Often the only thing that gets patients to finally call their doctor or come to a physical therapist is pain. Wether it’s acute or chronic, your body is telling you something is not right. Often this pain starts limiting you from doing the things you love or even just completing simple daily tasks. Getting to the root of your pain is the key to resolving it completely.
I’m all about staying healthy, and if i have learned anything over my 20 year running career it’s that staying healthy does require some self- maintenance. When I was running professionally, I often got weekly massages because running 100+ miles a week takes it’s toll. Even when I would feel good, the therapist would find things I didn’t know were brewing. Any athlete or avid exerciser knows how important consistency is, and missing time off for an injury is just frustrating.
Get your body ready
The best way to get ready for your workout or sport is to incorporate a dynamic warmup. The purpose of taking a few minutes beforehand is to stimulate the nervous system, increase body temperature, work on range of motion, flexibility and address any limitations. Getting your joints, muscles and ligaments ready to start taking load and speed is necessary for optimal performance and will also help decrease your risk of injury.
There are so many things out there for recovery, it’s easy to get over-whelmed. I admit the roller is not my go-to tool mainly because any time I sit on the floor, my 4 year old decides to sit on me. But, doing some sort of stretching or body work after you have run or worked out is a good thing for muscle fiber health. Rolling has not been proven to give any lasting effects more than a few hours afterwards, but combined with some active movements or trigger point pressure, it’s been shown to be beneficial. It’s probably even best to cut your run a few minutes short if you are pressed for time and allow a few minutes of stretched to elongate the muscles that are prone to tightness so you will feel better on your next run or workout.
Your quadriceps (front thigh), hamstrings (back of thigh) certainly take a beating with any workout. Foam rolling is a great way to address these using your body weight. You can literally roll on it to work these muscles, stopping at any tender spots or trigger points and holding at least 30 seconds. The breathing is important, so take at least 2 deep breaths in and out slowly to send a signal to your brain to relax.
Also, roll with some active movements. For instance, in the below photo I am rolling my adductor (inner thigh) muscles. The longest one (Adductor Magnus) crosses the knee, so adding some knee bending and straightening while holding in the same spot is good for increasing tissue and fascial glide.
If you don’t work your mobility on a daily basis you will slowly loose it. So what, you say? Well, tight hip flexors mean your stride is shorter and can alter your alignment leading to back pain, tight pectoralis muscles (chest muscles) mean your posture changes and your shoulder joint is not as efficient, tight calves effect your ankle mobility and ability to squat to name a few. So, take the time to do a few minutes a day of something. Your body will thank you by feeling better on your next workout. I generally do a few minutes after a run, then about 10-15 minutes before bed. What is your favorite recovery tool?
Our bodies are born mobile, and it’s not until we stop using certain positions that we loose our ability to get in them. Often its sedentary life style, desk jobs, and sitting in cars that slowly robs us of our mobility. Even sports, strength training and our workouts can leave us limited if we don’t constantly work areas that are prone to tightness.
The squat test is a great movement to tell you how well somebody’s body is moving, particularly if you have your arms overhead as you are doing it. A simple quick squat test can tell you some much about the movement quality of someone’s spine, shoulders, hips, and ankle joints and even assess their body control.
Why is important to stay mobile? Because the body is smart, and losing mobility in one area will cause it to find it in another often resulting in an injury. Also, less mobile areas mean other areas work harder and your body is not as efficient. For example, not being able to get low enough to lift something heavy with your legs, means you might round your back and be prone to an injury. Or another example, have a shortened Latissimus muslce (back muscle) or poor thoracic mobility can effect your shoulder in over-head range of motion leading to pain and inefficient over-head activities. Even being able to get into a good squat is vital for explosive jumping in sports.
The good new is it might take a little time, but you can get your mobility back. Through some functional movement assessment, joint mobilizations, tissue release and corrective exercises, you can increase your mobility and retrain your brain to use your body the way you did as a kid.
Here is an example of good squatting mechanics with hips below knees, knees over toes, torso upright with arms overhead. Can you get in this position?