What does it mean to be a Pain Free Athlete?

athletic injury body awareness calf injury calf tightness egoscue egoscue method injury recovery posture the pain free athlete Jul 08, 2020

You are an athlete! An athlete is anyone who desires to be active and challenge themselves. In my definition, competition and organized sports are not required to be an athlete. However, in the era of Covid-19, there aren’t many, if any, events to participate in against others. Consequently, this makes personal challenges and our own goals to be of greater significance right now.

Keep in mind that being a Pain Free Athlete does not mean you will not have pain. You will. Encountering occasional aches and pains is nearly inevitable when regularly pushing your body through intense activity and sports. The essence of being a Pain Free Athlete, though, is how you deal with these set-backs and if, through your behavior, you allow small injuries to become long-term and damaging to your body, relationships, mindset, work life and more.

As you know, I call myself and my business The Pain Free Athlete. So, I strive to embody the characteristics of a Pain Free Athlete:

  • Listens closely to their body and takes appropriate actions
  • Is curious, not catastrophizing (thinking the worst) about their pain
  • Keeps perspective about the role of athletics in life
  • Is adaptable and open in their thinking and activities
  • Has awareness of their body, mind and emotions
  • Can differentiate between good pain and bad pain
  • Has gratitude and strives to keep a positive outlook, even when it’s hard
  • Maintains balance and harmony in their body, brain and being
  • Expresses compassion to themselves and others
  • Is disciplined, motivated and willing to take personal responsibility
  • Can breathe deeply, rest and be still
  • Is mentally tough and knows when to stop

Like you, I am human, continuing to learn and grow every day. And, since I'm human, I make plenty of mistakes and miscalculations. The best we can do is move in the right direction and make better decisions. To illustrate, read the following story that exemplifies my journey to become a Pain Free Athlete.


A Story of Becoming a Pain Free Athlete 

I’ve begun to run again. After so many intense months of bike training, I needed to mix up my activities. So, I’ve been gradually increasing my mileage over the last couple of months and have settled on a modest routine of running three to four miles twice a week. 

 A few days ago, after some breathing and posture exercises and walking the dogs for a warm-up, I headed out. I felt good. I’d been practicing breathing through my nose while maintaining good, relaxed form on my runs. 

 Not long into the run, I noticed some tightness in my left calf. I didn’t think much about it, though, as these slight discomforts usually work themselves out as I go. I checked my stride, posture, arms, etc.--all the obvious places where I could be compensating--and continued on my way. 

All was going well until I landed on my left leg and my inner calf suddenly contracted into a tight ball. The pain stopped me. Whoa! What is going on here? I thought. To assess and to remedy the issue, I found a tree, leaned against it, and tried to stretch out the tightness, but I couldn’t really find the tight spot that needed to be released. Realizing my run was over, I hobbled a mile home and tried to stretch it as I walked. 

Since I didn't have a lot of time to deal with my body that day, I just did some more stretching and a bit of self-massage, and I hoped it would feel better in the morning. I did not freak out! Happily, this is an improvement from two years ago when I had shin pain, as you can read: How to Stop Freaking Out When You Hurt.

The next morning, I spent two and half hours in the Egoscue© tower. As you might know, this exercise is done one leg at a time, with the primary objective of releasing the hip flexors and low back while repositioning the hips, pelvis and lower legs. (Learn more about the tower: Tame Your Hip Flexor with the Egoscue Tower.)

 I started on the left side, anxious to see if I could gain some relief though repositioning, which did help significantly. However, what was even more interesting was the fact that my right hip and back were excessively tight and stuck, taking two hours to soften and realign. 

 The pain was in my left calf, but the postural issue was in my right hip, pelvis and back position. Well, that makes things pretty clear: the tightness and misalignments in my right side were biasing me to the left, meaning I had more weight on that side. (I verified this with a simple standing balance test. You can find this test on page 138 of Winning the Injury Game or download the Foot Outlines .pdf document from this website.)

 Recall that the pelvis is the foundation of our posture. If it and the hip are not aligned well, they cannot accept loads--from the force of gravity above or ground reaction below. Both of these forces are high while running, up to five times our body weight. If I was biased to the left, I was landing heavier on that side, maybe taking up to seven or eight times my body weight on my left. 

 My analysis was that my weaker left hip struggled with that much load, so I subconsciously kicked in my compensation pattern of recruiting my calf and ankle to assist with loading and accessory hip function. 

 To release my calf tightness, then, all I needed to do was balance my posture right to left and regain my left hip function to take the burden off my left calf and ankle. Easy as that! No stress, no panic, just pragmatic action that will get me back on the trails in no time.

Related Blog: Stretching Your Glutes Isn’t Enough.

Instead of obsessing about my pain as I have in the past, I quickly let it go, starting with ending my run early. Although I was a bit disappointed, I was more intrigued by what was happening in my body. I wasn’t concerned that I had done something serious, but more wondering why my calf muscle had tightened and gone into spasm. What was it about how I was moving that might have caused that? I wanted to find out . . .

Becoming a Pain Free Athlete has been about acceptance. Although we’d always like to be at the top of our game, on some days the body can only run three miles before locking up. And . . . that’s OKAY. Yes, it is okay. The world did not end because I walked the last mile. My personal worth did not decrease because my mile pace was higher than normal. My dogs didn’t notice: they still ran to greet me and howled with joy when I came through the door. It is okay.

And, most important, because I didn’t overdo it, I will soon be out running again.

You, too, can be a Pain Free Athlete. Join our community today!

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