Injuries are the scourge of the running community today. Depending on what study you read 50 to 90% of all runners are injured every year and despite all the ‘advances’ in medical science and shoe manufacturing, nothing has made the slightest dent in this trend. So the constant irritation and frustration of injury remains hanging over all runners like a black cloud. Why with all our progress have we not solved this problem? Why do your injuries remain?
1. You have lost touch with your natural rhythms
Life used to be predictable – we woke when the sun came up and began to wind down when it set. We moved around regularly for practical purposes, ate the food that was around us and in season and never felt guilty about any of it. When we were tired, we rested. When sore we kept moving, but we moved around the issue as best we could. Back then – everyone had read and understood the ‘user manual’ to their body. Today most of us don’t even bother reading the cover!
Look at society today: natural rhythms have been obliterated with abundant access to any kind of food (good or bad), electrical light and devices everywhere, odd working hours, prolonged stress and a culture of being ‘constantly on the go’. Physical activity is barely necessary in most jobs and frowned on by great parts of the population.
No wonder most of us don’t know how to relax, how to eat and how to recover – some of us don’t even know how to breathe or sit properly – yet we want to go out and do heroics. Add in weird and wonderful diets and other (mis?) information and the confusion is complete.
Try to step back from all this clutter and just ask yourself: ‘What would my life have been like if I’d grown up in the wild’. We’re not tree-huggers – we know you cannot go back and play Mowgli – but you can remove as much ‘modern noise’ as you can manage. Take a break from the SmartPhone. Set aside 20 minutes per day for rest in a quiet place. Go to bed shortly after nightfall. Turn off electric devices you are not using. Don’t take the car down around the corner. Eat less of the weird stuff in packages that someone mislabeled as ‘food’. This deserves a sub-category:
The ancient Greek doctors where philosophically well ahead of today’s specialists in many ways. They had simple concept called ‘Via Negativa’. It simple means ‘getting more out of life by doing less’. It means exposing yourself to less things that harm you rather than constantly seeking more cures – which is today’s ‘intervene at all costs approach’ also called ‘via positiva’. Nassim Taleb recently popularised the term and its worth keeping this quote in mind:
The entire idea of via negativa is that omission [avoidance of harm, removal of drugs, corn syrup, cigarettes, gluten, carbs by fasting, gym instructors, tail risks, etc.] does not have side effects and branching chains of unintended consequences -hence robust. But big corporations [evil pharma, Pepsi] and consultants cannot make money from removing; they only benefit from adding. – Nassim Taleb
So before you reach out for the next ‘magic bullet’ treatment ask yourself instead – what bad parts of my life, food, movement or habits could I remove that may help me heal?
2. You do not move enough
You move so little when injured that you get increasingly deconditioned, increasingly afraid of movement and your movement quality gets increasingly poorer in the few instances that you do move. This trap is an easy one to fall into because even the most basic activity has been systematically engineered out of modern life – escalators, cars and a the slow demise of proper physical education in our schools.
Movement is the greatest healer not rest. I completely disagree with the notion of ‘over-resting’, or resting completely which basically recovers you towards a process and a point in time with no motion and at that point you have to recover again into movement. It’s double-recovery instead of recovering directly into movement. And that’s why I believe part of it is to get back into movement, of course, safely with common-sense which is not so common today. It involves taking responsibility over things that sometimes we are not used to taking responsibility for such as our own health. We are used to signing documents and handing our health to a doctor or therapist or whatever. – Ido Portal, Re-movalist interview
Movement teacher Ido Portal told a story in one of his recent workshops to illustrate why this makes it almost impossible to break the injury cycle. Imagine you break your arm and put it in a cast for 3 to 6 months. How does that arm look when you take the cast off? Does it smell? Is it pale with weird hairs growing out of it? The answer is likely yes – because in the absence of movement not only does the wounded arm get weaker – it is essentially dying. Ido Portal took a different approach when he dislocated a finger. First he began gently squeezing a tennis ball 12 hours per day. Then he begun putting tiny amounts of weight through the finger – bit by bit. Six weeks later he was back doing finger-tip push-ups. The morale of the story – you need to move as soon as possible after injury to heal properly. Passive rest just returns you to running weaker than ever before. And no, we don’t mean cycling – it might keep your heart ticking over, but it will make you even worse at moving on two-legs than before. Walk, squat, jump, run and gradually expose yourself to real natural movements instead of hunkering down on fitness horrors like the elliptical machine.*
* If a machine had been designed specifically to ruin good quality human movement it would not have looked much different than the elliptical trainer
So why don’t we all just do this and spare ourselves the medical expenses? Ido has an answer as well: “Most of us cannot be trusted.” We have lost the ability of basic self-care and understanding how to progress simple movements back towards the movement we want to do. We do not know the connection between crawling, squatting, standing and running, for instance. More and more brands and teachers are beginning to fill in this gap – such as Ido Portal, MovNat and Kesh Patel in his latest book ‘Complete Guide to Body-weight Training’.
