The Olympics are in full-swing, and I love it! Personally, I'm a huge fan of the Games. Summer, winter, doesn't matter. I love seeing athletes from all over the world, many of which are teenagersor in their early 20s, competing to bring home the gold for their respective country. They work for years to get one shot at glory. Oh, the pressure! Oh, the challenge! Oh, the celebration!
But of course with sports you not only have the thrill of victory, but you also have the agony of defeat. While every competition has winners and losers, unfortunately some competitions have those athletes who get injured. None of us like getting injured, but that's the nature of playing sports. Think about being in elite company, whether you're a professional athlete or an Olympian, working, training for years, dedicating your life to your craft, only to succumb to injury. So frustrating. So heart-breaking. And, sadly, for some athletes, it seems as though they are always getting injured.
But are some athletes truly injury prone, or are they just dysfunctional? In other words, are they "unlucky," or are they writing checks their body can't cash? (Thanks, Top Gun)
While some might argue that certain athletes are injury prone, I believe if we examined what was actually happening with the athlete's body, we would see that joint dysfunction is the underlying cause of their injury. What I see when I watch sports is that all athletes have a functional "ceiling." Our body has adapted and compensated to the point where we're "capped" on what movements we can do without pain and injury. Depending on our dysfunction(s), what is painful for one person might not be for another, and what's challenging for me might be completely easy for you. It's important to remember that, by design, we humans are supposed to be able to do all types of movement pain free. Essentially, if you can fathom it, you can do it. However, for many of us, that's just not the case, and I want to explain why and show you a couple examples of what I'm talking about
Not only are the Olympics ramping up, but the NFL season is rapidly approaching here in the United States. Just a few days ago it was reported that the Cleveland Browns have appointed Robert Griffin III as their starting quarterback. For those of you not familiar with RG3, he is an incredible athlete and a talented quarterback, but he has been injured throughout much of his playing career, both college and professional. He has suffered a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) on his right knee (multiple times), a torn Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) on his right knee, and once dislocated his left ankle while throwing on-the-run.
Many folks say that RG3 is "injury prone," but I just don't buy it. Yes, it's true that he has had multiple injures, but I think the good people evaluating him are overlooking one glaring piece of the puzzle. While most of them have been focused on the site of the injury--the ACL, LCL, and his dislocated ankle--I'm focusing on what I see after watching only 30 seconds of this video:
Did you notice that his left hip isn't doing anything?
He's squatting an incredible amount of weight and basically only using his right side, especially on his way up out of the squat.
Is anyone else seeing this?
Watch it again if you need to. As he squats, notice that his left hip starts elevated, stays elevated, and then rotates back in order to get out of doing any work. Because his left hip isn't working properly, a dysfunctional cause-and-effect chain-reaction is set in motion.
His right side was screaming for help (ACL/LCL tears), while his left side became completely disconnected. The hip, knee, and ankle were no longer a congruent unit. When RG3 tried to push off his left leg (while running to the right) to get into position to throw, his left ankle basically said, "Uh...not today," and dislocated. There was such a breakdown in the chain-link of joints (hip-to-knee-to-ankle) that his body could no longer hold up under the stress. He was asking his body to do something that it functionallycouldn't do. Remember that functional "ceiling" I was talking about earlier? This is that, and RG3 is a perfect example. He's an incredible athlete, but he's also incredibly dysfunctional. I don't believe he's "injury prone." I believe he asked his body to go beyond its functional ceiling.
When watching the Olympics the other night, I saw it again. This time it was in the gymnastics arena. There's ZERO doubt that gymnasts are incredible athletes, but many of them are also incredible dysfunctional, and, in my opinion, ticking injury-time-bombs waiting to go off. In what was, without question, one of the worst injuries of the Olympic Games thus far, French gymnast Samir Ait Said broke his leg during the vault portion of the men's competition. You can watch the video on your own, but be warned that it's gruesome and extremely hard to watch. While the injury was horrible, those of us within Egoscue could have told him something bad might be headed his way.
Take a look at these still shots from his vault approach, and notice the direction his feet and knees are pointing:
His knees and feet should be pointing straight ahead when he's running, but they are not even close to that. They are pointing out at 45-degree angles to his body. Also notice how much his upper-body is having to compensate and rotate to keep him moving toward the target. His body is fighting itself. His dysfunction is taking him in an east-west direction when he needs to go north-south. It's a recipe for disaster, and unfortunately for this gymnast, that's exactly what it was. He quickly found his functional ceiling when he made contact with the landing pad. Not only was his Olympic dream shattered, but his career might be over as well.
Just like RG3, Ait Said's initial trouble started with his dysfunctional hips.Anytime I see a client presenting with this foot and knee position during the gait evaluation, I know exactly what's happening, or more accurately, what's not happening. With this example, his hips have shut down. They aren't functioning properly, yet his body knows that it still needs to get foot clearance as he walks and runs. As a result, his body has begun swinging the legs out and around in a circumducting manner. Instead of going straight ahead, the legs' initial movement is "out" to allow enough room for the foot to travel in front of his body without him tripping on each step. Only when he is able to restore hip function will he be able to change his gait and drastically decrease his risk for injury.
