How to Hike to Prevent Pain and Preserve Energy

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This is a post for my fellow hikers, backpackers and mountaineers.

Best explained in the video, but here is a little bit of additional information:

Body mechanics through any sport are important, and hiking is no exception. Most of us don’t pay attention to our form or body mechanics while hiking because it’s not typically a “sport” where we’re competing or going for time or distance; most of the time we’re just out there to enjoy nature, summit a mountain or successfully complete a backpacking trip.

I started hiking the way I demonstrate in the video 4 years ago because of what I know about fascia, what causes my knee pain and because it just made sense to me anatomically as a way to prevent pain. I didn’t realize until a year or so later that I was doing something already in use with hikers and mountaineers, known as the “rest step.”

The rest step is used predominantly to help high altitude mountaineers maintain their energy and oxygen levels during sustained upward movement.

You can use the rest step for the above purpose, but I promote it mostly to prevent injury and muscle fatigue/soreness, whether you’re at high altitude or not.

When I make a conscious effort to hike this way I have little to no pain. I don’t even get SORE from a big mountain climb! And my energy levels are sustained throughout a trek.

Using the “rest step” for injury prevention:

The why and how:

This is a method of UPHILL HIKING. With each step uphill you allow your back leg to extend FULLY from your hip through your heel, while pausing for a moment, before continuing with the other leg stretching fully next time.

When you allow your back leg to extend fully and your body weight rests on that part of your skeleton for a moment, ALL the muscle fibers and fascia in your back leg – the Achilles, calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), popliteal fascia (back of your knee) and hamstrings – get an active stretch while the front leg gets to rest.

Doing this in a continuous manner up a hill or mountain is a lot like a dynamic stretch routine (my favorite way to stretch), and though you’re certainly “working” your body, your fascia gets to lengthen while the muscles are allowed to rest.

At the same time, if you STAND TALL and USE YOUR GLUTES to power you uphill instead of your quads, you will be using the largest muscle in your body (the gluteus maximus), which will SAVE your quads and hip flexors from overuse. AND: you’ll sculpt a better booty, and who doesn’t want that?!

The science behind this method:

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Running & Downhill Hiking: it’s NOT the Pounding or Impact That is “BAD” For Joints – it’s THIS

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Are you one of the many people who thinks that the “pounding” during running or the “impact” of downhill hiking is bad for your joints?

I used to think this too! It was drilled into my brain on a very visceral level when I had to hike 7 miles downhill on a “bad” knee and by the time I got to the bottom I had TWO bad knees (click here for that story). I believed the terrain was the problem and I didn’t hike again for 6 YEARS! Now I know better.

With SO many people experiencing pain on the downhill, or pain through impact sports like running, it’s logical to conclude that the sport or the terrain are “bad” for your joints.

I’m here to tell you it is NOT the pounding, impact or downhill that is bad!

I never would have believed this myself had I not experienced first hand being unable to run or hike for 8 and 6 years respectively, only to find out I can hike ridiculously steep 14ers here in Colorado (mountains above 14,000 feet), even run down them, without any pain at all – if I take care of my body before going out there.

The downhill and running are NOT the problem; they simply highlight what is already dysfunctional or unhealthy in our bodies.

If you are someone who normally does NOT have pain unless you try to run or hike downhill, and only during these activities you experience foot or ankle pain, shin splints, knee pain or hip pain, then chances are…

Your fascial system has lost its SPRING!

Our body is made up mostly of fascia, and that fascial system’s make-up is like a giant web that is meant to be elastic and flexible, able to absorb impact for us while helping us ‘spring’ out of sports such as running.

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The Most Powerful (Overlooked) Tool for Pain Relief

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The human brain is POWERFUL.

Is yours working for or against you when it comes to pain and pain relief?

Mine used to work obsessively to my own detriment. Now my mind is one of my most powerful allies, not just for me but all of my clients as well.

What we think about pain and how we REACT when it shows up, I believe, can and often does determine whether the pain stays, gets worse, or leaves as quickly as it came.

This is not to say that often (or always) there isn’t something physical going on too. Of course there is!

What controls the physical body? The brain and nervous system!

And what controls the brain? We do.

Who we are – our beliefs, stress triggers, past traumas (physical or otherwise), fight or flight response, nervous system habits and muscle memory – all of this and far more is entangled and, when pain shows up, can become a mess of reactivity that has almost nothing to do with our current circumstance.

