What Hurts? Why Your Run is Uneven (1 of 4)

Did you know pain in your neck could be from a broken toe? Stubbed toes cause several symptoms: limping, tight calves, tight hips, shoulder inflexibility, and finally neck pain. Did you notice each of those signals?

“Just a little hurt”

Ultimate is a contact sport. Sometimes you get smacked or stomped on the mark. Layouts knock the wind out of you. Your legs get pounded from five games played on hard ground.

There are many opportunities to get “a little hurt” playing this game. Rehab would be faster if we would resolve those little hurts, instead of waiting for them to become injuries. This four-part series is about interpreting your body’s signals. It is always trying to signal you when things are wrong. You have learn to listen!

Pain is a warning

Your body has an alert system just like your car’s diagnostic system. Your brain is always scanning. When it thinks you will be most receptive, it transmits pain to warn, “Something isn’t right!” Your body will try to send you signals at three key times:

  1. While you walk
  2. While you rest
  3. As you wake

In seven years of coaching, I have learned that the most effective assessment of a person’s problems is to watch them walk, jog, or run. Each phase of these “gait cycles” has a distinct look. Your ankles should move a certain way. Your shoulders should move a certain way. Your head… should not move.

Walking funny is bad

Your body assumes your behavior is necessary for survival. If you are stubborn about walking or running while things hurt, your body adapts the gait cycle. This is bad. If your toes point out or you bounce from heel to toe while walking, you probably have inflexible ankles. Notice how this moves up the chain:

  1. Your calves don’t stretch with each step, so they tighten
  2. Your knee stays bent, so your hamstrings tighten
  3. Tight calves and hams don’t assist push-off, so your quads push harder
  4. Overworked quads tighten, so your hip flexors work harder to lift your leg
  5. Overworked hip flexors tighten, so your body rocks side to side instead
  6. Tight quads and tight hip flexors cause lower back pain, so your butt sticks out

Because of inflexible ankles, your walk turns into a lurch. Walking involves low forces each step. Running may be four times more severe. What compensations might result from pushing through pain for several practices? As I said: This is bad.

Visualize your pain relief

When you experience pain while walking or running, physical therapist Gray Cook suggests looking downstream. Pain in your back during the gait cycle often comes from issues below your back. Start with your feet and work up. Part 4 of this series explores self-care techniques.

Remember that broken toe? The pain map above ends at your lower back. Imagine how pain could move up the chain to your neck. When your walk changes, it is your body’s shout that something is wrong.

Are you listening?


Next week, we’ll explore pain you feel at rest and what it means.

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