Is Muscle Wasting the Reason for your Back Pain, Hip Pain, Knee Pain & Plantar Fasciitis?

Movement is Everything

Movement is everything. Imagine waking up fully conscious but completely paralysed from the neck down. I can’t speak for you, but for me there is no prison on earth scarier than that. It feels to me like every single last expression of my life force starts with a thought but ends with movement. Everything from my shallowest breath between sips of coffee, to acts of service, winning races & sky dives is predicated on movement. Even my deepest sleep is a state of perpetual motion.

Weakness & Pain

To some degree all movement requires physical strength. When movement and strength suffer we suffer. The most obvious suffering is the knee pain, plantar fasciitis, bursitis, hip arthritis etc etc. More subtle forms of suffering caused by loss of movement we call disability, difficulty doing the things we enjoy, difficulty performing life’s most basic functions. Disability can be as horrifying and scary as pain itself if it is bad enough.. that’s what the paralysis example is about.

The truth is that we are virtually all on a spectrum of weakness. Even the most perfectly conditioned of professional athletes have some particular weakness, pain or imbalance that they find they need to work on.

There is a meaningful questions that those interested in prevention and rehabilitation should ask here… ‘’ Is it possible to accurately identify these weaknesses and work on them?’’ Happily the answer is yes of course we can!!!

Spotting Weakness

I have a very good friend called Oliver. Oliver is a very talented soccer coach, and it’s what he has done professionally for the past 15 years. To say that Oliver see’s things that I don’t when he watches a game of soccer, would be a diabolical understatement. He sees small defensive error’s; he picks up on subtle cues that there is a lack of communication and cohesiveness in the offence. He picks up on subtle shifts of the balance of power on the pitch.

When I ‘watch’ soccer it literally just looks like some athletic losers kicking a ball back and forth… occasionally someone manages to get a ball in the goal.. some passes are more accurate than others.. this is the full depth of my analysis.

My point is this, when we have a depth of experience on a topic, we see things that others do not. This is why it is not cocky of me to say that when I look at human beings moving around I see things that others don’t.

The truth is, if I see someone moving I can spot weakness, movement deficiency and muscle wasting from a distance that might shock you. Knowing whether someone has pain is sometimes not spot-able due to the complex nature of things, but the weakness is crazy obvious once you have attuned to all the many ‘tells’.

I was inspired to write this post yesterday afternoon. It was a lovely calm, sunny afternoon in Wellington and there were lots of people out walking. My attention was drawn by some sudden movement and I saw a robust looking toddler who had burst into a run.

The most obvious problem with this kid was that he was headed directly towards, and in close proximity to a busy road. The second problem, was that his poor overweight mum who looked to be in her mid 40’s can’t (even with the benefit of adrenaline and primal instinct) keep pace with a 3 year old,, even if his life is dependant upon it. It was one of those moments that happens in slow mo .. for all the wrong reasons.

Fortunately it turned out that the wee man just really wanted to press the button and activate the crossing, so his mums lack of athleticism wasn’t his undoing. I have to say I was relieved, it looked like a bad situation for a moment there. Having witnessed her movements though, I can foresee no such happy ending for his mums health in the near future.

When I reflect on the image in my mind of the boys mum trying to run and failing, what I see is severe weakness. Both her knees have ‘valgus stress deformities’ or what you might call knock kneed. This lets me know her glutes and VMO muscles not firing. She had a short shuffling gait which is mainly due to general stiffness in her lower back and pelvis. The angle of her legs when she bears weight tell me her arches collapse when she bears weight on both feet which is a combo of the glute weakness and the feet themselves. Her upper backs ‘support system’ isn’t firing either so she can’t use her shoulder and arms in the way that one needs to when running effectively. It all sounds pretty clever and insightful when you write it down.. but to be honest none of it is particularly subtle.

As I was reflecting on excessively all in depth analysis, I realised that most people would look at the same scene and just think that mum’s obvious struggle was just her weight, with maybe a general comment on ‘lack of Cardio’.

There is a reason why I believe being able to ‘read’ people’s weaknesses is a valuable enough topic to dedicate my life to it.

If we can identify weakness we can work on it. If we overlook it and just tell ourselves and each other to loose weight we are going to miss out on tools and solutions that could be profoundly life altering.

I was with a lady very recently who had a very similar pattern of weakness to that poor lady who can’t run. She also had all the classic pains that usually go along with it .

She was suffering badly with chronic knee pain, back pain and plantar fasciitis all of which she felt were preventing her from being active more than her weight. She had consulted her doctor a year before about the pain in her knee, back and plantar fasciitis pain, and her lack of mobility. All he had told her was she needed to loose weight. I believe that there is more to caring for people who are both over weight and in pain than this …

The Solution

The solution to all this weakness, all this stiffness and all this unnecessary suffering is movement, move or die my people! There is of course the question of how to move though.

Those of us who have a reasonably fit and strong ‘base’ can be quite general about our approach to movement and that mostly will give the body what it needs.

For those who are no longer as fit and strong, the requirements of healthy restorative movement will be more specific. If you have suffered from knee pain & injuries, plantar fasciitis, hip pain, ankle pain, chronic back pain or even if you have just slowed up a lot, you’re probably in need of a much more specific approach to movement. And then there are the things that often need to be avoided because they cause more pain. All this adds up to a much more specific but easily prescribed approach.

Those with the most persistent pain and stiffness often need time spent doing very specific exercises designed to strengthen  their weakest areas before they do much in the way of general fitness. These type of exercises can easily be done at home in 10 minute windows once you know how. There is now a mountain of research that supports the idea that weakness is a part of virtually every stubborn pain complaints there is. 

By deliberately stabilising the weakest areas when we are ‘unfit’ or weakened, we can gradually work ourselves into more normal activity, the same way people do after bad car crashes and the like. This is a stepping stone to restoring the freedom that comes with having a natural and normal level of strength in our bodies.

The Conclusion

Like I said.. movement is everything. Movement is having the freedom to stand and watch your children play sport without burning pain in your lower back. Freedom is being able to travel without fear of unexpected and unpredictable hip pain episodes. Freedom is being able to work in a state of comfort without feeling like you have sharp rocks in your foot due to plantar fasciitis.

Freedom can even boil down to being able to just sit and lie down without back pain. This part of life deserves care and it deserves attention, the greatest benefit of giving that care to our bodies is preservation, prevention of pains both felt now and those still to come. And for many, that care is best given by way of strengthening !

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