Before you go dismissing this as a bunch of new age hooey, let me ask you…

Have you ever had something happen in your life that was mildly upsetting, and instead of being calm and assessing the reality of your situation you started obsessing with your mind and before you knew it…the situation went from mildly upsetting to a blazing inferno of “this is so f*cked up!”?

I’m pretty sure we’ve all done this, whether in relationships, traffic scenarios or any time we’re confronted by something undesirable. It’s no different when pain shows up.

Pain is upsetting, right? So it’s logical that we would feel alarmed, concerned and start thinking about it. HOW we think about it and WHAT we think about it determines what happens next. (And…what if pain didn’t have to be upsetting? What if we welcomed it as an intelligent message from our body? More on that later).

I let fear control me for 8 years!

I imagine there’s not a single person on this planet that decides consciously “I’m going to let this here fear control me.” We don’t do this on purpose. I certainly wasn’t aware of what was happening to me until I clawed my way out and looked back at myself with a new awareness. And now…

I believe most of what stopped me from running for 8 years and hiking for 6 was a mental construct. Did I have knee pain? Abso-freakin-lutely!

This wasn’t an overnight mental construct and pain helped create it.

This is a condensed version of my story:

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Why I NEVER Recommend Foam Rolling The Low Back (And What To Do Instead)

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If you are currently experiencing low back of ANY kind:

STOP FOAM ROLLING YOUR LOW BACK

I never ever recommend foam rolling the low back (for any reason), but if you’re experiencing low back pain then this is so important.

Why?

Here’s the short version:

Low back muscles (and the thoracolumbar fascia) generally take care of themselves when you take care of whatever it is that is causing them distress. What is causing them distress is typically something in the leg fascia (brought on by sports, lifestyle and habits). Occasionally there is a shoulder dysfunction that can cause low back issues but most of the time it’s in the legs. The point though, is that THE PROBLEM IS NOT THE BACK ITSELF, and going into the low back with a foam roller can make things a lot worse.

In addition, there are a lot of nerves in the low back region and not a lot of “meat” (generally) to absorb your weight (look at the picture over there), so you could cause nerve irritation or damage; and I DO NOT recommend rolling over your lower rib area or spine for ANY reason either.

Basically – there isn’t much reason to foam roll here AT ALL, and if you are in pain there is significant risk of causing more distress or more pain.

The long version:

This is the story of how I came to these conclusions.

When I first started working with people in pain (by “stepping on” them; I am NOT a massage therapist, so if you’re curious about exactly what I do you can click the link) I knew that when it came to back pain the cause was something in the legs. I never touched people’s backs.

One of my favorite things in the whole world is solving puzzles. When I first got started, every client that came to me was like a new puzzle to solve because I hadn’t yet figured out all the various types and causes of low back pain. (These days I’m rarely stumped, but happy when I am because it means I get to learn something new and help even more people!)

Over the course of several years (from 2008-2013) I gathered a lot of data that led me to the pain patterns I’ve discovered (what causes what), and nearly all of my low back pain clients were getting complete relief (often in ONE session!) but a question remained in my mind:

What about the back itself?

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How to Relieve Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Golfer’s Elbow, Wrist Pain and Grip Issues

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Tight fascia in your forearms can cause a variety of issues, from grip problems to wrist pain, carpal tunnel syndrome to golfer’s elbow.

We’re going after TWO areas today: the fascia in both sides of your forearm. We’re targeting the fascia within and between all the flexors AND extensors of the wrist and hand.

This fascia will affect joints upstream AND downstream, potentially causing carpal tunnel or wrist pain as well as elbow pain and even shoulder issues.

Releasing the FLEXOR side can relieve or eliminate:

  • Grip issues due to overuse and tissue fatigue from things like rock climbing, jiu jitsu etc
  • Wrist pain (anterior or palm up side)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Finger tendon issues, generally pinky and ring finger (the other fingers are generally more affected by the extensors)
  • Golfer’s Elbow – and if you have this you want to go after the “meat” on that pinky finger side (lateral forearm in a palm up position) and get as close to the elbow as possible. This is a slightly tricky spot to get on your own because it required angling your arms at angles they don’t really want to go in the position required to do this to yourself (whereas me working on you requires that you only angle the arm we’re working on), but you should be able to at least get some pretty good relief

Releasing the EXTENSORS can relieve or eliminate:

  • Wrist pain (posterior or palm down side)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Finger tendon issues, mostly middle and forefinger
  • Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis – if this is you, you will get the BEST result by combining this with my favorite technique for upper body pain that gets into the brachialis area just above the elbow (click here for that post)
  • Grip issues due to overworked extensors, potentially due to repetitive motion actions like like pull-ups (helloooo CrossFitters! xo)
  • Forearm fatigue or numbness due to overuse if you’re on a computer all day

How to get the most out of these techniques:

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The #1 Surprising Cause of Pain – From Plantar Fasciitis to Knee, Hip, Low Back Pain & Shoulder Issues

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Do you ever wonder WHY pain happens? When it hits we’re often shocked because it seemed to come out of nowhere. People use terms like “I threw out my back” even if they were doing something as benign as weeding a garden!

