A few weeks ago, I went to Ikea to search for a new couch. Now, as all of you who have been to Ikea know, this is no small feat. That place is designed to make you walk the entire warehouse so you buy as much as possible! I knew this ahead of time so I was prepared to go. As it was a very cold day, I wore warm, rigid soled boots, a heavy coat, and brought my purse full of credit cards.
As I was nearing the end of my five mile trek around the store, I began to notice that my lower back and right SI joint were hurting. At first, it wasn’t clear to me why. I was not wearing heels, nor was I lifting or carrying anything particularly heavy. In fact, I was pushing to cart at times. Then, I realized my problem. I hadn’t really prepared for this trip at all. I had made some small, but impactful errors.
First, my shoes were all wrong. For the amount of standing and walking I was going to do, I needed proper tennis shoes (preferably PRI approved shoes). Although my boots were appropriately rigid through the midfoot of the shoe, they lacked the support to keep my spine aligned and allow my body to move with proper mechanics.
Next, I wasn’t swinging my arms. Pushing the cart, carrying a purse, and even putting my hands in my coat pockets at times were causing my arms to locked into a position while my lower body moved. This not only causes a lot of tension as the mobile structures of the pelvis and hips meet the static structures of my ribcage and thoracic spine (hence my lower back and SI pain), it also causes a biomechanical mess. When we walk, our arms are meant to swing for a few reasons. It promotes momentum we can use to help propel ourselves forward and conserve energy. It also requires is to use the opposite arm and leg at the same time. This promotes normal mechanics and a lot range of motion to take place within the body while still staying balanced.
The point is, daily, nagging pain can be made or broken in the details of what you do, how you do it, and what you’re wearing. If I had simply kept my hands swinging an wore proper footwear, I would have likely been pain-free for the trip - with the exception of my wallet of course!
That may be hard to see for people that have been in pain for some time. When our pain levels get to a certain threshold or we’ve been dealing with this pain for a long enough time, simple changes like these as well as active participation in your rehab exercises need to be practiced regularly in order for the painful tissue to heal. At this stage, you may not notice a large impact in your pain by swinging your arms, but remember that it makes a large impact in the overall time it takes your body to heal. Once your pain becomes intermittent, then you’ll be able to notice things that effect your pain such as footwear, positioning of your body, movement strategies, etc.
Written by Lesley Callaham, MPT, PRC on January 16, 2018