The key to unlocking one's full athletic potential is to ensure the entire body is functioning at its optimum level. Yes, the hips are the hinge-pin of the body--they are the basis of support for the upper half and the locomotor for the lower half--but we can't ignore the shoulders, knees, and ankles. Athletes, whether young or old, professional or recreational, owe it to themselves to get functional. If an athlete isn't functional, they're doing themselves, and their teammates, a disservice. Their performance will suffer, and they are at a greater risk for injury. Restore function, and reverse the process! If you're looking to get started, get in touch with your local Egoscue clinic and schedule an appointment today!
QUESTION: What dysfunctions have you noticed when watching your favorite team or athlete compete?
Ankle braces, back braces, elbow braces, wrist braces. Need I say more? Throughout our clinics, we see a LOT of them. And, I'm sure you see them everywhere you go as well.
They're at the gym. Your co-worker is wearing one. You've noticed them on folks walking down the street. We are surrounded by them. And, why wouldn't we be, when we have them for basically every joint in the body?
Most folks are told, either by their health practitioner or the TV commercial they watched, that their sore, aching joints need to be braced. They need stability. They're weak and can't do their intended job on their own.
But is that true? Is the body really that weak?
The short answer? No, it's not.
Our joints are incredibly stable, incredibly functional. Our joints allow us to run, jump, and climb, cut left and right, and stand up out of a chair. They aren't "fragile," far from it actually, even though we've been led to believe they are.
However, when we brace a joint, when we offer outside assistance, we provide artificial (and only temporary) help. It's the same thing that happens when you break your leg and get a cast put on. With a broken leg, obviously that bone needs outside help. It can't stabilize on its own. In a situation like that, the cast is necessary. But think about what has happened to the muscle when you take the cast off. Your muscles have atrophied. They haven't had to work for the six to eight weeks that the cast has been on, because the cast was doing the work!
The same thing happens when you wear your brace. The brace is doing the work, rather than the muscles that are surrounding the joint.So, when you take your brace off, you've actually made those muscles weaker than they were before! In an attempt to provide stabilization, the exact opposite is happening. The muscles are becoming weaker and the joint more unstable as a result.
Wearing a brace is simply treating the symptom. It's doing nothing for the actual cause of your pain. Let's do an experiment--before you get in the shower, take a look in the mirror. Look at your load joints--shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles--and find what looks "off" about them. Is one shoulder higher than the other? Is one hip rotated more toward the mirror? What about your knees? Which way do they point? Are your feet pointed in different directions? Which foot has more weight in it?
If any joint in your body is "off" as you look at it in the mirror, you're getting closer to finding the source of your pain! When the body deviates from its design blueprint, pain is the warning signal it sends. We can't brace the pain and simply mask the true cause. Living pain free starts by returning the joints to their proper position. While bracing might help in the short-term, it is certainly not a long-term solution.
If you have specific questions about your pain, contact us today! Don't wait any longer to get rid of whatever kind of brace you're currently wearing!
QUESTION: Where were your joints when you looked at yourself in the mirror?
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On the surface, "resting" an injury makes perfect sense. It's the old "if it hurts to do 'x' then you should stop doing 'x'" mentality. If running hurts, then take a break. If it hurts to stand, then go sit down. And it's often suggested that you need to take several months off of whatever activity you love to do in order to let the body heal from its current pain and condition.
Almost on a daily basis, we see clients who have been told the sooner they are able to rest their injury or pain, the sooner all will return to normal.
But, is that really going to help?
In my opinion, not necessarily!
Sure, there are times when the body needs to heal, it needs to recover. But, as I often do, I'll make a comparison between the body and a car. I've said before that we are much better at addressing the big-picture, overall system when it comes to mechanics of our car than we are with mechanics of our body. With our cars, we're good at taking a more global, cause vs. effect, approach to the mechanical problem. However, with our bodies, we're very much symptom-driven.
Think about it this way: When you see your "Check Engine" light illuminate on your dashboard, you know it's time to head to the mechanic. You realize that the "Check Engine" light is an indicator, an alert, telling you that something isn't right with your car. Maybe it's the engine, perhaps it's a tire issue, but regardless, you know there's a problem. You also understand that the light itself isn't the issue, but rather, there is something bigger at play.
However, if you took your car to your mechanic and he said, "Just park your car in the driveway for the next two to four weeks, and everything will be fine," you'd look at him like he was crazy. Essentially, he would be saying that your car simply needs to rest. Obviously, you know that "resting" it isn't going to fix the problem. You realize that there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
So, if you wouldn't "rest" your car and expect the problem to be resolved...why would you "rest" your body and expect the same?
After making the body/car comparison, my hope is that it is starting to make sense why "resting" your injury won't eliminate the cause of your pain! While rest might allow the inflammation to calm down, you have done nothing to address the "Check Engine" light of the body that is still on! The body sent you a signal, and it is expecting you to give it the attention it's asking for!
