THREE Things to Start Doing Today: Decrease Pain, Move Better

As you cross decade birthdays, your very own special 'musculoskeletal issue' is likely start to slowly creep out of the woodwork.  A few of the most popular are tight hips, bad shoulder, and bad back. It takes thousands of iterations before a poor movement pattern or static activity begins to create pain and reduced range of motion. This is lucky -- and not. Usually we don't realize we have a problem until pain occurs, and by then the movement pattern that helped make us hurt more is waaaaaay ingrained! To exit this predicament requires that we (1) strengthen weak & stretch tight muscles, and (2) re-learn the movement using the intended muscle groups.

Simply put, if you aren't moving well, you will eventually start to experience musculoskeletal pain. Flexible people, you might also be susceptible. (You may be hypermobile if you can press your palms together behind your back or hip hinge from standing and put your palms on the ground.)

Here are THREE ways to keep pain away and become more mobile.

1. Start using more than two static body positions. 
Okay you got a standing desk at work. Yay. What about the rest of your day? Sitting, maybe? We now know that the amazing life-changing invention of the chair is like the drive-up lane at McDonalds: it gives us a shortcut to the "finish line." Sitting daily for four or more hours during leisure time alone was found to not only do a number on our metabolism, body composition, and lifestyle disease risk factors, but it can also literally smash your glutes into endless sleep, shorten your hip flexors, and reduce your squat depth to 90-degrees*.

In that instance, what follows is a sad attempt by smaller, less-qualified muscles to be someone they're not (our gluteal muscles are the largest muscle group in our body), which can drive those underequipped muscles to painfully do what I professionally call "spaz out." Oh - you're a hypermobile person? You may instead feel a similar type of spazzy pain in your low back, since your spine is so happy to bend any which way. 

Did I scare you into submission yet? Here are some ideas for other ways to leisure (and work). 

  • Kneel on the floor and stretch your hip flexors, alternating a knee down every few minutes (or kneel on both knees). If you can crowd back against the wall you can even throw in a couch stretch! 
  • Whenever possible, sit on the floor. This best applies to playing board games, watching TV, reading, and scrolling. If you cannot sit on your ischial tuberosities (sits bones) without rounding your back, elevate your rear under folded blankets or make your own bolster.
  • Since I know I'm preaching to the choir about not sitting, when you do stand, do so with intention. Here's a great standing position check sequence you can do whenever you remember. He's a little bit nuts -- tutorial starts about halfway through.

2. Start figuring out what needs work.  Remember, pain is the LAST signal that tells you something is wrong. Here are a couple simple tests to evaluate common locations we find impending 'issues.'

  • Hip mobility issue: stand up and look at your knees. Now look just past them to your feet. Do you stand with duck feet (or foot)? This could be a sign of shortened, overworked hip flexors. Feet should stand parallel.
  • Shoulder mobility issue: when you stand with your arms hanging freely with a pencil in each fist, do the pencils point slightly inward or greater toward one another? This could be a sign of a weak rear shoulder capsule and/or tight anterior shoulder and chest muscles. Your pencils should point straight forward or away from the body.
  • Shoulder blade mobility issue: This one is tricky because the scapulae are responsible for being both stable and mobile. If you can't make it to class this week, get a buddy and check out this tutorial.

3. Do something for your baseline mobility every day. Especially if If you're working out semi-regularly, and especially definitely if you're running 3+ times per week. IF you aren't helping your mobility daily, whether you feel it or not you could be on your way to pain in some part of your body. Methods includes but are not limited to:

  • Massage: foam roll, stick roll, peanut roll (lacrosse ball/tennis ball), cupping, trigger point massage. Anything that de-laminates the layers of tissue in tight parts of your body. These methods also improve post-workout recovery by decreasing inflammation and increasing cell recovery mechanisms.
  • Prehab: perform sets of banded/dumbbell, body weight, or otherwise gravity-assisted exercises that focus on a specific mobility issue. For example, if you have been diagnosed with sleepy glutes, you're doing (at the least) glute bridge variations and supermodels. If you have a shoulder blade that you can't stabilize, you're doing scap push-ups or banded rotator cuff strength work. 
    • If you have no pain and are not sure if you even have an issue after trying one of the tests above, I suggest one or both things: do something every day anyway, rotating through a body part each day (It's called prehab for a reason).
  • Stretch Hard. Mobility is defined as flexibility at the end-range of motion. That means that to get more flexible, you've got to stretch with intention, and stay in it long enough to get to the true end of your flexibility, typically about two-to-four minutes.

Lastly, if you're having pain, consult with a local professional and find out how your body's operating. PDX peeps, I can supply you with a starting point: Physical Therapy, Athletic Training, or a collective of professionals who do body work. 

Anne Koski