Runner and Walker Recovery – Hip Pain

At my studio, Koa Fit, we work with not only runners and walkers with hip pain, but also cyclists, dancers, golfers, tennis players and a lot more.  As said before in my previous posts about foot pain and knee pain, “hip pain” is a broad term.  Most importantly, your hip pain could actually be back pain in disguise.  It is important to know if your hip pain is a symptom of overuse/misuse or if it is nerve pain.  A physical therapist can run you through some tests to help you identify where your pain is coming from.

For the purpose of this post, I am going to be addressing the hip pain in the upper hamstring that is usually associated with activity.  It normally comes about during or after strenuous activity and feels like a a deep ache or muscle strain located where your leg meets your bum in the back.  Any pain that feels “sharp” or “burn-y” is most likely nerve pain and you will need more evaluation before getting appropriate exercises.

To help relieve and prevent the onset of hip pain, try the exercises below.  Even with the absence of hip pain, these exercises are good to perform to keep the hips moving smoothly and to avoid over-tightness.

Runner and Walker Recovery – Knee Pain

Let’s move on to the 2nd biggest complaint among runners and walkers, knee pain (if you have the 1st, foot pain, please see my last post).  I know “knee pain” is such a broad term, but let’s start big picture and then move into the details.

Pain in the knee, if not caused by trauma (getting side-tackled for example), comes from a dysfunction of your biomechanics, or movements.  The movement I am talking about most is your gait, whether walking or running.  When you have a breakdown in the mechanics of your gait, that deficiency gets highlighted over thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of repetitions with each training session.

It is important to have a professional assess your walking and running patterns to identify any inefficiencies you may have in your stride.  But for now, we are going to focus on one of the more common points of pain, patellofemoral pain.  This is the pain commonly felt just below the kneecap and is usually a signal of over-used quadriceps and an under-utilized posterior kinetic chain (arch, calves, hamstrings, and glutes).

Try the exercises below to help prevent the onset of patellofemoral pain and keep your knees happy!

Runner and Walker Recovery – Foot Pain

One of the main complaints I hear from my runners and walkers is about pain their feet.  Whether it be the heel, arch, or ball of the foot, it seems every pedestrian ends up with foot pain at one point or another.

There are many factors that can cause inflammation on the bottom of the foot.  It is best to get an assessment by a movement specialist to determine your precise cause.  However, there are a few general movements you can start doing to help you keep the pain at bay or even prevent it from starting in the first place.  Check out the video below and follow along to help increase your foot’s flexibility and strength.

Fix Your Forward Head Posture

Did you know it has been estimated that up to 90% of us have forward head posture?  Want to know if you do?  Stand up right now, turn your camera on, hold your arm straight out to the side and snap a pic of your profile, including your shoulder.  Take a look.  Are you ears forward of your shoulders?  Congratulations!  You have forward head posture.

Let’s take a quick look at what causes forward head posture (from now on we will call this FHP to save me some time sitting at the computer).  There are the obvious culprits – prolong sitting, computer use, texting, and trauma such as whiplash from a car accident.  But there are also things we don’t think about – the sports we play, the heavy backpack we carry, our jobs, the way we breath.

{Side Note}  Let’s talk about this last one for a hot second.  The stress of our daily lives has left most people with shallow, stressed, labored breathing.  We no longer take relaxed breaths.  Instead, most of us have a habit (without even noticing it) of holding our breath or breathing faster than we need.  This alone can not only affect things like your heart, your oxygen intake, and your mood, but it can also start to tighten down the muscles at the front of the neck, pulling your head forward.  For more on how to help your breathing, check out my past blog post, Breathe Deep.

Symptoms of FHP don’t just include looking like a sad puppy, there are also REAL issues that can occur.  Because of the strain FHP puts on the cervical spine, every system is affected.  This includes the musculoskeletal systems (headaches anyone?), the nervous system (maybe you are a tingling hands kind of person?), and the vascular system (raise your hand if you have sleep apnea!).  The longer your head hangs out there, the more vulnerable you are to muscle spams, bulging and herniated discs, and even TMJ.

So, let’s get to work.  Perform these 8 moves a couple times a week.  Use them as a warm-up to your other activities or do them right before bed.