3. You are only dealing with symptoms not causes
Most of the therapies available today deal primarily with the symptoms of the problems you are having rather than the root causes themselves. You go see a physio and they tell you that you have a weak core or weak glutes. You see a doctor who get’s you an MRI and says there is ‘wear and tear’ on your joint*. You go see a running specialist in a store and he tells you that you ‘over-pronate’ and need an anti-pronation shoes. You go get a sports massage and feel great for a few days or weeks before seizing up again or you take a Nurofen for those last few pain-free kilometres.
* This is called ‘life’ – the correlation between wear and tear on joints and level of pain is weak and to make matters worse research has shown that MRI analysis is not a perfect science by any means as this article, among others, describes
Dealing with symptoms would not be a problem if we recognise it for what it is: a temporary stop-gap solution – like a plaster on a wound. But it is no long-term solution. You need to learn how to live, how to train and how to move in a way that keeps you out of trouble. You need education not victimisation and on that note:
Our modern healthcare system likes to treat us as hapless victims and too many of us have made this victim-role a bad habit. We look to ‘experts’ for answers and delegate responsibility for our own health to others rather than first looking to what we can do four ourselves.
We eat, drink, move and live as we please and then expect someone to provide a fix for us. It’s like driving around recklessly, smashing up the car, and then expecting our mechanic to return the car as good as new, preferably by tomorrow. Frustrated doctors and therapists often respond by giving the patient what they believe they need or follow the old Greek advice to ‘entertain the patient while nature heals them.”
Don’t be part of this: your health is your responsibility, no one else’s. Learn how to eat, drink, live, sleep and move. Don’t know where to start or don’t have time? Fine, but then find teachers who can do it for you in the time you have. It’s time to take charge and empower yourself with the skills you need!
“Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself.” – Moshe Feldenkreis
5. You are confused/You don’t ask the right questions
Every specialist out there will give you a different reason for your injury and everyone has a financial interest in making things sound more complicated than they are. So who can you trust?
The answer is yourself and practical experience. We teach all our athletes to view the lens through Edward Osbourne Wilson’s two laws of biology which are as follows:
- All of the phenomena of biology are ultimately obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry
- All biological phenomena have arisen by evolution through natural selection
If you assess every claim you hear through these filters then you can quickly make out what makes sense and what sounds fishy at best. To start this habit just ask more questions of your doctors and therapists.
If they tell you ‘your glutes are weak’ ask them ‘what do you mean by weak’ and ‘do you know why they are weak and why is it relevant to my issue’. If they prescribe anti-inflammatories ask ‘would you risk the side-effects of these and is it really the best idea to suppress the body’s natural healing response in this case?’ There are hundreds more questions you need to ask. If you don’t get answers, see someone else because you can assume the professional is simply executing what they have been told is right.*
* Be skeptical even of news delivered by a person in a white coat – read Ben Goldacre’s ‘Bad Pharma’ if you believe current medical science is a bastion of truthfulness. You will be horrified by the true quality of evidence behind current practices. Much will be looked back on as we look on leeches today.
Most therapists and doctors today still treat pain as if it is a ‘damage metre’ treating and guiding patients accordingly. But this understanding of pain is at least a decade out of date. You can have lots of pain in the absence of any real physical injury and you can have no pain in the presence of substantial damage. This new theory of pain is called the Pain Neuromatrix – read it if you want to a clear picture of what pain really is.
Because pain is so misunderstood most of us cannot make the right decisions and our heads are filled with fear-mongering by practitioners who have not kept up to date on newest research. Look out for our September article ‘Runners – pain is not what you think’ for a full article on this.
In the meantime: don’t put too much trust in your pain – it may not be what you think it is.
If you liked this article check out this article specifically about the Achilles tendon:
Or begin your education in our ‘Running Form’ workshop where we cover a lot of the ‘self-help’ tools you need to take control of your own injury situation.