Or knee pain might hit suddenly while on a hike, when hiking didn’t hurt at all for decades, and you blame the downhill “pounding” because that’s what everyone thinks is “bad” and you just so happen to be going downhill.

Little do most of us realize that we’ve been doing things our entire life (and one thing in particular) that has been building and building momentum toward injury or pain. Whatever you were doing when pain finally happened was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. The MAIN CAUSE is almost always something else (unless you’re in an accident or have a traumatic injury).

Watch the video!

It’s a lot easier for me to “show and tell” this particular nugget of wisdom than to write about it…though I’ll be doing that too.

The “one leg” phenomenon:

Not everyone does this to an extreme, but I would venture to guess that 80% of us do. I include myself in that figure, though I am now very aware of it.

I call it “celebrity pose” or “sassy hip” pose 🙂

Why do we lean on one leg?

Most of us choose a leg we feel more comfortable on as children, and as we get older we use that leg any time we’re standing around: at a party, in line at the grocery store, waiting for our morning latte or posing for pictures!

If you have an injury on one leg – say, you sprain your ankle, break your leg or have knee surgery – you may end up on your OTHER leg out of necessity, because you’re taking the pressure off the injured leg. If you keep it up though, you’re likely to have pain or an injury on the leg that has been compensating.

No matter the reason, it can wreak havoc!

Why is this so “bad”?

It may seem like an innocent and harmless habit, but over the last 8 years I have seen it be the primary cause of pain from plantar fasciitis to shoulder issues in a large majority of my clients.

When I talk about primary causes I am ALWAYS looking for the habit or traumatic event that is causing whatever pain shows up in the body. I might talk about a “root cause” in the body, but we HAVE to find the primary cause that is creating the root physical cause if we’re going to eliminate the pain for good AND prevent it from coming back. Otherwise we’re doing nothing but ‘managing’ pain and I hate managing pain! I’m not in the pain management business…I always want to eliminate it for good.

That’s why this is so important to know about.

What happens due to this habit, physically speaking?

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Relieve TMJD and Jaw Pain Plus Tension Headaches and Neck Pain

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Do you suffer with TMJD (jaw pain) or “text neck?”

I feel your pain! I hold a lot of tension in my jaw and have for a long time, and it is exacerbated dramatically by the fact that I look down all day for work…which makes the entire front part of my neck very, very tight. This tension pulls on my jaw (and yours, if you’re in a similar boat), making the jaw feel even tighter.

If you hold a lot of tension in your throat muscles and/or jaw, then you’re going to love the two techniques I show you today!

For the BEST result:

You will get the absolute MOST out of these two techniques if you combine them with the chest release followed by the best neck release EVER (it really IS the BEST, and if you haven’t tried it yet then you must – especially if you have any of the issues mentioned in this post).

Few pain patterns exist in isolation where you only need to target one or two areas, and this is no exception. Usually with something like TMJD, whiplash, tension headaches and neck pain, there are other factors at play. These two techniques alone will give you some good relief, but if you’re looking to eliminate the pain then be as thorough as possible by using the techniques linked to above.

Here’s what we’re targeting:

Technique #1:

For the first technique we are really targeting EVERYTHING we possibly can in the front of the neck, with special emphasis on the SCM (sternocleidomastoid). We also want to grab as much of the many hyoid muscles’ fascia as well.

I know for me sometimes even just looking up or tilting my head up like the photo on the right causes the entire front of my neck to stretch because it is so tight. The more spacious this entire front part of the neck is, the more freedom the jaw (joint) and muscles of the jaw will have. We are NOT targeting that area today. So if you grind your teeth and most of your tension is actually IN the jaw itself…this may bring your some relief but it will not eliminate the pain.

The first technique I show you is CERTAINLY the most important. If you’re pressed for time or only want to commit to doing one of these, then pick the first one.

