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by Chris Ritter

December 23, 2014

The site of pesky pain may not be the real problem

If you’ve been swimming for any length of time, you’ve likely experienced some aches and pains. Whether it’s while you’re in the water or maybe a few hours after, most Masters swimmers will encounter some type of pain on occasion.

Pain is often caused by weakness or imbalance somewhere in your body. Finding and resolving that weakness can improve your pain situation.

If you experience sharp or recurring pain you should seek qualified medical attention for diagnosis and treatment.

The Kinetic Chain

Your entire body is connected and interdependent. The kinetic chain theory asserts that what happens in one part of your body will affect another part. A new theory has been developed to help simplify how you can look at the body through the kinetic chain lens.

The “joint-by-joint” approach was formulated by Gray Cook and Michael Boyle, pioneers in physical therapy and strength-training respectively. Their theory is that each joint’s primary need and training emphasis corresponds to the one above or below it in the kinetic chain. Through their years of training and rehabilitating people, Cook and Boyle recognized a pattern that emerged in how people’s bodies responded to either training or treatment and whether or not they suffered injuries in the future.

Cook and Boyle posit that joints alternate between mobility and stability. Mobility is similar to flexibility, but it describes more than just muscle length. It also includes the connecting tissue and the joint’s ability to move through an optimal range of motion in a controlled manner. Alternating between the mobility-driven joints are joints that want stability. Stability is the ability of a joint to be stable throughout movement and absorb stresses being placed on it while other parts of the body use this joint as an anchor.

Here’s what Cook and Boyle’s joint-by-joint theory actually looks like, starting from the ground up:

  • Your ankle needs mobility
  • Your knee needs stability
  • Your hip needs mobility
  • Your lumbar spine needs stability
  • Your thoracic spine needs mobility
  • Your scapula needs stability
  • Your shoulder needs mobility
  • Your neck needs stability

You’ll usually experience pain when the primary quality (either mobility or stability) of the joint is diminished. For example, if you start to lose your thoracic spine mobility, the result for swimmers is usually a pain in the shoulder joint or scapula area. Even though you feel the pain in your shoulder or scapula area, the problem could actually be in your limited thoracic spine mobility.

Another example: When you experience knee pain, it could be that your knee is trying to make up for a lack of mobility in either your ankle or hip. The knee, which is a joint that craves stability, begins to try capturing more mobility to make up for a poorly moving ankle or hip, the pain begins to appear around the knee joint.

In many cases, where you hurt might be the last place to look for the true source of your pain.


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  • Health and Nutrition