Friday, September 6, 2013

Painfully Tight Calves - the Unequal Burden

Do you need to warm muscles up before giving them a massage?

Probably, but when you think about it, 98.6F sounds sufficient!

When it comes to loosening stiff muscles rolling isn't the complete answer. You usually have to keep rolling.

You roll the knots out of a muscle and by the next morning the knots have come back again. It's a never ending saga; you loosen the muscle, it tightens itself back up again, you loosen, it tightens ... Is it true  that the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result?

If a particular muscle is stiff and sore it's highly likely that it's bearing too much of - or an unequal share of - the burden of locomotion because a muscle (muscles) elsewhere have pulled the skeleton out of alignment.

For instance if you're a runner and you have a tight and persistently painful right calf the cause may be tight left buttock or hamstring or hip flexor or quadratus lumborum ... that has slightly twisted your pelvis.

The level of uneven burden may be so slight you can hardly notice it - but your right calf does. You rub and roll the calf, but to no avail. It's always painfully stiff. you need the human body equivalent of a wheel alignment.

In my own case I notice it when I'm working out on the stepper. My right foot is always an inch and a half behind my left foot. I've assessed the cause of the problem as being a tight left buttock, which I work on persistently, but I'm of an age where a lifetime of rotating to the left to kick and throw (I'm right handed) might have led to permanent rotation of the pelvis.

On the other hand, my diagnosis may not be correct. I could be just plain ignorant of what's causing the pelvis to rotate and what needs to be done and would appreciate some help from readers more knowledgeable about this 'complaint' than I am. I'm more than willing to defer to a 'higher power'.

The principle then is that the cause of the pain is unlikely to be the point where it's painful.

We're fascinated by and attracted to the spot where the pain is - not where the cause of the pain is. It's why when it comes to lower back pain, radiologists want to X-ray the lower back and therapists want to rub, crunch, heat and vibrate it.

The second principle sort of follows on from the first and derives from the dualistic way we look at things. The medical industry is dogged by the fascination with the part, not the whole. Hence if you have a headache it must be because something inside your head is 'not right' rather than the whole body is not right.

So, when you have stiffness in one part, stand back and look at the whole musculo-skeletal ecosystem - chances are it's a system problem, in which case you'd take up yoga or some other form of general movement 'therapy'.

A final word; the particular muscles (and indeed whole musculature) may not be strong enough to do the job expected of it.

Rarely do we strengthen calves (or feet) in such a way that we build their capacity to manage the loads we expect of them.

My recent experience suggests that slow, very slow calf raises are an essential part of the runners/sportsperson's armoury: 5 seconds up, 5 seconds hold, 5 seconds down, 10 seconds hold. It will take 10 minutes not 1 minute.

 "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

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