Imagine you’ve been working with your therapist – be it massage, physio, yoga or otherwise – and you’ve been incorporating movement into your treatment plan.
2 Reasons Your Results May Fade Over Time
How many times has this happened to you...
You finally get some of relief you've been looking for and then... You feel it slipping away...
Well, I can relate, and I’ll explain by telling you a bit about something I’ve recently experienced in my own body.
My ankle has been ‘locked up’ for years now…
When I lower into a squat, it feels like I’ve ‘hit a wall’ and my right ankle won’t bend as far as my left. My right ankle and knee compensate by collapsing inward so that my body can keep moving lower (which might explain some of my right knee issues as well…).
I have tried all sorts of things to stretch my calf and get my ankle moving better - all of which gave me the tiniest bit of relief for the shortest amount of time.
Nothing seemed to really ‘get it’. Until recently…
Reason #1 why your results might not last.
You might not be working on the actual source of the issue.
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of deep diving into my hip mobility – pulling things way back, making the movements super small and isolated.
Lo and behold, my ankle unlocked!
Now, I didn’t realize this while I was on the floor, working on my hip mobility. There was no obvious movement, click, or sensation that told me my ankle had finally released.
Instead, it was the next day when I was sitting in my chair with my feet propped up (the way I often do) that I noticed… I didn’t feel the same tightness in my ankle that I usually do in this position!
I jumped up and tried a squat: No feeling of restriction. Full easy range.
Meanwhile, my associate witnessed me go from quietly sitting in my chair, to exclaiming, “Holy Crap!”, followed by me jumping up and performing a deep squat. I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m crazy now, but that’s ok, I like to keep her on her toes!
Anyways, what proved even better was my newfound freedom of movement lasted for days!
The longest lasting and fullest relief I’ve ever had in my ankle happened to occur when I wasn’t even working on my ankle…
Put another way:
The pain (or symptom) is not always where the problem is.
In my case, my ankle’s locked up state is clearly correlated with how well – or not well – my hips are moving.
What I believe happened is; once my hip was more mobile and stable in its own right, my ankle no longer had to create stability (either for itself or for my knee or hip) and so it just… stopped.
I don’t need to work directly on my ankle to make it move better. Apparently, I need to work on my hips!
This is why it’s so important to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. It’s why when I massage, I don’t just focus on the area that’s sore. It’s also why our assessments, the movement therapy or the homecare we suggest might seem a little odd or unrelated at times.
Reason #2 why your results may be fading
A lot of it comes down to habit...
Like I said, my newfound freedom of movement lasted for days, but not forever. It has slowly started to tighten back up.
There are a few reasons this could be:
- The tissues in my hip, knee and ankle have had a long standing memory of moving and bracing in a particular way.
- I’m likely still doing something in my daily life that causes my hip to get gummed up in the first place, and therefore, leads to my ankle issues.
- My nervous system has become very efficient at telling my body to move in a particular way, which is now an unconscious habit – because keep in mind, bones don’t move unless muscles pull on them, and muscle don’t contract unless told to do so by the nervous system.
It’s easier for the nervous system and tissues to slip back into old habits rather than hold on to new ones, because the old habits are more familiar - Its muscle memory.
This kind of scenario can manifest all over the body, in all sorts of combinations, for all kinds of reasons.
This is why a huge part of the work I do using movement involves retraining the neuromuscular system – the line of communication between brain and body part.
If I choose to consciously, mindfully and consistently reinforce better movement patterns in my hips, my ankle will continue to move better. As my body spends more time in this newer state of being, this will become the new muscle memory and therefore, my new norm.
This is why just getting a massage or an adjustment won’t make the changes that truly count – they can’t change the way your brain talks to your body parts.
This is also why only doing the exercises and stretches at your appointments with your therapist isn’t going to get you where you want very quickly – habits require consistency to break and create.
So what are my options?
I'll boil it down to three overarching options:
- I can opt to not work on my hip mobility consistently and have my ankle lock up again, but at least now I know why that is.
- I continue my hip mobility exercises that help prevent limited ankle movement and just coast on maintenance.
- I can get really curious and look deeper into why my hip(s) gets gummed up in the first place – If I address this, I may not need to do the hip mobility exercises much at all in order to keep my ankle moving well.
It all comes down to priorities, ambition, and what kind of results you're looking for!
This blog entry was written by Heather and is based on what she has seen resonate with, and work for her clientele for over a decade. She is a career student who keeps her massage and yoga therapy training current, and does her best to keep up with the newest research and evidence.
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