Today’s post is a guest post by Julie McLean. Julie is a registered Kinesiologist and the owner of Align Family Health & Fitness which is a boutique studio dedicated to helping people heal through movement and exercise. In writing this post, she hopes sharing her personal experiences with exercise will help others find healing and balance in their lives.
Ever heard of the sayings “NO PAIN, NO GAIN?” or “GO HARD or GO HOME?”
These were common sayings for me growing up and a philosophy I have lived by most of my life. Growing up as a competitive athlete I learned how to push past my limits. Sometimes this meant ignoring my bodies pain signals to attain the goal of increasing my athletic performance. As a teenager, this meant ignoring chronic knee pain. During the birth of my first child, it meant pushing my baby out in record time. As a new Mom, it meant nursing through pain to the point of bleeding nipples. I started to accept the belief that pain was normal and not to expect anything different – pain is a part of life, right?
As a new Mom, exhaustion soon set in. I desired to be healthy, to have more energy. My immediate thought… I have to exercise more. But I struggled with motivation. In attempts to feel like myself again, I decided to try and return to my beloved sport, soccer. In my mind, I expected my body to respond and perform the way it did before being a Mom. It only took a few soccer games for old injuries to resurface and pain to set in to my body again.
During one soccer game, I pushed too far and sure enough sprained my ankle. I went home to my family and realized that I can’t be coming home injured or in pain when I had an active 3-year-old waiting at home hoping to play and run around with his Mom. My energy was zapped, I remember taking my little one to the park to watch him play and I would sit on the bench due to mental and physical exhaustion. Why did I feel this way? Why didn’t I have any desire to run and play with my child? Why couldn’t I adhere to an exercise program for an extended period of time? Where was my motivation?
Instead of enjoying a sport that I once loved, I felt like I was punishing my body. Injuries and muscle soreness used to be a badge of honour, but know it meant I struggled playing and having energy for my kids and my family.
Gradually my mind set and focus for training switched from “Pushing through Pain & Exhaustion” to creating a “Pain-free and Energized Body.” I wasn’t willing to accept a chronically bad shoulder that hurt when I woke up in the morning or that nagging knee pain every time I went up and down the stairs. I am so thankful that I began what I call “My Movement Journey” to better health & fitness.
I would like to share 4 steps I took to creating a “Pain-free and Energized Body” in hopes that this will help others begin their journey to a healthy, pain free and energetic body.
FIRST: I STARTED LISTENING TO MY BODY
If you are like me and learned how to push yourself through pain, you may have gotten really good at ignoring your bodies pain signals.
A word of caution: do not ignore pain, address pain to begin the healing process.
Pain is a signal from the body to the brain meant to protect you. Sometimes it goes overboard, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect actual damage, but its purpose is to remind us to protect a diseased or damaged joint or strained muscle or tendon. Pain can be caused by something that we do (i.e. too much activity or the wrong activity) or don’t do (i.e. if we sit for long periods of time and don’t move around enough).
SECOND: LEARN HOW TO DESCRIBE PAIN & STIFFNESS
Ask yourself, what does my pain feel like?
- Is the pain you are feeling a sharp or dull pain? Is it a throbbing pain?
- Is the pain localized or does it radiate to other areas of the body?
- Is it pain or is it stiffness? Does it feel achy?
Locate the source of the pain. Is it in the muscle or does it feel like it is in a joint?
Begin to use a scale between 0-10 to describe the intensity of the pain.
- 0 being no pain.
- 1-4 being, you can continue to function, but the pain is noticeable.
- 5-8, your pain is starting to interfere with your day to day activities.
- 8-10, unbearable pain that requires medication.
When do you experience pain?
When do you experience stiffness? In the morning, afternoon, evening, after certain activities?
Why is this process important?
Gathering data on your own body will help you begin to understand what is causing the pain and how to fix it. It can also help you learn the difference between functional pain and dysfunctional pain.
For example, dysfunctional pain is pain that is causing damage to your muscles, ligaments, connective tissue, cartilage and joints. You should not fight through this pain, instead you should stop the activity that is causing it and develop a plan to help your body recover, rest, heal and get stronger before getting back to that activity that was causing you pain.
Functional pain on the other hand is temporary pain that is improving your mobility and function over time. An example would be breaking down scar tissue from a past injury. Scar tissue limits your body to move the way it was designed to move (decreases your mobility) and can be the source of chronic pain. Continuing to move in this manner, will continue to hurt your body, but addressing this scar tissue through myofascial release techniques is also a painful process, but will result in less pain over time.
THIRD: LEARN HOW TO MOVE YOUR BODY DIFFERENTLY
The Human Body is great at adapting to allow you to get on with your day to day responsibilities. It will find new ways to move to make up for the lack of movement in one area by adding a new movement. These new movements gone unchecked will commonly lead to an overuse injury that results in chronic pain, stiffness and fatigue.
Take my chronic knee pain for example. As a post-natal woman, my knees ached trying to going up and down the stairs. What was causing this knee pain? My calves were tight, which limited my ankle flexion. Every time I stepped up the stairs, I was contracting my chronically tight quadricep muscles, instead of loading the hips. A chronically tight muscle continually pulling away from the bone leads to chronic inflammation around the knee and was the result of my knee pain.
Through my educational background as a Kinesiologist and my personal experience with pain, I began to develop a custom exercise programming for myself to decrease my knee pain.
By doing self-myofascial release techniques, stretching and strengthening my calves I began to increase my ankle flexion which was one component to retraining my dysfunctional movement. The second component was to do self-myofascial release and stretching on my quadricep muscles, allow it to rest and strengthen my hamstrings.
I am excited to share that my business Align Family Health & Fitness located in Southwest London Ontario, has been providing this type of exercise for three years now. Our clients are experiencing a decrease in pain and increase in strength through our programming that are leading to solving chronic pain and preserving their long-term health & fitness.
FOURTH: ASK FOR HELP (SET UP A SUPPORT SYSTEM) – MAKE A PLAN
I highly recommend all women search out Registered Health Professionals to help them on the journey to healing through movement (who are allowed to remain open during Ontario’s Lockdown). This looks different for everyone. For me, this included seeing a Naturopathic Doctor to address my magnesium deficiency. Then getting a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist to assess the condition of my pelvic floor (The Mama’s Physio). Using my expertise as a Registered Kinesiologist to create a movement and a strength program that addressed my pain and increased my strength. I also spoke with Maggie Assaff, a Registered Dietitian (Align Family Health & Fitness) who helped me address my families unhealthy eating habits, which I continue to need help with to date.
Health Professionals can help you begin to understand how your body is currently functioning or not functioning through various assessment criteria. Although they cannot make the changes for you, through their area of expertise, they can begin to develop a plan with you and support you in your personal health & fitness journey.