“You know….pain is the last thing to show up and the first thing to leave….you’ve been cookin’ on this injury for some time.”
Every time I say this in the clinic…..I cringe at myself a little because it feels so mundane. Yet, this line forever remains in my educational repertoire because it’s so simply true.
So here’s the thing: I have distilled down the three reasons why pain can be a gift and why we can take this as an opportunity to become a better athlete rather than take it as a devastating sideline.
So, if you’re currently riding the “DL” list from the gym here are some thoughts to turn that frown upside down so that you can understand the why of your injury a little better and help you back in the game, faster. There are the three reasons your pain is a gift in disguise.
- Your pain tells a story.
- Whatever muscle moves, grows.
- Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.
These three steps are what comprise our Love Health clinical process of they why: to excavate the global why this is happening, the what: to determine which are the major players in this movement snafu, and the how: how to fix it.
The Why: Your Pain Tells a Story
Whenever you feel pain somewhere, it is an indicator that somewhere, something has been going wrong and some part of your body (a joint or tissue) is talkin’. For example, if you’re a powerlifter or an olympic weightlifter, and your pain has started to manifest in your back, there has surely been an overload to the spinal joints, or tissues in the back causing this pain to show up in certain movements, like the bottom of a squat. In this case, i would guess there is a moment under the load where the lifter lacks stability in their lumbopelvic hip complex and some innocent joint, ligament, or fascia takes a beating.
Or, perhaps your front hip hurts or hamstring attachment aches after a long run. Well, this tells me that there may be too much rotational stress going through the limb, or that your core is inhibited and you’re loading the wrong tissues over and over again.
The What: Whatever Muscle Moves, Grows
So, what now?….you might ask… Well, what this now would lead us to look into is “what structure is most involved?” In physiology, there are two dudes we must introduce you to: Davis and Wolf. So, Wolf’s law states: the bones responds to the stresses placed upon it (eg, think arthritis and the bony changes in our body that create the stalagtites and stalagmites that hurt when we move a joint). And Davis states that the soft tissue responds to the stresses placed upon it. This shows up as sticky, immobile tissues, tight joint capsules in hips, ankles, and shoulders, or super big muscles in random areas like the rotator cuff or back muscles.
So, the point is, if I see someone with low back pain, I 100%, absolutely, without a doubt, look at their muscle tone in each body region associated with their injury. The most powerful muscle in hip extension is the gluteus maximus, and it tangles with some helpers, like the hamstrings and the paraspinal back muscles. In the case of low back pain, one items we take into consderation is on the firing pattern of the low back muscles as compared to the butt muscles, calves and hamstrings. When we test this both when someone is laying down and also functionally on their feet, we can see, feel, and tell which muscle “moves first and strongest” in the movement. And Guess what?! If there’s a flat butt, ripped back muscles, and “tight” hamstrings paired with certain positional variances…..ding ding ding…we have what we call a “butt back”…meaning that this athlete’s butt has migrated north about a foot and has taken residence in their back.
So, in this case, when someone catches a heavy clean, and are standing it up, the first and strongest muscle that fires is in their lower back, causing a massive shear force across their thoracolumbar fascia, and PAIN.
The How: Practice Makes Permanent. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
Now, a lot of you have just joined the ranks of being an infamous “butt back,” as one example of an injury that was earned over time from improper firing patterns. Those improper firing patterns under high intensity over heavy loads may now having you scale and even take a break from movements because of pain.
If this is you, this is a gift. Pain tells you you’ve been practiceing something into a permannent pattern that isnt conducive to a healthy biomechanic. So, it’s a gift wrapped in the opportunity to make it right.
It is indeed an opportunity to work on the pieces of the movement though perfect practice.
Once you arrive at this con cluson, the next step is what to work on:
Perhaps you need to work on your hip mobility so you can get into a position with better tension.
Or, maybe, your issue is core stability when under load.
Perhaps you need to focus on reverse hypers and build your hip extension pattern.
Moral of the story is, injury doesn’t mean, take a month off from the gym or be a couch potato, but rather to start using yourself as your own lab rat. Do an N=1 study with every movement. Every movement becomes a test and you are the subject (N=1). If you try something and it hurts, that’s a fail, if you try some things and you feel better the next day, that’s a productive combination of movements.
So, use your injury as an opportunity to work on being as perfect in partial movements as possible. Be a student of your own movement and perfect each piece of the big movement to get you back doing what you love, faster.
Some programs I find work really well in your movement test-lab are: Active Life BulletProofrX Programs. Check them out if you’re inspire to make recovery your “workouts” for a while, or even if you’re looking for accessory work to prevent injury!