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Eliminate Neck Pain! Best Release EVER for Stiff Necks, TMJ Pain & Tension Headaches

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Say goodbye to neck pain!

This is one of the very few self-help techniques I’ve come up with that can perfectly mimic what I do in my private practice, and that means you should get an INSTANT and very powerful result (if you do it correctly).

Before I go any further, however…

WARNING: DO THIS FIRST!

If if you have significant neck pain of any kind, I highly encourage you to use my pec and deltoid release BEFORE attempting this technique.

The majority of neck pain does not originate in the neck, it is usually in your chest and (front) shoulders. If you try to release your neck first you might make things worse. The reason is, often times our neck is getting “tight” because it is fighting the constant pull of our forward rotated shoulders; it’s engaged in an unwinnable battle to pull our necks back where they are supposed to be.

If this is the case and you release your neck WITHOUT releasing the chest FIRST, then you’ve just created a scenario in which your neck will be FAR more likely to be pulled forward from the chest tightness that is still present, the very thing the neck is attempting to counteract by pulling back and tightening up. Your neck may react by clamping down even harder after a few hours, which is not what we want!

For the BEST result no matter what your situation or goal: combine the pec and deltoid release with this one and your head will feel like it’s floating!

This technique can relieve or eliminate:

  • Neck pain of ALL kinds
  • Tension headaches and migraines (if tension related)
  • Jaw and TMJ pain
  • Grip issues related to a nerve blockage in the neck
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and/or nerve pain shooting down the arm
  • Brachial Plexus issues
  • “Text neck” or pain associated with looking down for hours every day
  • Whiplash
  • Neck pain associated with forward rotated shoulders and
  • forward head posture
  • and…I’ve even been told by 3 clients that they believe this technique (in my office, not the lacrosse ball version) improved their EYESIGHT! I’m not sure I can substantiate that claim, BUT…the area you’re releasing with this technique does block or open a blood pathway to the ocular nerve…so ya never know!
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Pec and Front Deltoid Release for Relaxed Shoulders and Necks

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If you look down at your phone all day, work on a computer, have small children and carry them frequently, have forward head posture or forward rotated shoulders etc, then this is something you will want to include in a weekly fascial health routine.

You will need a lacrosse ball for these two techniques.

Release your pecs for more upper body freedom!

While we will certainly grab and stretch pec major in this technique, it is really THE FASCIA in and around pec minor that we want to target.

Pec minor attaches to the 3rd, 4th and 5th ribs and draws the scapula forward and down, and elevates the ribs if the origin and insertion are reversed. 

The primary actions of this muscle include the stabilization, depression, abduction or protraction, upward tilt, and downward rotation of the scapula. When the ribs are immobilized, this muscle brings the scapula forward, and when the scapula is fixed, it lifts up the rib cage. (Excerpt from healthline.com)

As you can see it plays a huge role in shoulder mobility. When overly tight it contributes to forward head posture, forward rotated shoulders and the pain patterns that arise from this (which include neck pain, shoulder pain, headaches etc).

These techniques can help address:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Rotator cuff issues
  • Forward head posture
  • Forward rotated shoulders
  • Headaches, if they are tension related
  • Neck Pain
  • Whiplash
  • TMJ pain
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Arthritis: Causes, Prevention & the Possibility of Relief (Opinion)

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Arthritis: 100% preventable (my opinion)

First let me say that I am not a doctor, and medically speaking there is “no known cure” for arthritis. Everything in this blog post and accompanying video is my opinion. I am not attempting to diagnose or cure anyone.

I’m inspired to do this episode of Mobility Mastery Monday on arthritis after a new client flew from the east coast to Colorado to get my professional opinion on her condition. She was here last week and saw me for three sessions within a 5 day period.

Her sessions with me were illuminating for both of us and it got me thinking a lot about arthritis.

I want to start a conversation about this debilitating condition that affects 3 million NEW people every year in America. There is “no known cure” for arthritis. After working on so many people and every imaginable “itis” with tremendous success over the last 8 years, I want to challenge that assumption.

To be clear, I am NOT addressing Rheumatoid arthritis in this post, which is an autoimmune disorder and quite different. .

I believe with absolute conviction that arthritis is 100% PREVENTABLE.

I’ve worked on quite a few people that were told by doctors they had “pre-arthritis.” I’ve also worked with clients who were told they had osteoarthritis in a joint.

In every instance we were able to reverse it: no more pain, no more aching, no inflammation.

I haven’t had the opportunity to work with many clients who have full blown arthritis. That’s why I was excited to work with Michelle.

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