When addressing your pain, it's crucial that you use the "Check Engine" light as an alert. You have to dig deeper. Your knee pain isn't the issue...that's simply the signal. There's something bigger happening, and if you're simply relying on rest to improve your injury, you're doing nothing to achieve a long-term solution.
If you're ready to take action, contact your closest clinic today!
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QUESTION: How long has your "Check Engine" light been on?
If you know me at all, then you know that I’m a baseball fan. I grew up playing the game as a kid, continued playing at Yale University, and now have the honor of coaching my two oldest boys as they learn to play the game.
But lately, I’ve noticed something very alarming about the game I love. There is an increasing number of elbow injuries popping up throughout the game. From Little League to the Major Leagues, players, and specifically pitchers, are going down with elbow injuries.
The diagnosis is almost always the same: A torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the player’s elbow.
The blame is almost always the same: Too many pitches thrown in a season, or throwing a curve ball at too young of an age, or too many innings pitched in a year, etc.
The solution is almost always the same: Reconstructive surgery (also known as Tommy John Surgery, named after the player who first had the procedure done).
Yet the cause is almost always missed: Today’s player, despite being bigger, faster, and stronger than ever before, is exponentially more dysfunctional than his predecessors.
You see, when an elbow (or a knee, hip, intervertebral disc, etc) sends its first painful signal, the pain is at the end of a series of dysfunctional dominoes that have fallen. It’s the effect, not the cause. While the process for determining the cause should include a global, full-body assessment of how the rest of the body is functioning, all too often the elbow–or for some of you, the location of your specific symptom–is zeroed in on, the torn UCL is found, and surgery is scheduled. The player can count on missing roughly 12 months of baseball activities, and he may or may not get back to being the player he was before.
The rate of Tommy John surgeries in professional baseball is eye-opening. According to Johan Keri of grantland.com, 25% of active MLB pitchers have had Tommy John surgery as well as 15% of current minor league pitchers. In 2014 alone, more pitchers had Tommy John surgery than in the entirety of the 1990s.
Scary. Scary. Numbers.
Players are stronger than they’ve ever been, yet they’re breaking down at an alarming rate. They’re throwing harder than ever before (16 of the 21 players to throw over 102 MPH have been since 2002), yet their bodies can’t sustain the workload.
So, the question that we have to ask is simple: Why?
Why are players rapidly breaking down when they have access to the most up-to-date technology, supplements, and training compared to their predecessors?
As I stated above, I believe the answer is simple: Players today are more dysfunctional than those who came before them. Despite all the bells and whistles available to them, they are becoming more and more fragile.
What MLB is calling an overuse injury, I'm calling a hip underuse issue.
What MLB calls a UCL issue, I'm calling a shoulder position issue.
What MLB is calling is an “epidemic,” I'm calling a byproduct of the player’s daily environment.
Let’s look at the Washington National’s Stephen Strasburg, one of the hardest throwing pitchers in the game, as an example. He also happens to be a veteran of Tommy John surgery. He is told his elbow pain is a “mechanics” issue–Let’s simply change your delivery, and we can prevent this from happening again. But what’s actually happening is that he can’t load is left hip when his lead foot (his left foot) hits the ground during his delivery. He has lost the congruency between his left hip, knee, and ankle. Those joints are no longer working together as a spring-loaded mechanism, allowing him to efficiently transfer his weight from his back side to his front side. As a result, he stays very stiff on his front side and his upper body essentially pegs over-top of his lower body. Check it out for yourself:
When it’s all said and done, he’s left throwing 100 MPH almost entirely with his arm. His upper body is being asked to compensate for his lack of hip function, and his shoulders begin rounding forward placing an incredible amount of stress on his elbow until…
His body warned him. His body told him he was headed this direction. And on one pitch in 2010, all that built-up stress “released” when his UCL tore. Keep in mind that his UCL tore because that is precisely what tendons and ligaments are designed to do when under excessive amounts of stress and pressure. Yet, all the powers-that-be in baseball were quick to tell the Nationals, “We told you so!” Everyone assumed that because Strasburg threw 100+ MPH his elbow was going to break down eventually. In the eyes of the baseball world, it was only a matter of time.
But I don’t believe Strasburg’s 100 MPH fastball is to blame for his UCL tear. Neither is his slider or change-up, for that matter. It’s the body coming to the pitching mound. Remember what I said earlier about what his left side was doing? Or more importantly, what his left side wasn’t doing? The key to a pain-free delivery is hip function and establishing synchronicity between the lower and upper body. Strasburg has to get his hips functioning properly. In fact, all players who are experiencing elbow pain need to get their hips functioning properly. Remember, the hip bone is connected to the shoulder bone, and the shoulder bone is connected to the elbow bone. As the hips function better, the shoulder will function better, and the elbow will function better.
Remember, if the elbow pain was at the end of a series of dysfunctional dominoes, then that means a pain-free elbow will be at the end of a series of functional dominoes. Major League Baseball doesn’t have a Tommy John epidemic on its hands. What they do have are more players who are exponentially more dysfunctional compared to players of past generations.
QUESTION: If you’re an athlete experiencing elbow pain, what has the focal point been throughout the rehab process?