Breaking the Chains of Pain

My husband is a runner. Right before we got married, we decided it would be fun to train for and run a 5K together. I barely got through the race, but from that point on, my husband was hooked. Over the past 9 years he's moved into half and marathon training, with an eye on Boston. This year was supposed to be the year he ran it, but about 2 years ago he was sidelined with Plantar Fasciitis.


He was devastated! I think the biggest setback in this was that he was encouraged to push through it. That the pain was in his mind as a block to his progression in running. His running coach/Physical Therapist told him this. Of course the Certified Athletic Trainer in me was livid, because this is not how I approach these conditions - especially when you see it getting worse instead of resolving. Pain is an indicator that something isn't right, and we do need to address where the pain is coming from in order to move on and move forward. Because, whether the pain is from a physical injury or a neurological pathway, pain prevents us from being the athletes we want to be.


The first step in relieving pain and also preventing it is to look at your training.

What are you doing now that could be causing inflammation in that area, and what is missing from your training program that would help to resolve it?

Obviously rehab and corrective exercise are where many of us start. However, before we begin to integrate the latest corrective exercise sequence our favorite sports mag or blog suggests, we really need to discover the source of the pain. Because, believe it or not, foot pain doesn't always start at the foot. Often where we feel pain is just simply the weakest link, and the cause of the pain is elsewhere.


In my husband's case, we could contribute his plantar fasciitis to a few things:

  • Over training and increasing mileage too fast
  • Poor running gait due to a weak core and posterior chair
  • Limited motion of the upper body
  • His desk job

The first two might not seem too surprising to you. Many of us attribute injuries and pain to something we "did" while training. And this isn't wrong, it's just not the entire picture. Unless you have a traumatic injury, one where there was a specific impact or accident that cause your pain (like me running into a table and getting a massive bruise) then we have to look at the whole body and the entire picture.


I have friends who come to me asking for advice on nagging injuries. In the case of plantar fasciitis and other foot issues, they usually are quick to run out and get some custom orthotics or arch support, special plantar fasciitis running shoes, compression socks, and have tape running up and down their legs like it's a now fashion statement. I just had lunch with a friend who's orthopedist suggested that she needs a cortisone shot and surgery to help relieve arthritis pain. Will is help? Sure, for the short term, but it probably won't last. While all of these may help bring relief they are all simply band-aids when it comes to actually dealing with the issue. They are the chains holding us back from getting to the root cause of the problem and moving forward, instead of repeat the same scenario over and over again. 


However, suggesting that a change in training or adding in some more exercises to their program usually brings on a case of major eye rolling and interesting comments. People are happy to spend money on ineffective products, but aren't willing to invest free energy and time into themselves. What have we become? I get it, we only have so much time in our day and we don't want to exchange the high we get from training for the monotonous work of a corrective exercise program. Or, step back from the gains we've made (even despite the pain) to relearn proper form and technique that will make us better in the end. We just can't be bothered, and that is just wrong. That is NOT how an athlete trains… well at least a successful one. Yes, we've all seen athletes who push through pain and injury to do great things, but what we don't see it the aftermath and the eventual stepping back to heal and repair. If we're going to identify and compete like athletes, then we need to training like them too and that includes approaching pain the correct way.


What if I told you that there's a lot of the corrective needs that can be brought into your regular routine, and that the others can be added for less than 10 minutes a day?

Better? I think so. Simple changes to our day, such as varying our sitting height throughout the day and changing our footwear, can trickle over to start relieving pain and improving mechanics. Offsetting exercises, such as the head hand and finger stretches, can be integrated into our routine and no time is loss. Even if you're resistant to adding in functional training (and you need to rethink this if that's the case), you can stack so many activities into what you're already doing that is does bring healing and change. The small changes mobilize joints better, encourage more natural range of motion of our joints more often, and in turn naturally relieve our pain and encourage our muscles to start engaging as they were intended. I'm not saying some dedicate corrective time isn't needed at all, but I am suggesting that we need think outside the traditional rehabilitation box and separate exercise from movement. It's the movement that leads to healing - motion is the lotion in healing, and all-day movement is where we need to be looking.


That's where my husband started.

He was forced to scale back his running training, but in it's place we started adding in more opportunities for movement.  He changed his work environment by brining in a ball that he could roll his foot out while working, and incorporating quick 1-minute breaks for a head hang. We have a collection of half-domes scattered in a few places around the house to stretch out our calves when we fill water glasses or wait for something to cook in the microwave. Then we added to it. We started moving our TV watching to the floor for at least part of the night. We roll out some yoga mats and each go through some corrective exercises while we watch "Game of Thrones" or whatever series we're into at that time. We've started walking as a family and playing silly floor-based games. Bring the board game to the floor and sit on bolsters instead of at a table (or use a low coffee table instead of one with chairs). Finally, as he started progressing in his training again, he started adding in a 5-10 minutes series of functional and corrective exercises to the end of his training. If he's short on time, he'll do a few necessary releases and finish the others during TV time. No big gym needs, but it works. He still hasn't converted to my suggestion that at least one dedicated functional training day would be amazing for him, but I continue to put the tools out there and he implements what he can. Even without the Full Spectrum Training that I recommend, he is back to running 40-50 miles per week and his foot is holding up. Sure, he gets twinges of pain from time-to-time, but we just back up and see what he's been skipping and add those tools back in.


I think the best investment that you can make in your training program for 2018 is ensuring that you have all 5 tools for a Full Spectrum Training Plan in place:

  1. Goal
  2. Sports-specific plan
  3. Functional Cross Training
  4. Recovery program
  5. Accountability

There a many sources on the internet that you can draw from to fill in your gaps, including the MoveHealPlay Training Club.  In this program, you get monthly functional, core, and recovery workouts, and monthly training plan, a community of support, and direct access to me as your coach to get your questions answered. I think the best part about this plan is that you can bring your own sports-specific plan to it. So, if you've found a great plan to get you ready for a 10K, then use that plan! 

I'd love to hear about what questions and needs you have. Let me know what I could write or speak on this year that would help you get back to a life of active play. On that note - do you like these blogs, or would you rather see me transition to more of a Podcast format. I started dabbling a bit, click this link and let me know which you prefer.

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