Pain – moving away from it

Cropped image of traveler with big suitcase crossing road

How to integrate new movement patterns into a busy life

You know the feeling, that sinking sense of frustration that settles in just after realizing that you reached too far – once again – to pull something out of the back seat of your car. It was just a simple moment, but now your shoulder is aching. “I guess I’m just getting old”, you think.

Or maybe you played soccer with your nephew and the following day, good old sciatica has reared its ugly head once again. Life is a series of choices and the searing pain in your leg tells you that better decisions could have been made. Resignation and disappointment set in as you tell yourself that it’s time to stop running – for good.

When movement brings pain, it can be easy to settle into the patterns we create to avoid it.

Run less, lift less, move less.

All of these seem like sensible solutions, but the result is usually less freedom in life as well. Perhaps you’ve had x-rays or MRIs, only to be told that there’s nothing structurally wrong. Your practitioner sent you home to follow a prescription for rest and hot or cold therapy. These approaches worked for a while until you decided to head back to the gym, only to discover that when you started moving again, the pain returned – full force.

This cycle is exhausting, and more than a little discouraging. It can be difficult to open up to new approaches. And hard to believe that the results you want are even possible.

Different results demand a different approach.

It stands to reason that current movement patterns and the positions or postures we stay in most of the time are part of what causes and exacerbates pain. It’s not that sitting is wrong, but sitting most of every day with little time spent in other postures can lead to dysfunction. But here’s the great thing: integrating new movement patterns and postures into your life can be part of the solution as well.

Imagine that you experience low back pain irritated by movement or times of high stress. Your doctor confirmed that there’s nothing structurally wrong with your spine. Although comforting, this didn’t offer the quick solution you hoped for. So, you find a great chiropractor or acupuncturist who gives you a treatment plan you can work with. Things finally feel like they are heading in the right direction! Your practitioner may recommend corrective movements, or refer you to a movement specialist who can create a specialized exercise regimen to reinforce their treatment. The new movements address your particular concerns, but in a different way than you’ve experienced before. Things are looking up!

But…integrating a new pattern into a busy life can feel foreign and even a little intimidating. You’re committed to this new approach but can’t understand why it’s so hard to do the homework prescribed.

This is all normal.

5 tips for changing movement patterns

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when changing a movement pattern:

  1. Keep it slow. Let the new movement, and your understanding of it feel slow and strange for a while. Like ruts in a dirt road, your brain wants to take the same paths it has been taking. Reducing the speed will allow your brain to move through new pathways, instead of defaulting to the old pattern. It may take a lot of focus to stay out of the ruts that you’ve been in, so keep movements slow in the beginning and let the capacity to increase speed come in time.
  2. Expect brain fog. New movements tend to feel mentally exhausting. Cognitive work is still work! When re-grooving new patterns, the mental load may feel heavier than the physical load. You may find that you have difficulty staying focused, or even have feelings of anger, anxiety, or frustration bubbling up to the surface. This is all normal! Take a water break or focus on breathing calmly for a few seconds before starting again.
  3. Use visual cues. Take a video, watch yourself in a mirror, or ask your coach to watch and give you feedback. Let other tools support you until you’re more familiar with what corrections need to be made.
  4. Practice habit stacking. What’s something that you already do every day? Waiting for the coffee to brew? Sitting in the pick-up line at school? Plan to practice your new movement at one of these times so that it is automatically built into your day, rather than having to set aside a specific time for it. 10 great lunges or 5 deep breaths with spinal alignment as your lunch is heating in the microwave can be a great way to fit in practice when adding new tasks feels overwhelming.
  5. Celebrate awareness. If, in the course of the day or during a workout you notice that you’ve returned to an old pattern but corrected it, that’s a win and deserves celebration! It shows that you have awareness where you didn’t before. It also shows that your brain is responding to your attempts to create a new habit and, in time, you will have new, better patterns to build on. The future looks bright!

If you’re looking for a place that provides integrated care with a team of massage therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and movement specialists, check out Well Balanced Eugene. Our business model is designed to identify the root causes of pain and create comprehensive, personalized plans. We love to empower our clients to get and stay active and pain-free.

Here is another useful link for changing your bench press form to alleviate shoulder pain.

To learn more about habit stacking, check out this blog by James Clear.