Saturday, December 1, 2012

From Functional Oblivion to Renaissance

A year ago, I decided to give up playing tennis as my body was revolting, read that whichever way you want.

Over the last 10 years, arthroscopies on both knees identified the beginnings of osteoarthritis and the medical advice at the time, was to give up playing tennis to slow down the rate of damage.

Last spring, when both my ankles started being painful during and after tennis, it looked as though I would have to take that advice, though difficult, as I earn my living as a tennis coach.

Ignoring the financial implications for the moment, my recreational options also now seemed limited, leaving golf ( for me a hack, a walk, looking for a ball, etc) and walking, which although enjoyable, would always come a poor second to the challenges of ball striking, at least in my mind.

We inhabit three dimensional bodies, we are driven to perform tasks(function), in all three planes of motion, working with the forces of gravity, ground reaction, mass and momentum.

Functional oblivion seems an apt description as I could see no obvious solution, other than to give up the activities( functions) I could no longer manage.

Fortunately for me that proved not to be the case, I play more and better tennis these days, my range and speed of movement have improved dramatically and the stiffness and soreness I used to experience after activity, are now much less and manageable, a true functional renaissance.

My understanding of the reasons for my slide into functional oblivion was that it started slowly and was a likely combination of; loss of fitness over time, poor preparation for activity, weight gain a.k.a. life style choices ( I ate and drank too much), and not getting any younger.

The biomechanical reality, however, was that my knees had been taking the strain of most of my activity (functions), to compensate for range of motion problems I had with my ankle joints, my calf muscles, my hamstrings and hips, to name but a few.

A biomechanical function (task) is a three dimensional chain reaction. I didn't know at the time, which of my muscle and joint problems was the cause, but the result was a breakdown in the chain, during function, which exposed my knees to increased strain and subsequent damage.

Dorsiflexion ( bending of the lower leg at the ankle) was inhibited in my case and is likely to have been influenced by the semi permanent eversion (outside edge) of my right foot, through landing and take of, leading to problems at both joints at the ankle.

It wasn't necessary for me to understand the causes in detail, as I had direct experience of the outcomes; the area above the attachment of the achilles to the heel (Calcanean tendon) was tender and sore, my calf muscles were tight especially the medial portion (Inside) of the gastrocnemius, my hip flexors and abdominals were weak, making a chain reaction of muscles and joints in function, in all three planes of motion, near impossible.

All biomechanical performance in functions, whether simply walking or using complex motor skills in games like tennis, require a chain reaction in the neuromuscular-skeletal system
Over time, I had become more and more aware of these deficiencies, which led to fewer peak performances and increasing levels of stiffness and soreness in my knees and ankles.

The other significant by product was a negative and antagonistic demeanor, some might say no change there then, but declining function does little for your outlook when the only thing traveling fast in your life is the approach of your sixth decade.

It's been my experience in life, that we find many of the answers to our problems, seemingly by accident.

I was introduced to an Applied Functional Science therapist, one of only a handful in the UK, by a tennis client of mine and my functional renaissance started there and then.

My rehabilitation has led to my personal study of Applied Functional Science and a continuing interest in developing my fitness for function.

This has not been a silver bullet cure, it is an ongoing live project to regain function and manage the inevitable decline inherent in the process of aging.

The damage to my knees cannot be undone (joint replacement surgery is not for me) but my ongoing involvement with Applied Functional Science methods mean that I am now fit for a whole range of functions and the much much lower levels of stiffness and soreness I suffer, suggest damage limitation.

My daily (practically) stretching and strengthening routines in all three planes of motion, working with the forces of gravity, ground reaction, mass and momentum mean that I can work more effectively, play as much tennis as I want and to a higher level than before, I can play golf (badly but improving) walk and do all the other tasks and activities that are everyday life, with renewed zest, vigor and performance, a true renaissance.

As I approach my sixth decade, a three month physical check, last week, measured my metabolic age at 44 (down from 48), my muscle mass was up 10 lbs, my body fat was down 3.6% with my weight remaining constant.

Without dieting (I did experiment with gluten free, a la Djokovic, for a short while), I lost nearly 30 lbs over 6 months last year and have sustained that over the winter, normally a time of weight gain for me (less tennis, more comforting winter food and a little (more) red wine), using Applied Functional Science based routines.

I think it's an inevitable that some people, faced with declining powers, will look for ways to arrest or reverse that decline, some looking for renaissance and others for nirvana.

For me it was neither as I was more in tune with the notion of growing old gracefully, but it was becoming obvious that my loss of function was premature and definitely not graceful.

There are several industries devoted to helping us part with money to achieve one notion or another of nirvana.

In my opinion, based on personal experience, Applied Functional Science is not one of them, there are no pills and potions, miracle exercises, or fanciful notions, instead it is truth based, evidence based and scientifically based.

Applied Functional Science at the Gray Institute, is a more than 30 year study and understanding(incomplete) of how the body was designed to work. The practitioners don't claim to have all the answers but they appear to be are asking the right questions.

I have, over time, been treated by orthopedic consultants, physiotherapists, pilates instructors, fitness trainers, osteopaths and masseuses all with no lasting benefit and at some cost.

Whatever your functional goals are, you may benefit from following my personal journey and seeing what Applied Functional Science has done for me.

I should make clear at this stage that Applied Functional Science is for the benefit of all, whatever age and whether you are an athlete in your prime or a slightly broken down weekend warrior like me.
AFS therapists (GIFT fellows) work in rehab, therapy and with peak performance athletes in a growing number of sports and have just launched a cooperation with NIKE for golf instruction.

I should also make clear that although I have a foundation level certificate in Applied Functional Science, this article and all my other videos and blogs are intended for information only and do not constitute medical advice conclusion, I challenge you to follow the links listed below, for a video supported blog of my journey and to then let me know whether I have proved the assertion, in the title of this piece (from functional oblivion to renaissance), as accurate or merely fanciful.

If I have really sparked an interest you can follow my blog as I continue to explain the Applied Functional Science routines and functional equipment I use.

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