Approaching the last month of my masters of exercise physiology, I thought I might share some of my thoughts and ideas about managing the exercising body. My academic pursuits into exercise started in 2009 with a bachelor of exercise science, however, my experience of injuries and rehabilitation started long before that.
When I was 19 I was playing football in the seconds at St Kilda city and I tore cartilage in my right knee. Without going into too much detail, the result of this injury was worse than it should have been. My poor adherence to the physio’s care plan resulted in atrophy (muscle loss) of my right leg. This poor rehab process, has resulted in injuries and biomechanical (structure and functions of the body including muscle and bone) issues with my right leg ever since. In addition, as the body operates as a kinetic chain, with all parts being connected, other issues that I have had with my body over the journey, may well have been caused by that muscle imbalance. The nature of the kinetic chain means that one faulty link can often influence the rest of the chain.
The body is an amazingly efficient system and this is generally a good thing. However, sometimes this efficiency means making compensations that ultimately cause other injuries along the kinetic chain. A good example of bad compensation occurs when we have a weak gluteus medius muscle, also known as the ‘hip stabilizers.’ If you have frequented one of my classes it is likely you have heard me speaking of these bad boys. The gluteus medius keeps our opposite hip from dropping while in single leg stance. ‘How often do we stand on one leg?’ I hear you say… Single leg stance is very common, we experience this daily in walking and running. Having weak glut meds can result in a range of injuries including patella femoral joint (PFJ) pain, lower back pain (LBP), Illio tibial band (ITB) syndrome and plantar fasciitis.
In exercising populations these injuries are household names, making it a good example of how bad compensation can result in injuries. This example also reminds me of why I love Pilates; that is due to the fact that Pilates trains the areas where we are often weak or lacking, and in this way is a form of prehab. In the gym we often forget the hip stabilizers or rotator cuff muscles and other muscles that are very important to the functioning athlete/person. On the other hand, gym programs generally focus on our strengths rather than our foundations or weaknesses. Before I get side tracked into my love affair with Pilates, or get lost in explaining the mechanisms of injuries for weak hip stabilizers, I want to emphasize the point I am getting at, and that is the importance of the rehabilitation process. I have learnt from my experience and my studies that rehab does not only return function, as this often happens without rehab, it also returns you to the original movement pattern and this protects you from inappropriate compensation. Maintaining solid biomechanics in turn keeps you from getting sidelined and keeps you training and healthy.
While I have had my fair share of niggles over the years, including LBP and PFJ pain, I have learned now that injuries are not always due to bad luck. Alignment and biomechanics are an excellent predictor for injuries and this is an emphasis in my classes. Furthermore, this is an emphasis of Pilates as it improves posture, encourages balance of the body through working limbs individually as well as bilaterally and encourages lengthening as well as strengthening of muscles. This makes Pilates an excellent accompaniment to running, cycling, and other sports that may leave the body unbalanced.
Furthermore, sports and exercise are not the only things that leave the body imbalanced. Sitting for long periods also creates imbalances in the body, and Pilates also improves this. You may have also heard me say ‘sitting is the new smoking’ during one of my classes, perhaps this is a blog for another day.
Finally, I’ll return to injuries, and I challenge you to be more philosophical about injuries and focus on internal improvement rather than thinking about what the person next to you is doing. In this way, channel the energy into diligently following the rehabilitation process, and then enjoy the benefits that arise. I have also taken a more philosophical approach on being injured lately, like my local yogi says:
‘Thank you for the challenges so that they may make me a better person’ and in my case a better exercise physiologist and Pilates instructor.
Any questions please feel free to e-mail me: [email protected]