Pain: Where You Think It Is, It Ain’t

Pain: Where You Think It Is, It Ain’t
Written by: Coach Slater

This article began after reminding myself of the phrase “Where you think it is, it ain’t,” said by Dr. Ida Rolf, a highly respected movement specialist, with regard to pain. The concept suggests that problems at one joint usually show up as pain in the joint above or below. For instance, lower back pain is likely due to loss of function below at the hips. If the hips can’t move, the lumbar spine will; but the spine is meant to be stable, not mobile. When joints that are supposed to be mobile become immobile, another stable joint is forced to compensate, which typically leads to pain or injury. Lose hip mobility, get low back pain. Lose ankle mobility, get knee pain. Lose thoracic mobility, get neck/shoulder pain (or low back pain).

“Our response to injury is like hearing the smoke detector go off and running to pull out the battery. The pain, like the sound, is a warning of some other problem. Icing a sore knee without examining the ankle or hip is like pulling the battery out of the smoke detector. The relief is short-lived.”

As coaches, we work diligently to spot these issues before they become an issue for you. We may recognize “stiff” movement and wonder if a past injury or poor repetitive movements caused the body to get stiff in order to find stability where it has none. If you’ve foam-rolled forever, but not made any discernible change and still feel tight, then it’s likely that you haven’t fixed the stability issue occurring elsewhere in your body.

Turns out, a tight muscle and a fatigued muscle look pretty similar. If I see “tight” hamstrings on someone, I assume you don’t use your glutes well. In turn, your hamstrings are working harder, becoming fatigued. If I see a lack of thoracic spine mobility, I look next for core stability issues. Maybe you can do a plank for a long time, but you can’t rotate fully on a rotational slamball throw. That stiffness might be a protective gate from your inability to be stable elsewhere.

Recently, I noticed someone (who shall remain nameless) perform burpees with her left palm flat on ground, her wrist extended naturally, but her right hand was pressing thru the side of her thumb and forefinger, keeping that wrist neutral. I asked why on earth she would do such a thing and she complained of wrist pain on her right side. Performing burpees this way was the only way she could do so without pain. I immediately wondered if she had a right shoulder/scap issue. Turns out, she works at a computer most of her day, using a mouse. Her right arm basically never moves for hours at a time, as she performs monotonous mouse work, so her tissues kind of get stuck. I had her do a few tests on her right shoulder and found it was moving sub-optimally. I gave her some homework to work on her tissues with a lacrosse ball, perform some daily pec/shoulder/thoracic stretches, and get out of her chair more often so she can move around. If she sticks with it, I bet it fixes that wrist in no time.

If you have small pains, and one of your DCCF coaches has recommended a few drills for you to perform before/after workouts, then you owe it to yourself to consider performing them… even if those drills just involve something boring like, ugh, breathing. Pain is an alarm signal for vulnerability elsewhere. Performing any movement with poor technique and simply trying to go harder, longer, or faster is a great way to get injured. Remember, more is not better, better is better, and we’re here to help.

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