How to Assess Shoulder Pain and Instability with The TAOFit Method

Assess Shoulder Pain and Instability

The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains
“The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains” by Dynamic Neuromuscular Assessment. On my list of “must-have” poster sets (link below).

This class is an example of how the TAOFit Method can be used to assess shoulder pain and instability.

As an assessment, I am looking at gait mechanics through a neuro-muscular-fascial-structural lens. Assessing the relationships between the anterior and posterior core spirals of the wrist, arm, shoulder, and spine through the thoracolumbar fascia to the contralateral hip, knee, and foot. 

Below is a case study (I am the subject). The class is 64 minutes followed by a brief Q&A. In the Q&A, I dive a bit more into the movement anatomy and theory of The TAOFit Method.

Case Study:

Two weeks ago, I participated in a men’s gathering in the rugged mountains of southern Oregon. It was a phenomenal weekend with an amazingly diverse group of masters. Over two days, we did a navigation challenge (maps and compasses). I hiked up and down steep gorges 10+ miles the first day and 15+ miles the second day. This was a significant increase in movement volume and intensity compared to my general conditioning program.

Afterward, I experienced minimal pain and noticeable swelling in the right knee joint (loss of about 10-20 degrees of deep knee flexion). Totally normal for me considering the circumstances and nothing unexpected. Overall, my body held up better than expected. 

A brief and incomplete injury history:

Going back to 1998, I’ve had six total knee surgeries. Both knees experience true instability with the tendency for pain, inflammation and/or swelling after intense physical challenge.

The right knee has a full PCL rupture. Due to true PCL instability, there is a significant shifting of the femoral head on the tibial plateau with every step, lunge, and/or squat.

  • Two PCL reconstructions with partial meniscectomy (1998 & 1999) – PCL reconstruction failure both surgeries 
  • Two surgeries to clear staph infection (1999 & @ 2002)
  • One ACL reconstruction with partial meniscectomy (2006)
  • Signs of degenerative arthritis via X-Ray over the years

The left knee has some medial meniscus removed (affecting tibiofemoral stability). The head of the femur has a tendency to slide off the tibial plateau when in a deep knee bend with tibial rotation

  • A partial meniscectomy (2016 or 2017) 

As well as multiple concussions, whiplash incidents, and other joint traumas from years as a competitive athlete (college basketball) and a self destructive lifestyle (not taking care of my body).

Returning Home

I drove back home from southern Oregon to Austin, Texas with my son. The drive was 32 hours. We completed it in 41 hours. Two days of hard-driving – i.e. sitting, and next to zero restorative movements (I’m a bit of a masochist 😊).

The first day back, a neighbor gave away a 4×8 foot piece of solid plywood (weighs between 60-85 lbs). I loaded it by myself into the truck, As I lifted the board, my nervous system spoke loudly. I felt my left shoulder become neurological unstable and mildly painful (3 to 4 on the pain scale of 10). Not terrible, but definitely “off”. As the day progressed, left shoulder stability continued to deteriorate, especially with stabilizing away from the midline of the body through the elbow and hand (example – getting up from the ground). Stability remained solid and non-painful with carrying and hanging. But active pull-ups felt unsafe.

As I took some quality time to self-assess movement, using the above template, I noticed significant core imbalances in the core relationships between the posterior left shoulder to the contralateral right hip, knee, and foot.


The current hypothesis that I’m working with is that the active inflammation and swelling caused neurological instability within the knee. This had a cascading affect to the complex relationships between the right foot, hip and spine (and from the spine it can spill out into anything and everything).  As a secondary stability strategy, my left shoulder compensated by neurologically increasing the bracing patterns around the shoulder complex. (examples of bracing patterns – humeral compression within the glenoid fossa and humeral internal rotation to wind up the fascial spiral). 

As a protective mechanism, this bracing strategy (i.e. compensation) generates greater structural stability within the contralateral hip and shoulder during the loading phase of gait mechanics (walking, running, crawling, climbing, swimming). This is a fantastic strategy for a wild human. It allows us to keep moving while preventing a more devastating injury. 

Basically, with each step, my left shoulder was neurologically tasked to provide greater stability and tension to support an unstable right knee related to gait. When I lifted the bulky plywood, it blew out the neurological stability of the shoulder complex (analogous to blowing a circuit breaker). 

Assess Shoulder Pain and Instability and Resetting the Circuit

Through the movement assessment, I am comparing the quality of movement at the edges of range of motion that are pain-free vs. pain-“yes”. I am using pain as a guide to building a highly sensitive movement map (i.e. where can I move safely, non-painfully, and with solid motor control).

At the same time, I am slowly exploring the edges of the map. The goal is to restore joint-by-joint neurological connection, integration, and stability. Slowly challenging each segment to connect into larger and larger multi-segment chains.

This doesn’t always happen in a single session. Depending upon the injury history, it can take days, weeks, or months to fully integrate. However, the results tend to be powerful. My shoulder isn’t 100%. But within the first 2-3 days, I’ve had 70-80% improvement in pain level, stability, strength, and function. Between 4-7 days, the shoulder is at 80-90% with the addition of light push-ups, pull-ups and climbing. 

