Crossfitter’s Guide to Managing Pain, Stiffness & Movement Alteration

There aren’t too many athletes who will run to their coach to let them know the second a joint isn’t moving correctly. Unknowingly what the athlete does is “borrow” movement from a neighboring joint.

This is what we call compensation.

Compensation is ok and shows the pure awesomeness of the brain. Basically, what happens is that the brain figures out a way to get past a joint that isn’t functioning the correct way by either altering the movement into another plane or by recruiting different sets of muscles. To function we absolutely need this type of behavior from the brain.

Compensation gets to be a problem when this altered movement pattern becomes habitual. Say for instance, we have an athlete that routinely deadlifts with their head up. We know that they probably do this because the eyes can be an enormous driver for movement (i.e. you look up, you go up). The problem lies in the fact that we need stability in our spine as we hinge from the hip to lift something heavy from the ground.

When lifting our head, we all understand this changes the natural position of the spine and all the muscles attached to it. Often this puts us in a position in which we end using our back more than our hips to move the weight.

Again, one rep shouldn’t be a problem, but if this is how you deadlift all the time we will have issues.

We exacerbate a movement dysfunction with too much repetition using incorrect form. When the movement error becomes habitual, we develop biomechanical and structural problems.

Muscular patterns change and imbalances are created.

It’s a violation the thousand repetition rule, which states if we do something wrong one time it takes a thousand rep’s to fix it. If we do movement wrong for enough reps, it will take more than just “cue” to fix it. We will actually need to adjust the joints position.

This is why the typical athlete will head to the chiropractor. After enough reps of moving the wrong way, the athlete goes through periods of stiffness, movement alteration and eventually pain. Seasoned athletes get to really know their body. We know when we are hurting. We also know that a visit to medical professional is going to mean a recommendation for “time-off.”

This from a professional who likely hasn’t dedicated themselves to the sport of Crossfit, may not fully grasp functional anatomy and a lot of times just wants to play it safe. I am not saying to avoid any experienced medical professionals, but there are so many things you can start doing right now on your living room floor to reduce and prevent pain.

Being the master of their body, the athlete remarkably can feel when they are “not lined up” correctly.

Instinctively their normal resolve is to head the chiropractor. This could be a remarkably good decision. We have to remember that muscles will only do what their bones tell them to do. What I mean, is that if a joint is out of place, then the tension of the muscles that attach to it will change as well. This means that the activity level of these muscles will change as well. Likely movement will be altered, and pain eventually will be created. Either from the increased tension of an overworked muscle or from a joint being so pulled out of place, that it just flat out run’s out of room when you try to move.

A great example of this is the SI joint pain that people who have an anterior pelvic tilt feel after standing following an extended amount of time in the sitting position.

I’m not a chiropractor, but the idea of getting body adjusted to create alignment in your joints sounds like a magnificent idea to me. If we follow a biomechanical model for human movement, this makes total and complete sense for easing pain and improving movement abilities. There are two concerns I have to explain (and offer a solution):

1. Adjustments do not teach new movement.

Even with an adjustment, your brain will still need to be re-educated to move better.

HOW TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM: Get a coach. Better yet, get your own coach. The problem with any group setting, is NOT getting personal time. Source out a coach who could watch you move, create pattern specific drills and cues based on your needs. If nothing else, hit the open gym time with a video camera and a purpose. A lot of times, we have no idea of how well we move, and when we actually see it, we can make changes.

2. Address the soft-tissue.

Adjustments and self-joint distraction techniques are pretty awesome at what they do, but the problem is that the results they give you are not permanent unless the soft-tissue (fascia) is relaxed and then the overworked muscles are lengthened.

HOW TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM: Get a foam roller, a lacrosse ball, and dedicate yourself to self-treatment. Again, I am not saying to avoid any experienced medical professionals, I am simply saying there are things you aren’t doing daily that could help you heal faster.

The remainder of this article will be dedicated to giving you a better idea of how to actually use a foam roller.