6 Exercises for Stronger Feet

We all know our feet are important.  They are our foundation and help keep everything above them safe.  But weak feet can lead to aches, pains, and injury.  So, here are 6 exercises you can do using a rolled up yoga mat (I use a 1/2 roller in the videos).  That’s it!  That is all you need to help strengthen your feet and simultaneously improve your balance, strengthen your hips, and take stress off your spine.

Swing Your Arms!!

With the days getting longer and the temperatures getting a bit warmer, Spring has invited to me to start walking more.  I am a person who loves to stack things, so I have started walking to my weekly Yoga class.  I have to leave only about 15 minutes earlier than I usually do, and I get a nice 25 min walk there and back through my local parks.

Last week, I walked to class and it was fairly pleasant outside, but after class, the temps had fallen a bit.  I mention this because this lead me to put my hands in my pockets to keep them warm.  I noticed about 15 minutes into my walk that my mid-back was getting stiff and my neck and shoulders were a little achy.  I tried to think about what we had done in class that would have caused this to happen.  I thought “I just took a Yoga class.  I should feel awesome!” when I realized my hands had been in my pockets this whole time.

With my hands tucked into my coat pockets, my arms were unable to swing in their natural movement.

No swinging = no natural rotation of the spine = pain in my mid-back and shoulders.

When we don’t swing our arms when walking, we lose the subtle rotation of the spine that needs to happen for proper movement.  That rotational force needs to go somewhere, meaning we rotate too much at other places, including the low-back.  In my case, not only was I putting extra force through my low-back, but my mid-back and neck were also bracing against the rotational force that should have been happening.  Hence, the tight back and shoulders.

So the quick lesson of the day is Swing Your Arms!  And make sure you are swinging them with a whole-body movement.  None of this moving from the elbow BS (more on this later).

Opt Outside! Treadmill vs Outdoor Running

The great debate – treadmill walking and running versus outside.  Well, you can tell by the title, I have my own clear winner.  But, if you are still reading past the headline, I bet you want to know more…you want to know the WHY.

In a nutshell, when you run or walk outside, the muscles of the leg have to propel you forward.  When you run or walk on a treadmill, the muscles of your leg have to catch you as you fall forward.  So even though it looks like the same exercise, they are actually two different exercises using different muscles.

When you are on a treadmill, the floor is moving under your feet.  With each stride your body is hitting this moving surface and getting pushed into a forward motion.  Your opposite leg then has to get out in front of you and hit the treadmill before you fall forward.  So with each stride you are literally just catching yourself from falling instead of running forward.

Outside, the ground is stable, so your foot has to push against that stable surface and push you forward.  For one, this takes a lot more strength and muscle activation to do than running on a treadmill so you will actually burn more calories and get a better workout.  Secondly, and my favorite part, is that it is safer on your body.  By pushing yourself forward, you are using your body the way it was designed to be used, as well as using all the muscles of the back of the leg to help counteract the effects from all your sitting time.  Total win.

When we go around catching ourselves from falling instead of propelling ourselves forward, we put a lot of stress on our hip, knee, and ankle joints.  Not to mention the load we put on our feet.  This extra load leads to some of the most common aches and pains among runners – plantar fasciitis, hamstring tendinopathy, and runner’s knee just to mention a few.  Where as running (correctly, more on that below) outside can actually help strengthen some of the most commonly weak postural muscles in the body.

So you are now convinced to take your run outside.  Fantastic!  Just a quick word…It is also possible to do the “fall and catch” outside as well.  This usually occurs because the mobility in our hips and ankles restricts our body’s ability to move our legs in the appropriate way.  So make sure you spend time opening up your hips (try these hip openers) and your calves.  In fact, you can start right now with the exercise below!

Move That Mid-Back to Save Your Neck and Low Back

I know I know.  You are probably sick of me talking about the thoracic spine, but I can’t help myself.  A few months back, I talked about the thoracic spine in my post “Exercises for a Tight Neck and Shoulders“.  Today, I want to dive a little deeper and talk about the whole spine and the importance of movement and fluidity especially in the thoracic spine.

For an array of reasons, your spine needs to move fluidly.  Proper movement in your spine not only allows you to move properly and avoid injury, but it also helps nourish the discs in your spine and move cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to and from your brain.  Today, due to high levels of stress, constant sitting, and working on computers, our spines do not get a lot of chances to move forward, back, side-to-side, and in rotation.  The place this shows up the most, is in the thoracic spine.

