When exercise hurts

This post was inspired by an exchange I had on my facebook page.

I shared a post about foot problems being connected to hip issues and how something like an orthotic is not a good long term solution.

A reader responded regarding her feet, sharing that she wasn’t so sure about all that because she’s had a lifetime struggle with plantar fasciitis. We exchanged comments and her final comment really struck me.

She said, “some of my worst bouts with pf were in my most fit and lean days. Times when I was the most active….running marathons or doing triathalons, times when my muscles were the best conditioned…” She also shared that her best bet now is wearing birkenstocks because they provide support to her feet.

What this dear reader shared is something I suspect is true for SO many of us (me included).

Exercise can make you hurt.

When I was my “fittest”, I had the following issues (not all at once!): shin splints, tibia stress fracture, hip pointer, femoral patella syndrome, low back pain, neck pain, sacro-iliac pain, hot spots on the inside edges of my shoulder blades and a few other aches and pains.

I could run a 7 minute mile, finish a 10K, had a ‘strong core’ and do a handstand easy peasy in yoga.

But I hurt. Often. Constantly, in fact.

What I know now is my lifetime of growing in the shape of a chair, wearing shoes with a heel (yes, even those $150 running shoes that were fitted to me by a running specialist at the specialty running store), running as my preferred form of exercise – on pavement or a treadmill, and yoga that was done faster and less mindfully than it should have been were all contributing to those hurts.

By its nature, most exercise puts us in a repetitive joint movement pattern. In running, the leg comes forward (hip flexion) and the leg moves back (hip extension). We miss ad and ab-duction as well as rotation. When we are wearing shoes with any kind of a heel, we’ve got many misalignments, one of the biggest being the pelvis being ‘worn’ out in front of the ankles. This puts pressure on the mid-foot causing the fascia to separate front to back.¬† We repeat movements like this in swimming, on the elliptical or while biking.

None of this means running, biking, swimming etc are bad per se, but when you pay attention to variety in your movement patterns, they are probably pretty limited if you are simply exercising. When there’s a high frequency of repetitive joint patterning, that’s just a recipe for problems.

Add in coming to your exercise time having spent 8 hours sitting at a desk or in a classroom, you’re asking your joints aren’t to make major changes in shape that they aren’t so ready (and able) to make.

So, dear reader who had her worst bouts of plantar fasciitis when she was her most active and fit, I HEAR YOU, but I’m also not at all surprised.

The solution to our physical woes often isn’t to simply “get fitter”.

Though we do love a quick fix in our society and I’m all for spontaneous healing, most of us need to make shifts over a long period of time.

Identifying the problem may be simple (I’ve got plantar fasciitis), but the long term solution that restores your body to optimum function without the use of supportive aids, is rarely simple and quick (I need to assess: my habitual alignment pattern and how my leg bones move in my hip socket, how active are my medial glute muscles vs my hip flexors, then get the right parts moving well and THEN strengthen).

Those nagging aches and pains tell us what we are doing isn’t working. We need to find a new path. One that resolves the underlying mobility issues before addressing strength otherwise we are layering strength on top a mobility issue and that won’t make you feel better.

We all need to make a mental shift away from exercise and into that of movement. We need to begin to move more parts of our body and move them better – the tiny muscles in our feet and those bigger muscles in our pelvic region, change the shoes we wear and replace the idea of fit with the idea of function.

Can you still exercise? Absolutely. But, if it’s making you hurt, it’s time to stop and reassess, not stop and stick your body in a supportive chair, shoe or back brace and call it a day (or a lifetime).

One thought to “When exercise hurts”

  1. Sarah, you are so right. All of this. Great post! I tell my clients that I can help them get rid of the pain, but they have to do the work to keep it from coming back – get their body moving differently and better and practice it all the time. Awareness and daily movement practice is what will make the difference.

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