Speaking both professionally and personally, avoiding injury has become a big part of the way I have begun to pursue fitness. I’ve been lucky to have avoided any serious injuries in the various physical forays of when I was young and seemingly indestructible. As I am sure many of us have, I have known friends, acquaintances and most notably clients who still experience pain, restriction, or apprehension from injuries they sustained years ago or, not infrequently, decades ago. Old car accidents, sports injuries, inexplicable but very memorable incident, all of these contribute to the way in which I think many people imagine their bodies. They imagine them as being hampered by an injury, a “bad” knee or elbow, wrist, or shoulder. Many clients come to me and mention their bad back and refer back to when it first started bothering them years ago. When asked how many years, “Two? Three? A decade?” most people describe their bad body part as having been there “since I can remember” or “always.” So ingrained is their understanding of their body as being this way that it is as if it has never not been this way. As if perhaps it will never not be this way. And it’s in this lack of mental plasticity, this inability to even imagine things as different, that I think a real barrier to rehabilitation lies. Since opening Body Balance in 2012, I’ve been working more explicitly with athletes and clients who focus their energy on fitness. In this regard, I end up doing quite a bit of rehabilitative and prehabilitative work. That is, many of my clients are not only looking to recover from injuries they have sustained during their activities but are also looking to lessen the likelihood of future injuries.
In either case, whether working with a client whose goal is to rehab an injury or prehab to avoid injury, it is vital to me that the client genuinely consider how their relationship to their body factors into how their body sustains injury. What do I mean by this? Well, if you think your knee is “bad” then what does that mean to you? For many, I think, “bad” is shorthand for “prone to injury.” However, unlike “prone to injury” which is technical and distant, “bad” is very personal and connotative of value. As in, one knee is bad and one is good. One knee is worse. This all might seem trivial but I think there’s something to the way in which one imagines one’s body and how that one goes about a project of transforming one’s body. If one’s conception of a body part is stuck, how does that body part get unstuck? Even if one sees meaningful and considerable change in the ability of a body part, if one treats it like it is injured, thinks of it as prone to injury, guards it, favors its opposite, then it’s not really changed. I mean… of course it is, but it’s not transformative change. It’s temporary change awaiting a return to form. If one imagines a body part as intrinsically flawed then it makes improvement seem impossible.
It’s particularly ironic to me how disparaging people can be to a body part or even a side of their body, for example “my left side is always the one that gets hurt, that is weak, etc,” and then they find out through our work how much that relies on extrinsic imbalances: how they use their body, not how their body is. Of course people have imbalances that are intrinsic to the way in which their body is made. Many people have leg length differences, differences in their pelvis, bones, musculature, you name it. But I think a major difference between someone who might be debilitated by those differences and one who may be simply challenged by them could be found in their relationship to their body. That is, what are they trying to do and how are they facilitating that project in light of the reality of their body OR how are they unwittingly sabotaging change because of their conception of their bodies as defined by its limitations?
In my office, I do massage therapy. So, I refer people out to physiotherapists, remedial therapists, and other professionals to measure specific strength and length differences and other diagnostic and specialized assessments. However, when someone is in my office, regardless of their actual limitations, an important part of adopting a project like rehabilitation or prehabilitation is simply engaging in a conversation of how they see their body and whether their thoughts, behaviours, interactions with, and expectations are reasonable, feasible, and self-encouraging. Without trying to, much of this can sound very self-help. But that’s maybe because self-help is a big part of the game. I might spend a couple hours a week or a month with a person but they spend every minute with themselves. They have an opportunity to work with the little things like how they distribute weight, how they engage different muscles during everyday activities like standing, walking and sitting. My clients have access to changing their bodies by exploring and experiencing their limitations in a way that allows them to safely challenge those limitations and hopefully, eventually surpass them.