Photo credit: Brian Faas
At one time or another we all heard this mantra, so we pushed ourselves through the pain and kept going. The older you get the less you believe this but between the PT instructors, DI’s and SCAT trainers LEO’s as a whole have been taught to just accept that pain is normal.
Is pain normal? Is pain a good thing?
Recently I taught a class to a small city’s police department, they have a large street presence and are especially heavy on the patrol side. Needless to say these LEO’s spend all day of every shift in the car. At the beginning of each class I ask everyone to attempt to perform a table top stretch for hip rotation (figure1). Hip rotation is vitally important since all of your power and all of your tactical stances come from your hips. BUT when you lose rotation, especially on one side, pain and injury will occur.
Carefully attempt the stretch as shown, use a table or a desk, and pay attention to which hip has less flexibility or if they are equal pay attention to which hip feels tighter or elicits more pain during the stretch.
In the perfect world both hips would have the exact same range of motion, but you do not live or work in the perfect world. Anytime there is an imbalance in the hips, or any joints for that matter, your body is being set up for injury. Sure it may not happen now but when you do not move properly the joints above and below the imbalance automatically take additional strain and injury will occur. Just like driving with 3 well inflated tires and on that is very low, something has to and will give.
Back to my LEO’s in our small city; most of them have lost the ability to get both legs flat on the table and in the position shown. This clearly tells me that we have some officer’s that are being set up for injury and pain. The scary part is that we cannot predict when this injury will occur; it can come on a call or during training or in the gym. The bottom line is that it will occur if left uncorrected. We will see the pain begin first on the lower back and then the knee. Eventually you may even experience pain on the inside of the hip to the point that getting in and out of the car becomes uncomfortable and even painful.
By the time you stop ignoring the pain and seek help the disks in your lumbar spine have gone through degenerative changes and the hip/knee joints have begun to break down. All of this is a predictable cascade effect BUT if it’s predictable it’s also preventable!
Step 1: Mobilize the Tissue every day before your shift. The data and the science are very clear, if you spend 5 minutes on a foam roller (the thing that ALL professional athletes use prior to a game) your tissue will be looser, have better range of motion, have improved blood flow and it will simply feel better. Plus after you spend 5 minutes rolling your stretches are much more effective.
Think of the hip and the upper leg as a box. The front of the box is the front of the leg, the back of the box is your glute and hamstring etc. Begin rolling the front looking for the MOST PAINFUL spots, spend 5-10 seconds massaging the nasty spots, then explore the inside of the box, the outside and finally the back of the box.
Step 2: Activate the tissue so that it moves better. We have all heard to never stretch cold; now that you have spent 5 minutes rolling you have ‘warmed up’ enough to safely and more effectively go through some pre-shift/training stretches.
a. The table top stretch we began with is still good so let’s go there and hold for 60 seconds each side.
b. Next focus on the inner thigh, while there are many ways to stretch the inner thigh the stretch pictured can be done in uniform and will not untuck your vest/shirt too much.
c. The hip flexor is next in line as we work around the ‘box’, hold this stretch for 60 seconds each side just like the others. The hood/trunk of your car works just fine for this stretch or a desk/table will do the trick as well, keep your torso upright throughout the stretch.
d. The final stretch is for the hamstrings. As shown keep your hips square and both knees locked as you hold this stretch for 45-60 seconds. The object you use to prop the foot on does not need to be very high.
Back to our LEO’s from our small city one last time. We had all the officers get on the foam roller and attack the ‘box’ for 5 minutes. Then we had all the officer’s go through the 4 stretches. After they had rolled and stretched we immediately had them go back to the table top hip stretch and ALL the LEO’s had improved their range of motion and had a reduction in pain.
Brothers & Sisters, we make injury prevention far too complicated. You and only you have a simple choice here… stop ignoring the pain and be proactive toward your body or pretend it’s not there but we know what’s going to happen if you continue to ignore what your body is trying to tell you.