Anatomy of an Injury – An Overview
When it comes to halting a racers progress both on and off of the track, nothing will stop you quicker than an injury. Unfortunately, for many racers, we have either become complacent to injuries and have adopted the mindset that “it is just part of the sport” or assumed that the injury is a result of overusing a particular muscle or group of muscles.
With the exception of trauma associated with direct impact, injuries are an imbalance within your performance variables: sleep, food, hydration, training (volume & intensity) and your ability to “absorb” the daily workloads that you subject your body to in an attempt to improve.
As surmised by Dr. Maffetone, injuries fall into three categories: mechanical, chemical & mental. Let’s review how each of these categories influence the status of your performance.
Let’s create a scenario. You wake up one morning and when you step out of bed you feel a “slight pull” in the arch of your right foot. You notice it, but you don’t think much more about it because within a few minutes of walking around the “slight pull” dissipates. For the next week, every morning when you take your first few steps, you feel the tenderness in your foot lasting progressively longer and instead of being a “slight pull” it is actually becoming painful to walk on it.
This pain is now lasting throughout the day and is beginning to negatively affect your workouts both on and off of the track. As you train and race, your body senses the pain in the arch of your right foot and counterbalances this pain by shifting the way that you walk, stand and position your feet on the pegs. You know that you should ride on the balls of your feet, but it hurts too much, so you begin riding on the arches (mechanical mistake) and your body adjusts more of your weight to your left leg, this causes your balance on the motorcycle to be shifted to the left which negatively effects your ability to jump, scrub, turn, etc. leaving you with slower lap times on the track.
Keep in mind, this entire chain of events wasn’t a byproduct of a high impact crash, instead it is your body compensating to some soft tissue issue that resulted in a loss of biomechanics. The key to avoiding a mechanical injury is a three step process: identify how the problem started, properly address the associated symptoms & implement a system to keep the issue from arising again.
Step One: Identify the Difference between the Pain Site & Pain Source
If we continue to use the illustration of your right arch in your foot, let’s say that you purchased a new pair of shoes and they didn’t fit properly for the type of training you are doing. Your left foot (notice the opposite side of the foot that hurts) gets tweaked during exercise which results in micro trauma (small tears in the muscle & connective tissue). While there are no symptoms (swelling, hot to the touch, etc.), this micro trauma is sensed by the brain and is immediately addressed with compensation – you shift your body weight from being equally distributed with both feet, to more weight being distributed to your right foot (the eventual site of your pain, but not source of the problem).
This distribution of more body weight to the right side of the body puts more loads on the bones and muscles which creates a “secondary compensation”; an excessive amount of load that has to be distributed to keep you upright and able to walk. This excessive load eventually weakens (because of fatigue) both the primary and secondary muscles become so tight (part of the compensation process), flexibility is limited and movement is creating micro tears in the tissue that your brain picks up as pain. When this point of the process is achieved, the muscles are like a tight guitar string and the slightest movement ends up being the “action” that you feel – a muscle tear or chronic tenderness.
Solution: find an experienced human performance coach or physical therapist who understands movement both on and off of the motorcycle to help you identify the source of your pain. If you can’t move without pain, you will never be able to achieve your full potential.
Step Two: address the symptoms.
It is not a rational thought to think that you can correct pain by acting as if it isn’t there – sometimes this means taking some time off! The therapy needed for dealing with symptoms needs to begin with the cause of the pain in the first place. In the illustration of your right foot, you need to source the problem all the way back to a poor fitting shoe that didn’t support your training efforts. Once you are put into the correct shoes, the body will cease making adaptations and compensations – this is the critical step to dealing with the painful symptoms. The body has an incredible natural ability to heal itself once the cause of the problem is properly addressed.
As a general rule of thumb, if the injury is acute (you have felt the pain for the first time within the last 48 hours), then apply ice for 10 minutes and then air temperature and manual massage for 10 minutes. If the symptom has persisted for more than 48 hours, apply ice for 10 minutes, moist heat for 10 minutes and air temperature/massage for 10 minutes. Repeat as many times as logistically possible.