How to use a foam roller correctly

Let me start off by saying that “foam-rolling,” is not fun at all. Actually, it is pretty much the opposite of Crossfit, in that it is meant to be low-key and considering that proper rolling technique doesn’t really involve rolling, it is actually insanely boring. Crossfit and foam-rolling are similar in being painful. Actually, there are places on you in which the foam-roller can be just out right brutal.

So repeat after me, brutal and boring means let’s not waste too much time doing it.

Two things you need to understand right away:

1. What we are talking about in this article is meant to be the basis for an “at-home” maintenance program. Particularly as Crossfitter it is very important that you stay up-regulated for your WOD. Too much rolling around on a piece of foam, minutes before you go face to face with PR spells disaster. Mobility work and correcting muscle imbalances are two different conversations.

2. You should never “hurt” when a piece of foam touches your body. If it does, then this is sign that an area on your body isn’t working the right way and isn’t happy.

With those two thoughts in mind, what I will lay out for you fall’s in the line of thinking of basic body maintenance. I need for you go into the remainder of this article with the same mindset that you have with brushing your teeth every day. If you don’t brush, your teeth will fall out of your mouth. If you don’t use the roller the correct way, your body will fall apart.

Here are the rules to effectively release myofascial restrictions using a foam roller and a lacrosse or tennis ball:

1. Scan Your Body

Remembering that you should never hurt when you touch your skin with a foam roller allows us to use the roller as a means to determine exactly where we need to release myofascial tissue. Tissue that is stressed out will be more sensitive. These overworked areas are sites we need to relax with self-message techniques. Scanning with a foam roller can be quick way to help us identify potential asymmetries.

WHAT TO DO: Use the following image as a map to identify areas of tissue that are prone to getting stressed out. Slowly roll over each area for thirty seconds. You will notice there are just eight locations we are assessing. Rate each location on a pain scale of 1 to 5. Note the differences between the left and right sides as well as front and back. fr scanSource: Range of Motion Fitness2. Prioritize and Eliminate

WHAT TO DO: Use the scores you got to prioritize your routine. Any area you rank as a 3 and above needs to be addressed. Eliminate any score that it is a one or two. These areas on your body won’t be affected by SMFR.  Prioritize any asymmetries you locate. The asymmetry with the greatest differences (ie right side = 4, left side = 1) come first before all.

3. Relax Stressed Tissue

The foam roller can be a great way to administer self-massage techniques. The broad area and its relative density can offer enough pressure to relax a more global area of tissue. Self-massage also gives the user the power of how “deep” of a massage they can tolerate by manipulating their body position in the roller. While using the foam roller globally continue to make notes of any highly sensitive areas.

WHAT TO DO: Use the same exercises you used to “scan” your body. Only now follow the priority scale you created. Hold the foam roller on each affected area for two minutes to “relax” the site. For any area that is NOT a 5, you can try these two “light rolling” techniques to promote healing in the tissue.

  1. You can roll parallel or in the same direction as the muscle runs.
  2. You can work perpendicular to the muscle (known as cross friction and used to break up specific adhesions)
  3. You can add a stretch to elongate the tissue. For example, when using the foam roll on the quad, slowly bend the knee to bring the muscle more superficial to the skin.

fr quad4. Release Trigger Points

Trigger points are adhesions that develop in the fascia as a results of overuse or chronic tightness. Think of the little pockets that develop in saran wrap that covers meat, trigger points reduce blood flow and a result alter how your brain controls muscle activity. This is commonly what people will refer to as a knot and it is going to be our job with the lacrosse ball (or tennis ball, baseball, etc.) to release this knot.

WHAT TO DO: Position the ball on top of the knot/spasm.  Relax the muscle completely and apply pressure. Be careful not to move! If the ball moves it will hurt. Maintain pressure until you feel the muscle start to relax. Hold this position for thirty seconds.

The key to this maintenance plan is to consistency. The activities that we do from day to day are going to determine how hard our muscles need to work and the subsequent imbalances that are created. By addressing the distressed soft tissue and the formation of trigger points we are delaying the need to put power of recovery in the hands others and giving our body a chance to bounce back stronger sooner.

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