Whether it's from running, playing squash, walking to work with a shoulder bag that’s too heavy or being stuck in a chair all day at the office, we’re constantly putting our muscles, bones and joints under strain. It comes in all different forms; it can be strain from impact (running, squash, HIIT), strain from repetitive movements (carrying your child, lifting, driving) or even strain from our postural habits (shoulders down NOW please…). Unlike muscle pain or injuries, which are usually quite obviously cause & effect – big workout, sore muscles – repetitive patterns, movements and poor postural habits can slowly chip away at our structural integrity without us even realising it. This joint, ligament and fascial misalignment can be a huge source of discomfort for us and is often responsible for more than you think. Apart from the obvious joint pain, swelling and inflammation - lethargy, headaches, poor digestion, poor sleep, poor circulation, palpitations and anxiety can all be a result of structural imbalances. It can also take an emotional toll on us and zap our energy, because we often see that behind those physical pains is stored emotional tension, which we accumulate through repetitive reactions or severe emotional traumas throughout the years (this is why we can experience emotional ‘releases’ after physical releases in massage or manual therapy treatments, for example). Our structural framework is such a huge player in our physical and emotional wellbeing, and yet we spend so little time focusing on it unless we have an injury. So it's time to pay a little more attention to what holds us up and keeps us moving forward everyday. Before you get too engrained in your workout regime, it’s worth doing a little structural MOT to make sure you’re taking care of your body can stand up to everything you want it to do and remain pain free as long as possible.
RELEASE YOUR FASCIA
We’ve all heard about fascia, but I’m not sure we really understand how impactful it can be on how we feel. Fascia is a system of sheaths found under the skin - these sheaths are made of densely packed collagen fibres that basically encase the entire body, from our head to our toes. These fibres wrap, divide and permeate all of our muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs. Fascia protects, connects and supports the body. It connects your organs to your ribs, ribs to muscles and links the bones together. It is involved in every injury and movement, and balances stressors and counter stressors to create a mobility, flexibility and resilience. But, most importantly, it is our richest sense organ and contracts in response to how we move. It has a systemic effect no matter where the contraction is, so pulling a muscle in your back can have a knock on effect throughout your whole body. Imagine someone pulls on the collar of your shirt. The entire shirt responds, not just the collar, so we can liken this to how your fascia responds to postural stress, impact or trauma. The longer this tightness perpetuates, the more contraction and misalignment can occur. This can cause joint pain, changes in gait, fatigue - and lots more. What's probably more interesting is this: it also contracts independently of the muscles it surrounds and responds to stress without our conscious command. So this means that we can adjust our fascia, posture and alignment purely through our physical and emotional reactions to stress.
Enter the foam roller. People tend to have strong, love hate relationships to foam rolling. Usually, the more you hate it the more you need it. In general, if your muscles, ligaments and fascia are tender enough that foam rolling feels like torture, then you have some work to do. Starting a foam rolling regime will be transformational for not only how loose and flexible you feel, but also to how well you build strength and endurance, your resistance to injury and your overall energy (tightness will impact circulation - meaning less oxygen and nutrients to fuel, repair and nourish our muscles). Body rolling is also an incredibly effective way to loosen the fascia (you can read about it here) but it’s all about what works best for you. You don’t have to go all out and foam roll for 45 minutes, doing something is better than doing nothing. Personally, I used to hate rolling, but now I crave it. I don't do much, but I try to do it every morning for just 5 minutes. I roll my spine, legs, neck and ribs – this practice has been transformational to not only my energy but also my ability to move, breathe deeply and has also affected how I carry stress in my body.
COLLAGEN, COLLAGEN, COLLAGEN
Collagen is a big deal when it comes to joint and fascia health. Not only does it make up our network of fascia, but it’s an integral part of our bones, muscles and joints. Collagen breaks down with age but also with inflammation and overuse, so ensuring that we are getting all of the nutritional precursors that will nourish collagen production is essential. Amino acids glycine, proline, lysine, arginine and Vitamin C are all integral to maintaining a health collagen matrix.
DON’T FAN THE FIRE
If you suffer from any form of chronic stiffness or joint pain, getting rid of inflammatory foods is a great way to mediate this. Excessive caffeine, alcohol, red meat, preservatives, sugar, food intolerances and dairy can be inflammatory; whereas cold water fish, avocado and other unsaturated fats, herbs/spices like turmeric, ginger, parsley and cinnamon and cayenne; green leafy vegetables, celery, antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables and walnuts all have anti-inflammatory properties. Removing dietary stressors is essential to decreasing the agitation in your body. If you already have signs of arthritis, then ensuring you boost your digestion will be key to help minimise symptoms. Digestive enzymes, probiotics and whole foods are esesntial and Niacin has been shown to decrease inflammatory pain associated with arthritis.
LUBRICATE YOUR JOINTS
How do you lubricate your joints? Well, the easiest way is with Yoga. The articulation of the joints between positions can loosen synovial fluids and increase circulation in the cartilage and joints, which keeps them lubricated. This is essential to help reduce the pain and inflammation that can commonly appear from bone on bone rubbing. Staying hydrated (water, electrolytes) is of course, essential, but getting deeps into the twists, folds and bends of yoga is one of the best things you can do to keep your joints nice and nourished.
Topical balms and spiced oils can be fantastic at home treatment for your aches and pains. Ingredients like arnica, eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, boswelia and straight up tiger balm can help relieve tight, strained fascia and muscles and give the body the circulatory stimulation it needs to help heal itself.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
These are all just tips to get you thinking about another set of factors that can be contributing to how you feel every day, but if you have any serious pains that won’t subside and are getting worse, it’s always best to see a doctor, physiotherapist, osteopath or your practitioner of choice to assess the situation. Although there’s almost nothing more frustrating than going to the physio and being told to foam roll your ITB, it’s better than ignoring a structural imbalance that could lead to more serious or long term issues.