If you’re a sports or fitness coach who wants to help their clients avoid the debilitating painful condition of osteoarthritis, or if you have clients in your sessions who have this condition already, this article is for you.
In fact, it’s for every single coach who coaches anybody over the age of 40, because this is usually when our clients start to be more aware of their aches and pains, and it’s when our bodies start to deteriorate the most.
It’s by working with your clients NOW on this issue, that will help you save them from suffering the pain of osteoarthritis later on in their lives.
Let’s be clear before we start that we are dealing with osteoarthritis, not rheumatoid arthritis. They are totally different conditions.
Osteoarthritis is the one that you can actually help with. It is often described as “wear and tear”, it’s when bone rubs directly on bone. Your clients will suffer from painful, dry, stiff joints, as the cartilage has gradually worn away.
But before we dive into how you can help, first we need to know how osteoarthritis began in the first place.
This is a condition that develops so gradually that it’s barely noticeable for decades, which means that it actually starts decades before we think it does, because osteoarthritis is just the name that’s given for the condition once the damage has already reached a certain point.
But, a lifetime of repetitive movement, of incremental shortening of the tissue around the joint, causes our bones to shift in their position and creates excess pressure on the joint itself.
This means that there is unequal pressure on the cartilage inside the joint, and that’s how it starts to wear away. Over many years, the incremental shortening of the tissue around the joint sustains the pressure on the joint and this means that the cartilage continues to wear away until it disappears completely and that’s how bone ends up rubbing on bone.
Let’s take the knee for example.
In a normal, healthy knee, there’s a big gap between the bones which means that there’s no excess pressure on the cartilage, lots of blood can get through the surrounding tissue (delivery lots of nutrients) and the cartilage is plump.
But with osteoarthritis, the shortened tissue around the joint has meant that the thigh bone (usually) has changed position, there’s an unequal balance, and there’s lots and lots of pressure on the knee joint. This results in the cartilage losing its hydration, all its nutrients and starts to become thin, dry and brittle.
The increased pressure of the bones being pulled together makes moving the knee uncomfortable and eventually, when the bone ends start rubbing on each other, it creates a lot of pain and damage to the bone ends. And that results in excruciating pain.
So how can we help as fitness coaches? Well, the first thing to know is that we are not trying to fix anything, we cannot undo the damage that’s created to the bone ends by osteoarthritis, but we can help increase the gap between the bones.
If we focus our efforts on lengthening the tissue around the joint that’s holding those bones to close together, we can increase the distance between the bone ends, which means we can reduce the amount of pain and we can stop the amount of deterioration that’s happening.
When we do this, the tissue becomes less twisted and less compressed, which increases the blood flow, gives better nutrients, and restores hydration into the joint.
As a result of lengthening the tissue around the joint and unwinding the compressive spiral, we can make a significant contribution to reducing the pain. But, it is important to recognise that the intention is not that we fix the pain. Our intention is that we improve the joint’s ability to move and function properly.
This cannot happen through foam rolling. While this approach might help to force blood into the tissue, it won’t unwind the compressive spiral, which we need to do to improve the gap between the bones.
And while stretching might attempt to lengthen the tissue, this may not unwind the spiral either.
But when we apply non-painful, variety of movement, we can lengthen the tissue and unwind the compressive spiral at the same time.
What is Applied Variety of Movement? It’s choosing activities and directions of movement that are (in this case), specifically designed to improve the spacing between the bones.
As sports and fitness coaches, non-painful movement is something that we’re really rather good at, and when we can blend a layer of simple injury prevention knowledge to those skills, we become perfectly placed to make a significant contribution to our clients and their injury problems or conditions.
And it’s not just on the physical front either.
Anyone with the condition or who knows anyone with the condition will tell you that osteoarthritis is not just a physical condition.
Pain has an obvious limiting factor on a person’s ability to move, but the emotional toll of long-term pain is very, very debilitating.
The emotional effects of long-term pain can include depression, anxiety, withdrawal from friends and family (for fear of being a burden), unwillingness to go outdoors (for fear of losing balance or aggravating the pain) and much more.
If you’ve ever seen anybody with long term pain, they have a look of weariness about them, because eventually, every single movement becomes painful.
If we add to this the fact that the medical professionals are telling them that there’s no cure for osteoarthritis, there’s nothing that can be done about it, it makes patients feel like they’re helpless and that they’re just stuck with this endless pain forever.
In some cases, this leads to a reliance on pain medication, which in itself, leads to extra complications.
But as a sports or fitness coach, you have the power to not only help with that, but to actually prevent it from happening in the first place.
By using your coaching skills and applying variety of movement to your exercises, you can bring hope and a sense of control to your clients who are already suffering. And, when you’re coaching people who aren’t suffering yet, your variety of movement skills will instill the approach and the attitudes that your clients take longer term – even decades later, when they’re no longer being coached by you.
Remember, osteoarthritis doesn’t happen overnight. Nobody wakes up one morning, going “oh, I’ve got osteoarthritis in my knee”, all of a sudden. It takes decades.
It’s that ankle sprain that happened when you were a kid, and it never really moved properly after that. It’s the cartilage tear you had in your knee joint 20 years ago. It’s all these things that happen to our bodies that have an incremental impact, that result in the development of osteoarthritis.
If we can start to put practices in place to help our clients to unwind all of these problems, increase those gaps, keep those joints moving and healthy and hydrated as much as we possibly can in every single session – regardless of age, then we have a chance of actually preventing osteoarthritis for our clients.
Of course, not every coach is going to reach this level of understanding, not every coach is going to care. But that means that you can stand head and shoulders above those coaches, because you are going above and beyond for your clients, safeguarding them from issues both now and in the future.
If you’re excited by this prospect and would like to learn more about how powerful your coaching skills really are, then I’d like to invite you to check out my FREE book “The Coaches Guide to Long-Term Injury Prevention Success” – you’ll be blown away at how easy it is to help your clients avoid pain!