The thoracic spine is the the middle portion of your spine.  The spine should move like a snake – flexible but strong.  Imagine you are holding a snake (I know it’s gross, but it’s just pretend), if you hold onto the center of the snake, his head and tail are going to move like crazy!  The same thing happens to your back.  When we lose movement in our thoracic spines, our necks and low backs become hyper-mobile.  This excess of movement puts huge forces on our vulnerable discs and vertebrae and can lead to muscle soreness, nerve pain, and bulging discs.

So, now that I have scared you into moving your spine (I am totally proud of that by the way), let’s give you something you can actually use to help yourself.  Below you will find videos to move your thoracic spine in 3 different ways – flexion and extension, lateral movement, and rotation.  Do the whole set or pick one from each movement and get your mid-back moving!

Thoracic Mobilization – Flexion/Extension

Thoracic Mobilization – Lateral Shift

Thoracic Mobilization – Rotation

Is Your Squat Helping or Hurting You?

The Squat – it is the epitome of a gym exercise, the king move amongst gym rats, the foundational move for all athletes.  Anyone can do a squat.  It should be a no-brainer, right?  Sorry, not so fast.

When we were kids, squatting was a part of life (think of the kid in the diaper who you know is doing his business because of the squat position he is holding).  As we get older and we spend more time sitting and working and trying to squeeze in a workout here or there, the tighter our hips become, the more our squat goes awry.  Once our hips have become off-kilter, the squat work we were hoping would sculpt our hammy’s and glutes is actually putting pressure into our low back, knees, and other vulnerable joints.

Focusing on the position of your pelvis and hips during a squat, can not only help you get stronger in the areas your are trying to target, but it can also help you retrain your hips into a balanced position.  Watch this short video and learn how to squat to help you balance your pelvis, remain injury-free, and get the most out of your squat.

Sore Knees? Try These.

Knee pain.  It has happened to most of us.  1/3 of Americans will experience knee pain at some point in their lives.  It is the 2nd most common cause of chronic pain and new reports show it is affecting more people each year.  So, if you are experiencing a “twinge” or maybe a “tweak” in your knees, it is time to take some action before bigger issues occur.

The greatest cause of knee pain is, by far, poor body mechanics and poor mechanics are  typically caused by a lack of mobility  which leads to a lack of strength.  For example, due to prolonged sitting, a lot of people experience a tightness in the front of their hips.  This tightness in the front of the hips leads to decreased strength in the back of the leg (glutes and hamstrings), which decreases the support in the back of the knee.  Without the support and strength in the back of the knee (posterior), force traveling through the knee joint is pushed into the front of the knee (anterior) and causes pain across the front of the kneecap (commonly called “Runner’s Knee”).  This is not the only cause of knee soreness, but it is definitely one of the most common.

The knee joint is where the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone) come together. All 4 muscles of the quadriceps come together to form the patellar tendon which starts at the top of the knee joint, adheres to the patella as it crosses the anterior (front) of the joint until in attaches at the tibia below.  The patellar tendon lies within a grooved-out notch the allows you to bend and straighten your knee without irritation.  A lot of knee pain is caused when the alignment of the patellar tendon and this specially made notch go out of whack.

The inside of your knees is referred to as the medial side and the outside of your knees is known as the lateral side.  Imbalances between these two sides can cause the patellar tendon the shift towards the stronger side.  For instance, if you have had an injury to your knee in the past, you may remember your therapist trying to get the inner-most muscle of the quadriceps to fire.  This needs to be strong, so that your patella does not start to track to the lateral side of the knee joint and cause you more pain.  If this imbalance continues, a person can start to feel tightness in the IT band and other soft tissue on the lateral side of the knee while also experiencing sharp pain on the medial side of the joint.  The knee has to be balanced side-to-side (medial to lateral) to stay pain-free and happy.

Imbalances front-to-back (anterior to posterior) are the usual cause of pain in the first example of our Runner’s Knee.  However, we also see in the example above, that imbalances medially to laterally can cause different, but equally annoying pain.  The routine below starts with releases of the most commonly tight areas of the hip and lower limb that may cause imbalances at the knee joint.  They are followed by exercises that strengthen the muscles that are commonly weak in people with knee pain.  This routine will not help everyone with knee soreness, but if you have been experiencing sore knees after activity or “tweaks” and “twinges”, this is a great place to start.  Even if you have not had knee pain, this routine will help your knees stay happy, healthy and pain-free.