How to play without pain

Today we have more "fitness centres" promising all kinds of fun and fitness activities than at any point of time in our civilisation. Yet, the irony is that the human musculoskeletal system has never been so dysfunctional at any point of time in our history.

Novak Djokovic recieves treatment on court for a shoulder injury. The notion that tennis causes shoulder injury is so pervasive that even the most dedicated tennis player believes it to be true.   -  Getty Images

That hurts... caddy Steve Williams attends to Tiger Woods' back injury. The American golfer's battles with injuries have almost become folklore.   -  Getty Images

Let’s take a sentimental journey back to the 1981 Melbourne Test between India and Australia. India achieved a historical victory with Kapil Dev and Dilip Doshi bowling their guts out to run through the legendary Aussie batting line-up in the final innings of the match. Kapil Dev took 5 for 28, while Doshi tightened up things, bowling 22 overs for 33 runs and taking 2 wickets.

Both these cricketers were carrying serious injuries but managed to ignore the pain and carry on. Sports history is full of such stories where athletes have been able to rise above their injuries and produce match-winning performances for their country or team. Other than the huge mental strength that is necessary for such an act, there is a massive physical requirement without which it is not possible to over-ride pain and dysfunction and yet perform close to peak.

Although I am not an advocate of playing through pain, the consequences of sidelining oneself are far worse than simultaneously pursuing a favourite sport or favourite activity and also working to correct the root causes of the pain. This article is about what needs to be done to play without pain.

Very often, people engaged in sport — whether they are professionals, dedicated amateurs or weekend warriors — are told by the medical community that their aches and pains mean that it’s time to “go easy”. This advice amounts to telling someone living in Iceland or Norway that he or she needs to stay away from the sun! We as a civilisation are dying of lack of motion. The idea of even lesser motion is absolute lunacy. Our society is in the grip of severe motion scarcity. Moderation on top of this scarcity can lead to enormous consequences. Let me borrow a few lines from Peter Egoscue (legendary therapist and pain healer) to illustrate my point:

“For individuals who are living in an environment that provides them with

Thirty percent or less of design motion stimulus needed to maintain

Musculoskeletal health, moderation — a decrease of another five to ten percent —

Is bordering on a death sentence”

According to Egoscue — and we all know it is true — we move on an average 65-70% less than our great grandfathers or grandmothers. Television sets, computers, private transport etc. have made life very convenient for us, but on the flip side has also created a huge motion vacuum. And because our modern lifestyle does not create motion opportunities for us, we need to look at alternate means to obtain this essential ingredient for us. Some people join group fitness activities like aerobics, zumba and pilates. Others join gyms and get trapped in a make-believe world of more machines. A few look towards sports and recreational activities to introduce motion in their lives. My own observation is that today we have more “fitness centres” promising all kinds of fun and fitness activities than at any point of time in our civilisation. Yet, the irony is that the human musculoskeletal system has never been so dysfunctional at any point of time in our history. So things are obviously not working out for the physical man! Where have we gone wrong?

Let’s look at golf and tennis:

Golf and tennis are arguably the most “social” of all sports. They have a nice country club aura about them; they are not considered physically “punishing” as, say, football and rugby and they appear as activities that almost anyone can play. A lot of people gravitate towards these sports to get away from injuries caused by more demanding sports. Wrong decision!

 



Both tennis and golf need you to come with balance, strength and coordination. Without these preconditions, you cannot perform well and will get injured. Hence, the “tennis elbow” and the “golf elbow” has achieved some notoriety in the last decade or so. The medical community will attribute these painful conditions to the sport. However, in reality, these sports have nothing to do with these injuries. It is the dysfunction that you bring with you to the sports that causes pain and injury. I see many people in my clinic who have been advised by doctors to stop sports to cure their backache, shoulder pain, ankle pain or knee pain. Yet, none of them has been taught the scientific way to correct or reverse (if possible) the dysfunctions so that they can relieve themselves of the pain and even go back to their favourite sport. Abstinence is not the solution, correction is!

A quick peep into popular tennis and golf magazines of yesteryear will hardly have any references to injuries, and how to avoid them. Yet, today it is a regular theme. Clearly, more and more players are in pain and are blaming it on their sport. The notion that golf hurts the back and tennis causes shoulder injuries is so pervasive that even the most conscious and dedicated golfer and tennis player believes it to be true. The spectators look at these apparently healthy and strong athletes and get tricked into believing that they are the epitome of health and fitness. Yet their dysfunctions are huge. Tiger Woods’ battles with injuries have almost become folklore.

Let’s look at equipment:

The fantastic advancement in racket and club technology over the years means that both tennis and golf are increasingly being played by equipment rather than the player. Athletes are hitting the ball harder and straighter than was possible say a decade ago. This improvement in speed, accuracy and distance has little to do with athletic ability. On the contrary, it allows players to do more and more with less and less function. Let’s look at the open-chested forehand, which was popularised in the mid-eighties by Jimmy Arias. With the wooden rackets prevalent earlier, it would have been impossible to play this shot. Many bio-mechanic experts believe that the present rise of knee ailments among tennis players is attributable to this shot.

The increase in the injuries in these sports is attributable to the epidemic of musculoskeletal injuries sweeping the population as a whole. These are accidents waiting to happen — and they happen on golf courses and tennis courts as they do anywhere else.