13 Lessons on Patterns from Physiotherapy

I’ve been going to a my physiotherapist recently because, like a lot of long-distance runners, I have some problems with my knees. Some people say that our running shoes cause us these problems. Others suggest the running surface may be too hard on our knees and wear them down over time. While some people believe that we suffer with knee problems because our flexibility is not good enough, or merely because of the fact that we run long distances on a regular basis. However, after learning of the book  'Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall, I discovered that there are people living in the Copper Canyons of Mexico (A.K.A. Tarahumara Indians), who run 100 mile or 150 mile races that last up to 10 hours per race! Incredible. With that in mind, surely I can’t use long distances or hard surfaces as excuses.

Then I thought that, if these athletes are doing it at their age for as long as they have, there must be something else that I’m missing. Maybe it’s technique, maybe it’s genes or maybe it’s physical conditioning over the years. I’m sure this topic divides opinions in the sports science and physiotherapy communities.

My physio told me that my patterns of movement are impeding my training and therefore my progress. In other words, my patterns of movement are linked to my running technique, which is linked to the problems that I'm having with my knees. All of the stretching in world won’t make a difference as long as my patterns of movement are still inadequate. 

So why am I writing about patterns of movement? The reason is this.

There is a parallel between the patterns of movement that we do with our bodies and the patterns of thoughts/emotions that we have in our minds.

In my case, I vividly remember being in University and experiencing emotions of ‘frustration’ on a regular basis because I didn’t feel that I was progressing in my studies as quickly as I would have liked to. When I think about it, out of all the possible emotions that I could be experiencing on a daily basis (e.g. excitement, gratitude, happiness, amazement, determination, fulfilment, passion, cheerfulness, curiosity), I was consciously experiencing the same one most of the time. Worst of all, it was disempowering me and I didn’t know what to do about it.

It’s a very interesting exercise to ask yourself what emotions you experience on a regular basis. How many can you write down? Are they empowering or disempowering emotions? I don’t say positive or negative emotions on purpose, because I don’t believe it works that way.

 Photo Credit:  John Togasaki

Photo Credit: John Togasaki

Here’s a list of emotions to get you started. 

frustration, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, anger, fear, hurt, irritation, overwhelm, guilt, disappointment, discomfort, annoyance, devastation, hate.

excitement, gratitude, happiness, amazement, determination, fulfilment, passion, cheerfulness, curiosity, flexibility, appreciation, love, happiness, confidence.

So, do you experience the same emotions on a regular basis? Are they empowering or disempowering emotions for you? More importantly, what has to happen for you to experience the ones that you want feel more often? That's the real question. 

I believe that we need to recognise whatever emotion we feel and understand the message behind it. What is the emotion telling us? Are things are going well or do we need to change something? If we can’t change a situation, perhaps we can change the meaning that we give the situation.

Here is a summary of the 13 main points from my physiotherapy sessions. I have removed the specific details of what my physio said so that you can notice the parallels between the physical patterns that I have and emotional patterns that we all have.

  1. You are having challenges at the moment because of your habitual patterns. You need to change these patterns to make progress.
  2. Once you improve these patterns, it will go a long way to correcting your other problems. 
  3. Repatterning 4 times a week will change the muscle memory over time.
  4. You don’t have to put a lot of weight/pressure on the movements, just be aware of them and correct them when you do them. 
  5. The most difficult part is at the start because you’ve been used to doing it in the same way for a long time.
  6. These aren’t big changes, they are just small tweaks, but they add up over time. 
  7. When the movement on one side is not good, something else has to give. The strain is then redistributed around your body and you're suffering because of that.
  8. The pain is not the problem, it’s a symptom of the problem. 
  9. The old patterns will continue to force their way in, until you catch them and control them.
  10. When reconditioning, it’s ok to use something to help you change your patterns. Don’t worry about not getting it right at the start. 
  11. Change is instant. You can change your patterns in an instant once you know how and you will continue to improve every time you do.
  12. Results may take time but they will come once you work on your them correctly and consistently.
  13. It’s essential to measure and reevaluate to see your progress over time. 

I’d like to thank my physio for his useful insights, which is the basis of this post.

I hope you guys enjoyed it and were able to take a couple of nuggets of wisdom from it.

Thanks for reading.

Ronan