Be positive – get your aches and pains fixed instead of putting up with them.

One of the most surprising things that I’ve noticed is how many niggling musculo-skeletal aches and pains people are prepared to put up with on a continual basis.  Not only this, they’re often willing to compromise movement function and activity patterns in order to get by. Why is this? It seems to me that we have a prevailing culture of acceptance of certain physical limitations, especially when age can be leant upon as an excuse.

A client of mine once called me the day after a hip mobility treatment, to announce that she’d ‘sprung out of the bath’ that morning whereas before she’d had to lever herself out using her arms and she’d played the best round of golf in ages. Some months previously she’d visited her GP about pain the pain and stiffness she was experiencing in her hips, only to be told ‘what did she expect at her age’. Sadly, that’s all too often the response and it had made her consider giving up golf for good.

The one thing that you can be sure about small, niggling aches and pains is that if ignored they will become bigger problems as time goes on. That stiffness in your shoulder when you try to look behind you when reversing the car or the twinge in your back when you get up off the sofa will not go away of its own accord. Instead, your body will find ways of compensating: adjusting your posture, de-activating a particular muscle or laying down more connective tissue for example. Your body is extremely adaptable, but unfortunately that adaptation can just as easily go in an unhelpful direction and become increasingly debilitating.

It can be quite hard to get your head around the fact that this adaptability works in reverse and that, even as you get older, your body is still renewing and rebuilding itself on a continual basis. However, it requires effort and discipline on your part, because changes that have occurred over what may be decades are not going to be fixed by half an hour on a treatment couch. Just like buying a ticket if you’re wishing you could win the lottery, visiting a therapist is a good way to start, but if you really want results it’s down to you to do your share by exercising, changing your habits if necessary and having a positive attitude.

Earlier this year I treated someone who had continual pain on the side of his left foot, to the point where he couldn’t walk properly and so was spending an increasing amount of time sitting down (like I said, it’s amazing what people will put up with). When I looked at his foot, it had become extremely supinated, with the sole facing inwards, and a line drawn down his Achilles tendon and through the centre of his heel bone went round about a 45 degree bend.

I worked on the fascia around his tendon and heel to begin repositioning it and showed him a stretch using a towel which he could do every day to encourage his foot back to a more normal position. I didn’t see him for a couple of months and when I did he explained that the pain had reduced and become more central on his foot the day after treatment, thereafter it went away completely…but he had been doing the stretching religiously every morning. He asked me to have a look at his foot to see if it had changed. I was amazed – I could now draw a perfectly straight line down his Achilles tendon and the centre of his heel bone. His foot was re-aligned, he was now weight bearing properly and walking without pain; his effort and persistence had paid off.

So, the message is: don’t give up your sport, lower your horizons generally and put up with pain – get to work and get it fixed. And if someone tells you to act your age, don’t listen to them.

Running – the things I see…

The way I see it, running has numerous benefits: as well as keeping you physically fit, it gives you the ideal opportunity to create a personal space that other folk can’t interfere with. You can be out the door and over the horizon without the need for a complicated excuse. It encourages discipline and self-dependence – how are you going to get home if you don’t go the distance? There’s time to think, chance to challenge yourself and… you don’t half see some interesting things along the way.

I’m very lucky, because I live in the south of France I get to run in some beautiful countryside. My running shoes also go wherever I do because it’s a great way to see a place in the freshness of early morning, before most folk are out and about. No matter how many times I see the sun rise over the sea, run along an empty beach or hear a hidden stream crashing through boulders, the joy of it never diminishes.

Running along Hammamet beach in Tunisia early one spring morning, I passed a local woman sitting close to the shoreline. Encumbered by clothing that covered everything apart from her hands and face, she was simply staring sadly at the horizon like a Muslim version of the French Lieutenant’s Woman. She smiled at me but there was a longing in her face that spoke of isolation and containment. It was a look that made me wonder whether for a moment she wished she were me. Freedom is another benefit of running – or is it the other way around?

On a more comical note, I was on one of my regular trails through the hills alongside the Bay of St Tropez when I heard a great deal of yapping and shouting in the distance. It was October and I assumed the local hunters had caught up with a wild boar, but the racket was clearly on the move and getting closer. A moment later, the most unlikely ensemble imaginable burst round the corner in a crescendo of canine enthusiasm and I found myself sharing my route with a team of Huskies towing a quad bike!

Yesterday, it being Sunday morning, I decided to tackle a 23k route I’d had my eye on for a while. It goes way off up into the hills and includes a pretty monumental climb, even by my standards. I was pretty surprised to round a corner on very long uphill section and see in front of me a very unlikely looking jogger who I soon caught up and overtook. I say unlikely because we were in the middle of nowhere and he looked like he shouldn’t be that far from a defibrillator, let alone from home or a vehicle of some kind. He had the sort of kit on that people wore on the high street in the 1980s, which was flapping about as he ran like someone hurrying for a bus. It was very surreal, as if he’d been beamed in by Scottie. I had to admire his ambitious choice of terrain, but couldn’t help thinking he’d make better progress with less wind resistance! It’s probable that he was equally surprised to be overtaken by a woman in what some would describe as a catsuit, who gave him the fright of his life by creeping up behind him and shouting bonjour!

 

Don’t give up, be unreasonable if you want to achieve your fitness goals.

As I went out of the front door for a run first thing this morning in sub-zero temperatures and with snow on the ground, I had in my mind the question of why I do things like this: would it not be more reasonable to give it a miss? It’s the same thing that empties the gyms as we progress through January and the New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside. People give up. The voice of reason says: ‘This is uncomfortable/time consuming/I might hurt myself/I have too many more important things to do and…I can’t’.

Everyone who starts running or going to the gym starts with a purpose, but in the clutter of everyday life that purpose is all too easily submerged. The voice of reason says it’s less important, even maybe selfish: a foolish dream that we’ll never achieve, so we may as well give up. And with that we can return to our comfort zone, conscience intact. To keep going demands that you’re unreasonable and believe you can achieve your purpose – that you have determination. There’s a gem of a quote in Jonny Wilkinson’s autobiography, it’s from his trainer Blackie: “A great gridiron (American football) coach summed up the effects of determination like this ‘Most players are about as effective as they make their minds up to be”.

One hundred years ago Scott’s expedition to the south Pole was testing human endurance to it’s limits. As expedition member Apsley Cherry-Garrard observed in his book ‘The Worst Journey in the World’, it was the physically biggest and strongest men, the ones least expected to fail, who succumbed to the cold and fatigue first: “The man with the nerves goes farther.” In other words, the ones who have the most determination have the best chance of survival.

So this morning I ran with the snow and frozen ground crunching under my feet. No-one else was around to notice the vivid yellow shocks of Mimosa, the first almond blossoms just opening and the sunlight suddenly cast across a snow covered vineyard as the sun rose above a horizon of cloud. I had the pleasure of those moments and had I still been under the duvet they would have passed me by. Well worth being unreasonable for.