accepted as knowledge.
Is it something you know or is it possible that you’ve heard it so many times that you may not have realized an alternative?
“I’ve been meaning to call you for massage . . . but I KNOW I should be stretching more!”
I hear this. People hesitate to come in, predicting the secret of their non-perfect self care will be revealed. Who wants to be scolded by a massage therapist carrying assumptions of how you should be caring for yourself?
Is it possible more stretching may not be encouraged, you won’t be nagged? Well . . . in some cases I may – very gently of course – encourage you to contemplate WHY you are stretching, or think you should be. Why are tight muscles ‘tight’ & is stretching the solution?
We have muscles throughout our bodies assigned the job of stabilizing joints, also muscles given the role of moving bony structure. When stabilization occurs with the properly assigned muscles, ‘movers’ move through a full range of motion. Strong & flexible. Perfect!
This balance is of utmost importance not only for efficiency, but also to avoid ‘misuse.’ Misuse occurs in modern life when – for reasons we could endlessly speculate – many of our stabilizing muscles forget their assignment. They become unengaged & weak. Since stability is a priority, ‘movers’ are often recruited for the job.
But now these ‘movers’ are in conflict. How do they provide support & structure WHILE moving without restriction? They can’t do both jobs simultaneously. In an effort to provide structure, movers in constant contraction FEEL tight. They are shortened & ‘tight.’ On the other side of this equation, as a result of the opposing chronic contraction, they ALSO feel tight. They arelengthened & ‘tight.’ In either case, they are at a disadvantage because they aren’t free to move through their normal range of motion. They’re in a tug-of-war with conflicting & inefficient roles.
We are often misguided in treating this common circumstance. Will stretching this ‘tight’ hamstring, hip flexor or deep lateral rotator be helpful? Likely not if simply moving is already causing irritation. Stretching can be counterproductive. You’ve probably done it & I’ve definitely been overly-eager in my self care, having stretched & stretched problem areas to a point of concern when they needed to be brought into balance in other ways.
Whatever way we find to do it, reconnecting – plugging back in – to our stability muscles is a main purpose & intention of so many movement systems . . . Pilates, physical therapy, CrossFit, yoga, martial arts. We think of these teachings as different from one another – with focuses on building muscle, stretching OR balancing ‘chi.’ But I love the overlaps. When we become strong, support & move our bodies well, we become flexible, balance our energies & become healthier beings.
As a kid I loved looking through National Geographic Magazine, seeing photographs of moving people from all over the world. The beautiful postures led me to watch & question athletes I was around – question the movement, strength & power – when it looked good, when it looked wrong. I wondered about the differences, why they exist & how they affect us. These questions remained during my early injury-prone running days & especially when beginning to work with my hands on active bodies.
I personally conclude that in an ideal world the body strengthens & stretches simply by staying active, daily living. Being healthy & aging gently may not necessitate additional movement therapies. However when we lose this – as seems our modern lives lead us toward – this act of reeducating & strengthening our bodies at the structural level brings us back to ease & elegance, power & balance.
I encourage you to contemplate.