Running & Downhill Hiking: it’s NOT the Pounding or Impact That is “BAD” For Joints – it’s THIS
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.
Think of it like a giant spongey spring…when healthy, the entire system is well lubricated, it’s strong AND soft, it absorbs more ‘water’ when necessary and expels the excess too; it can withstand a lot of ‘wringing’ or compression (impact) without damage UNLESS or until it becomes dehydrated and brittle, like a dried out sponge or rubber band.
Imagine a balloon that is filled with gelatin (muscle and healthy fascia), and inside the balloon at its center is a rock (bone).
You should be able to toss that balloon around or throw it on the ground and the rock would stay where it is, relatively unaffected by the impact and in no danger of shattering.
Now imagine replacing the gelatin with dried out brittle sponges…chances are pretty good if you threw that balloon on the ground, the rock in the center would be affected negatively. It might not shatter, but it is no longer protected and too much repetitive “impact” would certainly lead to an undesired outcome.
When our fascial system is healthy, it protects our bones and joints from impact by allowing us to literally SPRING out of every step like a gazelle!
Or maybe you’re not a gazelle, you’re the lion (that’s more me too).
When the fascial system is unhealthy (dehydrated, brittle or stuck to itself in knots), it loses the ability to help us spring out of impact and our joints take the hit. If we do this repeatedly, chances are good our joints will start talking to us with pain (think stress fractures, shin splints, knee pain).
Thankfully, fascia CAN be fully restored to its youthful fluidity, springiness and resiliency.
You can do this with fascial release, by breaking up fascial adhesions, squeezing the old grungy ‘water’ out of your fascial system to allow new nutrients to come in and keep that system in a well hydrated state. You can do ALL of this through compression and movement based ‘stretch and release’ methods, and by squeezing then relaxing your muscles while pinning a key piece of restricted fascia with as much body weight as you can stand.
Get your ‘SPRING’ back:
Every person is going to be different in terms of how long it takes to get their spring back. Each of you might be different when it comes to key areas to target, as well as how committed you are in taking care of your fascia.
If you have pain during running or downhill hiking, you’re better off focusing your efforts on the lower body.
The more spring you give your ENTIRE fascial system from head to toe (because it’s ALL connected), the better off you’ll be when it comes to impact sports or terrain such as downhill.
You may have a ‘pain pattern’ that predisposes you to something like knee pain while hiking downhill. That was/is my pattern. I’ve learned it’s not the terrain that matters, it’s the fact that I am predisposed to tight calf fascia and if it’s already balled up in knots then the downhill causes pain. When I hike or run properly on the uphill that calf fascia actually gets to STRETCH through each step. Whereas on the downhill the knee is always bent and the calf never gets to stretch fully.
For the past 5 years I’ve taken good care of my leg fascia, so even though the downhill puts me in a position that used to hurt all the time, I can now run and hike whatever I want. I got my spring back! And you can too 🙂
If you’re an athlete:
I’ll be writing a separate blog post on this topic, but will add a little paragraph here for you. The more SPRING your fascial system has, the more efficient you will be as an athlete. I can’t promise you better race times; I will tell you though that clients of mine (in my private practice) have reported better race times after working with me. They originally came for pain relief, and the bonus was restoring that spring to their fascial system. It is my belief that better race times are possible if you keep your fascial system healthy, springy, light and elastic.
Mobility Mastery RESOURCES:
Key areas to target in the LOWER BODY:
- Calves are critical for downhill and running pain-free: click here and here
- Quads are my second pick for lower body. Click here for the quad release.
- Release your IT Band from the INSIDE OUT and STOP rolling it please! Your body will thank you. Click here for that.
Key areas to target in the UPPER BODY:
- This is my TOP pick for upper body and if you only have time for ONE thing, this is the one I would do: click here.
- It’s always a good idea to release your chest, click here.
- And finally, releasing your neck will likely allow for greater mobility of your entire body, click here for that!
Obviously, if you have a specific issue, try searching for techniques on this site specific to YOU, write me an email or comment here or on Facebook!
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