What causes injury?
The term ‘Injury’ can cover a whole range of ‘issues’ in the Musculoskeletal System: from tightness in a muscle, a strain, sprain, grade 3 tear in a muscle, a random pain or radiating sensations through a joint area, pain in a joint capsule, joint impingement and many more.
This can be due to a lack of warming up/cooling down/stretching around your workouts; overuse of one muscle/group; over-stretching; poor posture over a long duration; a lack of exercise/movement; over-training; introduction of a new movement with poor form; sudden onset of high intensity exercise. Sometimes, it is illness e.g. coughing intensely for a long period of time; or high exposure to stress e.g. at the workplace and your shoulders end up nearly touching your ears on a daily basis, leading to extreme headaches, ear problems, migraines.
Stress for me is the KEY FACTOR which I will delve into in more detail in future articles. There are so many types of stress from a wide range of sources. Some are MACRO doses of stress e.g. changing job, moving house, domestic abuse, death or divorce for example, which cause long-lasting negative effects on the body and mind. Others are MICRO doses, which occur in small amounts, but very frequently throughout a day and keep you in a heightened state of ‘stress’ continuously and both types, if left unaddressed mostly leads to sudden outbursts of emotion such as anger and rage, tears, tiredness, illness, anxiety, depression and injury.
Please note that I speak from a ‘hands-on physical therapist’ view and I can actually feel the stress that is held in the muscles of the human body’s that I work with. Stress tension is such a different sensation to feel in the tissues than a normal relaxed muscle and it will often take more than one soft tissue treatment to make any long-lasting effect. The source of the stress needs to be dealt with. Sometimes this can be just stopping to look at all the sources and one at a time, make small adaptations to how you respond to the stress, giving yourself ‘you-time’, boundaries, saying no more when required, doing more of what you enjoy, making changes necessary to make sure you work at your optimum more often than not.
However, sometimes it is necessary and very acceptable to speak to a counsellor or therapist who can help you better understand your thoughts and feelings and provide tools to help you manage the stressors better.
I can speak from experience when it comes to managing injury. Only 18 months ago I was pushing my body to it’s limits, training 5-6 days a week in many different ‘sports’ and with very little attention to good quality rest, recovery and stretching. When everything feels good, it’s human nature to just keep going. I wasn’t slowing down for nothing. I ignored the signs, I was invincible, purely focussed on my goal of running a half marathon in under 110 minutes, squatting and benching over my bodyweight with ease, deadlifting over 100kg, losing weight, toning up and getting strong and fast all at once. I was limping, had back pain, had no periods, regular neck twinges I even broke my toe from dropping an Atlas Stone, ran in to the side of a taxi and damaged my ribs, I still ignored the issues and continued, all in order to convince myself I was capable, worthy and attractive.
Sounds tragic now I write it out so clear in black and white. But well….I know I’m not alone!
So I want to help!
I’m going to quickly cut to the end of my story, which was that after 3 visits to different osteopaths in South East London and Soft tissue therapists also….I was sent for a MRI, Xray and CT scan to be swiftly diagnosed with a significant Labral Tear in my left hip which would need surgery, Arthritis on the head of the femur with significant cartilage damage, Bursitis and a whole heap of inflammation. I could barely walk for longer than 10 minutes without my hip buckling, needless to say I didn’t complete the Royal Parks Half Marathon and I was no longer able to do any heavy weightlifting, yoga, climbing…anything. I had pushed myself to actual breaking point in body and mind!
A part of my identity was gone, then was left to deal with a whole heap of pain, frustration and a lot of time waiting for surgery (which turned out to only be 5 months - so much gratitude to the NHS for this!). Of course, with all this time on my hands I could now maybe deal with my underlying issue which got me to this result in the first place. But truth be known the mindset is a working progress and I am a believer that the mind is an incredibly strong muscle which needs regular attention and training.
So despite me being a Specialist in the care of Soft Tissues; Injury Prevention and Management….I should know better right?…..Well, sometimes we punish ourselves the only way we know how and for me it was to exercise as much as I could to distract myself from ‘real life issues’.
I see that everyone has their go-to ‘thing’ which they use to punish and abuse their body’s. For some, it is food, others: alcohol, drugs, spending money, gambling….there’s many!
No matter the reason, there’s an underlying stress which isn’t being dealt with and avoided with an ‘unhealthy’ behaviour/obsession.
Stress often manifests in the physical tissues of the human body and causes tension, tampers with hormone release, reduces amount and quality of sleep, impacts levels of anxiety and many more factors. All of which reduce the body’s ability to recover, replenish and heal. Add a load more stress to the equation with more exercise and the cycle continues; tensions/pain and imbalances worsen.
Now do not get me wrong, the human body is extremely adaptable and will cope to a point. But be sure there will be signs of it struggling to keep up with the demands being placed upon it! This could be a sensation of sudden weakness in a muscle; ‘wobbling’ in a joint; tightness in a muscle; radiating pain or sensations in muscle(s) or a joint area; restricted range of movement with our without pain; constant soreness etc. If left unattended, other areas of the body will compensate and imbalances and disfunction rapidly result. Equally, it is minor level muscular imbalances which, lead to a greater injury later on, especially when you go to use your body in a way it is not used to and that final added stress expresses an injury or if a disfunction is present then a load is added e.g. weight lifting in the gym, or carrying heavy boxes when moving house etc.
It is up to an individual to listen to the signs and respond accordingly. When the body is pushed to the limits and is unable to adapt effectively anymore, it comes to breaking point.
This is the manifestation of an injury. The ignored niggle is now an impingement of a joint or a tear of a muscle. It could have been prevented and quality and ease of movement improved, pain relieved and performance drastically improved.
So I urge all of you to LISTEN! Listen to the warning signs.
RESPECT your body and the warning it is giving you!
Take the TIME your body and mind need to replenish and heal.
Take ACTION if pain and dysfunction has crept in and you need help to address the issue/concerns.
Addressing the tension in the muscles with soft tissue therapy is a great start. Having your movement patterns analysed and raising your awareness to the cause of the issue, then committing to a regular stretching and ‘moving without load’ regime to bring your body back in balance.
NEXT blog post: Injury Part 2….preparing and dealing with surgery.