Connect the dots between our joints
Many of you that come regularly know that I talk quite a bit about fascia/connective tissue and how it affects our movement (or lack of movement). It also plays an important role in how our muscles and bones respond to load, and tightness in the fascia can give us clues to what else is going on elsewhere in the body. A resource I frequently return to (and lately have shared with a few clients) is Anatomy Trains, by Thomas Myers.
Pilates and GYROTONIC® work incorporate all the fascial lines, but lately our focus in the studio has been on the superficial back and spiral lines. We have been exploring how opening and releasing the back line (through calf stretch, foot corrector, shivering and kneading from the GYROTONIC® work) as part of our warm-up can allow for a deeper connection into our bodies for the rest of our session. I’ve also shared my own personal a-ha moment on how the back line affects our everyday movement with my “gas pedal foot while driving” story.
For years, my right hip has been tighter than my left, and a few months ago I started to notice some knee pain as well. Knowing that there is a relationship between the foot, ankle, hip and shoulder joints, I began to look at what was going on above and below my knee joint – my pelvis/hip, and ankle/foot. Then, one morning getting into the car, I had a lightbulb moment. When I first learned how to drive and for many years afterwards, I drove wearing high heels!
What this meant for my driving posture, was that the heel of my shoe was always in contact with the car floor, and my ankle flexion was much less than if I were not wearing heels. Since reading Katy Bowman’s Every Women’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief a few years ago, I rarely wear high heels. However, for some strange reason, my driving foot placement didn’t change: my foot “hovers” in mid-air, as if I were still wearing high heels. You can probably visualize what this would do to the hip joint, causing it to be in greater flexion with constant quadriceps tension. (hence the tight hip flexors, which would affect ankle mobility and how the knee would align in relation).
When I noticed this, I immediately corrected it, by moving my seat forward and placing my heel firmly on the car floor. However… enter in my “jello mold” analogy.
Do you remember those jelly molds (or ambrosia salad) from your childhood? I certainly do – and my mom always used to say “Don’t poke the jello!” Really? How could I not poke it when she wasn’t looking? The key was to make sure I didn’t poke a hole in it, but give just enough pressure that it would shake and bounce a little. Hilarious to my five-year old self (and to my present self – just thinking of it makes me giggle!)
Our fascia and connective tissue can be compared to a bowl of jello – give it too much hard pressure and /or poke it, and it doesn’t bounce back. If given a light and slow constant pressure, fascia will respond and yield. This gives the fascia surrounding our muscles a chance to release and adapt to change.
When I corrected my heel position, I went from a relatively smaller angle of dorsiflexion (flexed ankle/ foot) to a much greater angle and range. The immediate result was that my hip flexors and quadriceps released (hurray!) and it was easier for me to correctly track my knee. A couple of weeks later though… painful inner arch pain! Oh no! I had poked the jello!
I had released the fascia too quickly, and my ankle joint unused to that range of dorsiflexion, had resorted to over-pronating. Over-pronating has the tendency to pull the knee medially and internally rotate and adduct the hip (moving internally towards the mid-line). I addressed this by focusing on exercises that externally rotate the hip, and centering the patella. BUT my ankle mobility remained stuck, and since my hip and knee were already released, the only place the tension could go was my foot, specifically my inner arch and plantar fascia. In hindsight, by forcing my heel down to the car floor when driving in too short of a time (a span of about a month, compared to years of driving with my heel mid-air) was a recipe for disaster.
So what’s a girl to do?
I needed to “walk my own talk”, and remember that change doesn’t happen overnight. Slow and steady like a turtle, I’ll eventually win the race. What does this mean for me going forward? More of what I already do, but in smaller doses (length of time and intensity): Half-dome calf stretches, exercises that focus on supination to balance out my over-pronation tendency, ankle glide work, tibialis anterior strengthening, hamstring releases as well as activation… and likely a trip to my osteopath (who can check to see if it is a bone misalignment, which I am not educated or equipped to correct myself).
It is a common misconception that Pilates teachers always have perfect alignment, and never experience pain or problems like their clients. We are not superhuman (although it may seem like it, when we do exercises like Squirrel or Walkover on the Ladder Barrel), but we are on the same Pilates path as clients – striving for excellence, not only as teachers, but as students as well. This experience of figuring out why my driving posture created hip, knee, ankle and foot pain reminded me of the Dry Bones children’s song: the foot is connected to the ankle, to the knee, to the hip… It is truly ALL connected!
“With the leg bone connected to the knee bone,
and the knee bone connected to the thigh bone,
and the thigh bone connected to the hip bone….”
(excerpt from Dry Bones. source: https://kids.niehs.nih.gov/games/songs/childrens/dry-bones/index.htm)
Have you ever been so excited about trying something new that you overdid it, and poked the jello? What did you do, and how did you recover from it? I would love to hear in the comments below!
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