Body Of Knowledge

Look after yourself from the inside out with this guide to musculoskeletal health


Posted: 23 November 2009

Triathlon is holistic. No other sport works so many muscle groups in so many ingeniously torturous ways. So it makes sense to think about the body from top to toe, inside and out. Bones, muscles, tendons and nerves work together and any problem can cause a chain reaction that affects your entire performance. "It's like driving a fast car that's perfectly tuned, except for the brakes," says Robin Lansman, an osteopath who runs a sports clinic at the British School of Osteopathy (BSO) in London. "The more you demand of your body, the bigger the impact a small problem will have."  

Carpal tunnel syndrome

This common form of repetitive strain injury doesn't afflict only overworked typists. When the hand is bent back for long periods, it cramps the wrist's median nerve, which runs down the arm and into the hand. This leads to tingling and numbness in the thumb and first three fingers of the affected hand. Spending too long training on your bike can put pressure on the median nerves, so it's important to ensure your positioning is correct.

Sort it out

Even if you have a secondhand bike, don't settle for second-rate positioning. Raise your handlebars to a comfortable height and swivel the grips so your knuckles face forward, rather than up. 

Try this

Stand upright and extend both hands in front of you, palms to the floor. Stretch out and hold for a count of five. Relax, form a fist and bend each wrist down towards the floor. Hold for a count of 10, before uncurling your fists and relaxing. Repeat 10 times. 

Back pain

A common complaint among triathletes, back ache ruins many a transition from bike to run. A study from Finland's University of Jyväskylä showed that triathletes suffered lower back pain as often as do other athletes. Fortunately, the majority of the cases studied were minor soft-tissue injuries. The study suggested that cycling was a major contributing factor to these injuries. A good cycling position is vital, as is good general posture. 

Sort it out

"Look at all your lifestyle habits: how you sit, how you stand, how many pillows you use at night," advises Lansman. If you work with a computer, always remember to stand and stretch your whole body before cycling home from work. 

Try this

The reverse curl strengthens your abs and lower back. Lie on your back with your legs up and bent at the knee. Pull abs in as you inhale and curl your knees towards your chest. Slowly lower your legs and breathe out, feeling your abs relax. Repeat five times. 

Shin splints 

As an endurance athlete, you tread a fine line between using and abusing your muscles. The term shin splints generally relates to pain resulting from inflamed calf  muscles, tendons in the lower leg or the thin layer of tissue covering the tibia. It's a common injury for runners that can develop if you over-stride and hit the floor flat. Your foot must then extend heavily, putting strain on the ankle joint, tendons and muscles, causing tenderness and pain. It can also be caused by the wrong shoes, overtraining or excessive training on hard surfaces. 

Sort it out

Always have a gait analysis before investing in a new pair of running shoes. The right footwear is especially crucial when you're running over uneven surfaces, so be particularly wary of worn-out trail-running shoes.

Try this

Toe raises gently relax and stretch the calf muscles. Stand upright and slowly rise onto your toes, holding that position for a count of three. Lower and repeat 10 times. 

Iliotibial band syndrome

Running down the outside of the leg from your pelvis to your knee, the iliotibial band takes a lot of strain. Constantly extending and contracting the leg means that the band needs to work overtime, making it prone to inflammation. This is the hidden cause of many apparent knee injuries, so if you experience a stinging sensation or any tenderness in that area, have your iliotibial band checked out. If you don't, it can become the kind of niggling injury than just won't go away.

Sort it out

Think about the surfaces on which you train most often. A flat, smooth running track is ideal but a banked surface will unbalance the body and put strain on the hips. 

Try this

This gentler version of a full body squat stretches all the relevant muscles. Sit on a chair, with arms extended straight out. Breathe in as you stand slowly and stop the movement just before you are fully upright. Hold for five seconds, then sit. Repeat 10 times. 

For more information about the BSO's specialist sports clinic, visit www.bso.ac.uk


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