Butterfly Effect

We just had an amazing few days of giant surf in Santa Cruz with tidal and weather conditions helping to make the waves near perfect. This morning as I recounted all the waves I caught and felt the soreness in my paddling muscles, I took time to reflect on how the waves came to be.

Two weeks ago a storm system developed deep below Australia and New Zealand off the coast of Antarctica. The storm had strong gale force winds that blew it’s energy into the ocean’s surface. The system squeezed under Australia and blossomed north toward the central Pacific. That wind energy which transformed into wave energy travelled 5,000 miles until it contacted something. Fortunately for us it was the shores of Monterey Bay.

I like to think about this because it reminds me how an action in one place can create an effect somewhere completely different. It’s that Butterfly Effect. A butterfly flaps it’s wings in China and causes a tornado to develop in Oklahoma. It is the same with our bodies. When we encounter joint or muscle pain in an area of the body it could be because of something happening (or not happening) somewhere else in the body.

Here’s a true example: I had a client who had been a top professional athlete, in fact National Champion at his sport. Before he came to see me he thought his sports career was over. His shoulder had developed so much pain and wear-n-tear that he was forced to undergo surgery to repair his rotator cuff. He came to see me after his surgery and physical therapy with the hope of getting back into the sport. We began training and conditioning as he began to compete again in his sport. It didn’t take long for the same symptoms to reoccur. He had followed his doctors advice as well as the physical therapist’s exercises but the pain was coming back.

So we began to look at his whole body and how he moved in his sport. We needed to understand that pain, although it does not feel good, is our best friend. Pain tells us something is wrong and that we need to stop and pay attention to what it is telling us. It took a little time but in the end what we discovered was that the problem was actually in his opposite foot and big toe. How can that be you ask?

The foot has 26 bones and 33 joints and is meant to be supple and absorbent at one moment and then be rigid and spring-like the next. The foot is the first part in a chain reaction that allows the joints above (and the muscles that react to their movement) to behave properly. When the foot is not aligned properly and the muscles which support the foot’s position are not doing what they should then compensation must occur. This compensation can lead to areas that are underworked and others which are overworked. It is usually the overworked areas that wear down and where injury is most likely to occur.

In this athlete’s case the overworked area of compensation was his rotator cuff. Once we understood how he was moving and what was missing it was just a matter of introducing the proper action. This allowed the correct muscles and joints to work in the most efficient way and decreased the demand on the rotator cuff. The change in how his shoulder felt was almost instantaneous. He is now ranked as one of top professionals in his sport and is looking to become National Champion next year.

So the next time your knee hurts you or your lower back begins to ache do not immediately blame the victim of the crime but get help in hunting down the real perpetrator. You might be surprised to find that it’s your tight hips or weak abdominals or even stranger, it could be a result of an ankle sprain that occurred years before.

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