A Path Towards Harm
Some context. I have been learning to be sensitive to signals of and mitigate pain for about a decade now. My training revolves around feeling things out, noticing any off-ness, spending some time and attention there, and finishing the session feeling better and more fine-tuned than I started. In general, I am exploring restrictions through movement. Since this is my practice, and a guiding principle both personally and professionally, I have gotten pretty confident in my ability to find and figure things out.
Knowing what to do is a skill. Deciding what to do is based on an amalgamation of factors: time, energy, options, experience, environment, focus, attention, patience, endurance, and routine. How familiar and comfortable are you with discomfort? Are you willing to seek it out and what is your reaction when it enters the room?
The big picture of the conditions surrounding my hip is that for the last 18 months I have not had to be teaching in person physical education classes, and I have been using that excess of time and energy to dig into concepts of performance. At 41, I have been learning how to get faster and generally how to use my body as-is to function more athletically. There has been LOTS of rest between these brief but consistent bouts of intensity. My baseline has changed because the prolonged situation and environment afforded it.
For the last six weeks or so, I have woken up with a weird tightness in my left hip upon my first step out of bed. By the time I got to the bathroom and into the kitchen it had gone away. I noted it, but since it took so little for the issue to subside, I didn’t pay much attention to it. Three weeks ago, we started in person classes. Six hours of standing and walking and demoing per day, adrenaline surging to adapt things to each class of personalities, left me tight, stiff, and exhausted by 3:30pm.
A tender walk to the car and a 30-minute rush-hour commute later, I got out of the car with intentional and deliberate cautiousness. Objectively, it might have lessened a little but subjectively I only cared about food, showering, and getting into bed. I was elated to be able to rest, and things weren’t that bad to summon me to muster enough energy and attention to look into things in the way they needed to be. Couple this with the shortening of the length and depth of my morning maintenance, and the once negligible condition became something I needed to address: thoroughly and now.
By the weekend I set out to be done with this issue. [Mistake #1: dictating terms with your body.]
Friday morning I went after tissue release. [As Jermaine Dixon astutely pointed out, the better call would have been tissue tolerance.]
Everywhere the hip hurt, the glute med seemed to be in contact with.
Saturday, determining that the biggest issue was a stuck femur (fused to pelvis), I sought to map out and challenge that connection in as many ways as possible.
Some gentle and loving, others not so much.
I came upon something I call ‘jamming the hip’ which I hoped would reflexively create space. My wanting-to-be-right-and-finished mindset convinced me that it was a way to force the autocorrect; telling the brain ‘hey this space is too tight, let go’.
I felt relief immediately upon release, much like the aggressive stretching that followed:
[Mistake #2: believing immediate relief would lead to lasting relief. What we can convince ourselves of when we want to be convinced.]
What is interesting to me is that as of this post writing, all of these things that were the wrong fit at the wrong time are getting likes. The sentiment of willing your body into submission runs deep. It means we can control things, and can be safe and secure and unscathed whenever we wish and are willing to try hard enough. There are no shortcuts to the time and attention required for care. It’s just that what we care most about in any given moment changes.
Sunday I went after prolonged tissue work, and by Monday morning, my hip was screaming. I took 600mg of ibuprofen to get myself to work and ready for the needs of the day. The more I listened to and coaxed it as I could, the better it felt (even though it remained waaaaay higher then before my forced intervention.) The following video lays out every important gathering of information, in sequence, in the five days that followed. By week’s end, I was at 85% compared to starting the week at 10%.
I hand-selected segments for instagram starting here, but the above reveals all the entire story.
It’s the stress that you don’t see and are mistaken that you can handle that causes the tipping points. Regardless of how great your ability to escape and find safety, how you poke and what you poke has consequences. More observing and less doing is counter to fitness culture, but it leads to a much broader and applicable understanding. What you choose to do is based on what you know. It’s the honest evaluation of these acts (and their outcome) that determines the next course.