Why Do My Joints Hurt?
Many new clients come to me for an exercise routine to relieve chronic joint pain and stiffness. More often than not these are folks who work at computers and generally lead sedentary lifestyles. I work with many people who fit this description. And although I’m always willing to recommend daily movement routines, and more often than not, clients do experience improvement in their symptoms, it is rare to completely eliminate pain and discomfort, no matter how many exercises they do or treatment sessions they get from their physiotherapist or chiropractor. And while for many, the exercises do improve their quality of life, many others are frustrated that they aren’t able to completely resolve their symptoms. I recently discovered an explanation for this frustrating phenomenon and thought I would share it here.
This story is one of personal experience. For much of my life and until quite recently, I had stiff, tight and sore ankles. This ankle pain stemmed from numerous sprains to both ankles, mostly from playing basketball. I was very diligent with an elaborate routine to help keep my ankles healthy. I would roll out my calves, tibialis anterior (the muscle on the front of the shin) and feet with various implements while I relaxed in the evening. I did ankle circles and stretches, I used bands, did heel raises, iced, soaked, you name it. And yes, my ankle discomfort was manageable, and I could lift, run and jump to a level that satisfied me, but the problem never went away. I was able to manage, but not solve, my joint pain issue. Until about a year ago, when my ankle problems completely went away.
I didn’t discover a new treatment or device. I didn’t find a new physiotherapist. And in fact, I actually stopped doing all the rolling, stretching and soaking. So, what did I do?
I stopped playing basketball.
It turns out that basketball is really rough on your ankles. I know this from my own experience, but also from having trained hundreds of competitive basketball players, almost all of whom are managing sore ankles through movement and recovery routines similar to mine.
Now, choosing to stop playing basketball was not easy, and a lot of factors led me to that choice (none of which, for the record, had anything to do with my ankles). So it was a surprise to me when a few months later I was sitting on my feet while working with a client and thought, “Hey, this doesn’t hurt. I could never do this before.”
Basketball was the root cause of my ankle pain, which meant that no amount of self-care was going to resolve that pain as long as I continued to play.
What this means is that if your hips are tight and your back hurts because you sit all day, your hips are going to continue to be tight and your back is going to continue to hurt if you continue to sit all day. Adding in some targeted movement like cat stretches and bird dogs will help, no doubt, but without addressing the cause of the problem, the pain will persist.
I realize that many people don’t have the luxury of that choice. If you’re a computer programmer, you’re going to need to continue to sit at a desk. If you’re in the NBA, you’re going to need to continue to beat up your ankles for your sport. I just want to provide perspective on what you can reasonably expect from committing to an exercise routine to relieve joint pain. And, with this understanding in place, you can examine your daily life to decide if you can indeed address the root.
To close on a happier note, there are many instances when the right exercises can make the pain go away. Some folks have joint pain or postural issues of non-specific origin. Others are doing the wrong type of exercise. I’ve had clients tell me that they no longer have to see their chiropractor after we’ve made changes to their strength training. Exercise can be the solution, but if it’s not, re-examine the cause.