DIARY: Two specialists all the answers–Part 1

Last week I sought out two of the best specialists in their respective fields to help provide some answers of why I hear many tell me they think the answers are simple but they are not. Take an example: last week I got injured stretching (yes!). A simple calf-stretch with pressure on the foot has left the front of my foot sore for six days. It reminds me of the old joke about the goal-keeper who dislocated his shoulder operating a remote-control (apparently true!). I have healed while hiking over high mountain daily and run an ultra with no ill-effects. I have gotten injured doing just a few runs or, as in this case, stretching. What is going on? After a four year search and more specialists than you can shake a stick at, all the answers were finally revealed to me by Hagen Stroh, myoreflex therapist, and Antony Riddle, director of Gloves Boxing club and human movement expert.

Let’s start in chronological order with my trip to Greystones before moving on to our weekend in London to see Antony in Part 2:

Myoreflex therapy – your muscles remember

Like elephants, your muscles never forget anything done to them. Intuitively this should make sense: most of the things we can do without thinking (picking up a book, driving a car) are stored in our muscle memory. When doing a certain action, our body remembers the pattern necessary to replicate that movement.

But what if the pattern is remembered wrongly? You might have learned to walk up stairs early but you’re doing it wrong or you may have learned to protect yourself from a fall but what you are really doing is tensing up and making matters worse. Yet that is your “muscle-reflex” (myo-reflex).

These negative patterns store themselves in our muscles as “tension” and Hagen Stroh specialises in finding these points and “resetting” the muscle to return to its natural relaxed state. His education is trifold: a physiotherapist, myo-reflex therapist and naturopath (healing practitioner if translated literally from his German degree). He has treated an impressive array of world class football stars and regularly jets out to Real Madrid to treat some of their players. During a treatment session with Barry Minnock, the phone rang: it was Jürgen Klinsmann the great German striker and former national coach.

I felt instantly comfortable in the spotless and friendly clinic in Greystones as Hagen worked his “magic”, a very simple technique of looking for muscles that are tense even in their relaxed state and then essentially “poking” their reflex point while doing some light manipulation of the joints. My hip and posterior tibialis sported particularly painful spots not surprising given they are the traditional injury points. They are not, however, the cause of the injury as Hagen explained: “The fluid that showed up in your ankles on the scans is not the injury but just the body’s protective response to a load it cannot handle. The weakest point of the chain always breaks but that does not mean the injury comes from that area. In your case your ankles have generally proved the weakest point.”

Hagen went on to explain to me how the body grows in the foetus and how this process affects us later. The spinal cord and the hip area grow first with appendages following later. Nerve endings and veins all start in the core area, move out in the appendages, before coming back again. So must of Hagen’s work focuses around resetting the natural movement of the core. He went on to echo my own sentiment that “orthotics don’t fix feet, they fix shoes”. Excessive pronation does not arise from some innate flaw in our biomechanics, in my case it is simply caused by the hips malfunctioning. Something else has to compensate and unfortunately this compensation comes at a cost of increased injury-rate.

In preparation for my marathon next year, I am going to strike up a regular collaboration with Hagen with monthly sessions similar to what Sami Khadira and other professional soccer players enjoy. This makes sense: if you know you have negative patterns ingrained in your body, then you need them worked out regularly especially if there are many or if they tend to “recur” (which they will if you do not improve the way you move and live). Again, an ounce of prevention beats a pound of the cure.

Another issue Hagen addresses is the pattern by which our muscles tend to strengthen, that is, in the centre of the muscles while being weak at the furthest ends where they connect to the tendons. You do not need a doctorate to guess that this is a problem when engaging in sports requiring explosive or dynamic movements. When you run your muscles move through almost their full range of motion (unless stuck in a shuffle!) and the weak muscular development at the tendons is bound to cause injuries and performance issues. Doing a bicep curl of a leg curl like this is fine but that type of strengthening work will only exacerbate the existing imbalance. This affects all muscles: your hips and core muscles shorten from excessive sitting while your legs and arms likewise suffer from disuse.

Hagen’s cure is something called: “resistance stretching” (a loose translation from the German). I am currently reviewing the German material on this technique (an advantage of having grown up five kilometres from the border) but the concept is simple: you apply resistance over the full length of your muscle thus stimulating it to strengthen over the entire length and not just in the middle. This is the type of strength that a runner needs, as Arthur Lydiard puts it: “A runner needs the strength of a ballet dancer, not a weight-lifter”. Antony Riddle would tell me three days later how “body-building has contaminated most sports such as boxing, tennis and running”.

What was the cost: well, the session is a bit more expensive than the regular physiotherapist (95 euros) but Hagen has an impressive resume and takes his time with you and if you have any kind of health insurance you can claim back.

If I thought I had learned a lot during my hour with Hagen, I was in for a surprise, in part 2 I will look at how Antony Riddle put the remaining pieces of the puzzle together and introduced me to the concept of “fear of movement”…