Step Three: Prevent the Cycle of Pain Before it begins
Most racers are able to narrow down the source of an injury quite quickly when questioned. For example, if I ask an athlete how old their shoes are, they are able to tell me that they are 8 months old and not very comfortable to wear. They have literally narrowed down the source of the problem with just a few questions. The problem arises when racers ignore their body’s feedback relevant to pain and not make the necessary (usually easy) adjustments to keep the symptoms from getting worse.
When your body provides you an obvious signal – tenderness in your foot for example, stop and ask yourself what is actually going on. If you don’t stop, rest and evaluate what conditions have led to this situation, you will be eventually forced to stop resulting in more down time from riding & racing.
Chemical Injuries – Epstein Barr/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The typical racer spends most of his or her spare time riding, cross training, working/school and spending time with your family & friends. Riding & cross training is as common as eating lunch each day. However, you may notice that it is getting progressively harder to get through a workout or a race feeling strong. Additional symptoms may include irritability, weight gain, craving simple sugar, not sleeping well and getting ill frequently. Though this may not be as “painful” as a mechanical injury, you are chemically injured.
Although some chemical injuries may provide symptoms of inflammation, which can be painful, the most common characteristic of a chemical problem is that you feel tired and fatigue quickly when training and/or racing. To properly address chemical injuries, you must first rule out more serous conditions such as anemia (low red blood cell levels), infections or other disorders. To help narrow this condition quickly, a full panel blood test, evaluation of family history and a physical exam by a professional should be performed every three months.
A personal schedule that is spread too thin creates an environment where the ability to recover completely is hindered and the stress level placed on your adrenal system becomes excessive. Your adrenal system is designed to adapt and compensate for all the stress that you subject your body to on a daily and weekly basis.
With your adrenals not being able to sustain your stress levels, your bodily functions begin to decline.
- Blood sugar becomes unstable leading to fatigue
- The brain is deprived of the necessary sugar it needs, cravings & increased hunger follows.
- Irritability – because the brain is sensitive to relatively small changes in blood sugar
- Weight Gain – stress slows down your metabolism which causes your body to shift from using more sugar and less fat for fuel which leads weight gains
- Suppressed immune system – this leads to frequent illness and lingering sickness
- Allergies become more common & severe
Solution: clean up your personal schedule so that you are doing exactly what you have outlined in your personal schedule to maximize your mental focus and overall productivity. Additionally, add more high quality fat to satisfy your appetite and fuel your body with high quality MCT (medium chain triglycerides) for energy.
As stated by Dr. Maffetone, “a chemical may trigger impairment on a mental or emotional level.” If the brain becomes distorted from a chemical effect of diet, nutrition, excessive training volume or intensity, a mental injury can occur.
- Low desire to train
- Fearing competition
- High levels of anxiety
- Personal life and balance becoming stressful
- Decreased performance results (even with more effort being put into training)
A functional imbalance in the brain’s chemistry is a change in two neurotransmitters: Serotonin & Norepinephrine. The brain’s imbalance may be caused by a mismatched diet, lack of nutrients, or training too hard, too long or too often. Serotonin has a calming, sedative, or depressing effect in the brain. A high carbohydrate (high glycemic) meal, results in more serotonin production. Norepinephrine has a stimulating effect on the brain. A racer who is depressed could benefit from more of this brain chemical.
Overtraining frequently is preceded by too much anaerobic work. Anaerobic work creates excessive lactic acid which has been shown to create depression, anxiety and phobias amongst racers. The catalyst for this is an overstimulation of the adrenal glands, and occurs with the release of endorphins.
The key to optimum performance is to think through how the problems were created and implement a specific process to pull you out of the negative environment and into an environment that yields optimum health, wellness and ultimately performance. Each injury needs to be seen as part of the racer and each racer must be approached individually based on age, experience, status of the injury, how the body responds to therapy and overall goals.
Finally, step back and review this entire process. It has taken weeks, maybe months, for your injury to get to the point where you stop and address the issue with therapy. And all along this process, your body has not been healthy and your performance has been negatively affected.
Next week we discuss: The Anatomy of an Injury: Knees & Ankles. If you have any questions or need anything clarified, please email me directly.
Until next time, Train Smart-Not Hard!