Findings of Interest from Assessment:

  • Imbalance of core integration related to gait
    • Anterior Spiral – right hip to left shoulder 
    • Posterior Spiral – left hip to right shoulder
  • Lumbar spine
    • Neurologically “stuck” in right lumber lateral flexion T12-L5 & Sacrum 
  • Thoracic spine
    • Neurologically “stuck” in left lateral flexion
    • Possible disc degeneration and/or spinal nerve impingement on the left between T6-T10 
  • Spinal compression C3-T1
    • Neurologically “stuck” in left rotation and lateral flexion
    • Possible vagal nerve impingement causing occasional heart arrhythmia (atrial fibrillation with tachycardia)
    • Movement restriction in left rotation and left lateral flexion
  • Left shoulder
    • The humerus is “stuck” in compression (posterior capsule) and internal rotation
    • Movement restriction and Pain with external rotation
  • Right hip
    • Neurologically “stuck” in compression
    • Movement restriction with external rotation 
  • Left hip
    • Neurologically “stuck” in anterior compression

Gift Economy

My movement practice is something deeply Spiritual. This movement philosophy is a part of a daily practice. A method of movement that I have cultivated over decades of study with many amazing teachers. It requires consistency, something I occasionally fall short. But considering my long and well-earned injury history, the more consistent I am in this practice, the more I able to participate in cool adventures like hiking 10-15 miles through the mountains. Something, after the first knee surgery, the doctors told me I’d never be able to do again. 

Structurally, at the age of almost 48, my body has the physical wear and tear of an 80-year-old, yet I experience less physical pain and greater overall freedom of movement, skill, and capacity than many 30-year-olds. Considering I’ve had six knee surgeries with true joint instability in both knees, I maintain a pretty solid level as a highly functional, Dysfunctional mover.  My hope is to be able to play in the rugged mountains well into my 90’s. If successful, this video holds a few of the secrets that I’ve learned.

I hope you find value in this class. If so, I would love to hear your feedback.  What did you discover? Please post a comment below. If it was a “super awesome” discovery, it would be super awesome if you liked, subscribed, and shared this video with your tribe. Tell us about your discovery and tag The Art of Fitness on the post. It helps us to grow The TAOFit tribe.

If you are

  • Experiencing chronic physical pain
  • Experience pain with any of these movements
  • Find these movements to be extraordinarily challenging
  • Are a Movement Coach/Teacher who wants to learn about movement assessment
  • Or are simply interested and ready to change your life by developing a daily natural movement practice

Read the Rules of Pain

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You can start the journey at $10/month. Your support helps us create more amazing content and promote The Movement Movement. 

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Continue reading “How to Assess Shoulder Pain and Instability with The TAOFit Method”

Chair Yoga for Back Pain

Chair Yoga for Back PainIf you are like me, you experience occasional to chronic back tension or pain. If you want to feel better, you need to move better. The most important place for you to move your body is the very place you spend the most amount of time… your chair. If you sit to make a living… you need to move from that very seat you’re on now. And not just a little… you need to do it often… throughout the day… the more the better… Chair Yoga for Back Pain.

A big goal of mine is to teach you how to integrate 60-120 minutes of cumulative movement… performed in multiples of 30 seconds, 1-5 minute increments, and a 20-30 minute movement sessions… every day, including your preferred sports, activities, and hobbies.

This may sound like a lot, but It is totally doable. The good thing is that the movements you need to do don’t take much time or effort.  And the best part is that they provide an amazing payoff.  As long as you do them Pain-Free, I’m certain that you will feel much better physically and mentally. Your work productivity will improve. You’ll feel increased energy, reduce pain and injury; and so much more.

Monday Movement Flow of the Week

Below is a three-part video series of super sweet chair movements. When combined, they make for a healthier spine; ease back tension and pain; as well as provide an overall enormous bang for your movement buck. If you’re not already practicing full three-dimensional spinal movement, then I suggest starting here.

I will be practicing these movements with you. I will post my daily flow on Instagram and Facebook. These movements are important for your body. In my videos and descriptions, you will see a few of the great feeling variations of movement you can add to this very simple flow.

My challenge to you is… Do these movements, NON-PAINFULLY, every day, at least once/sitting day – up to once for every 1-2 hours that you sit. Keep the repetitions low 3-5 reps per movement. Once you have the movements down, it should only take 1-3 minutes to go through this flow. I’m more concerned with frequency throughout the day than massive reps at any one point during the day.

Begin the movement exploration easy and reach a little further with each extension, so that your last is the longest. REMINDER: Pain-Free! Try it out for a week and let me know how your body feels.

Chair Yoga for Back Pain

No Pain:
In each of these movements. If you feel pain. Stop first!!! Tell me second. Send me a message or leave a comment and tell me what you’re feeling. I can’t promise to have the solution, but I may be able to point you in a helpful direction. I will be addressing pain in some upcoming posts… If you don’t want to miss them… subscribe to my blog on my website (on the annoying pop-up window to the bottom right corner).

Seated Cat/Cow

Early on, I like to focus my exhale with spinal flexion of the cat… and inhale with the extension of the cow. Paying attention to the fullness of my breath. Can I fill my chest? Ribs? Belly? And pelvic floor? Do I feel tension or resistance? I breathe into it softly until the tension opens and releases into a fuller breathe… then I reverse my breath… and feel for more tension.

I love this movement because I can feel the full segmental flexion and extension of my spine. And when I can’t because of back tension or pain… my body knows the movements… and these movements can help release the tension… reducing the pain.

This can be done with head held in extension or allowing full flexion similar to traditional quadrupedal cat/cows. I also like to add in head and neck mobility in both positions.


Seated Side Body Lengthening
2 of 3 Chair Yoga videos

Pay attention to the fullness of your breath. Can you fill your chest? Ribs? Belly? And pelvic floor? Do you feel tension or resistance? Breathe into it softly until the tension opens and releases into a fuller breathe… Next… reverse your breath… and feel for more tension.

I love this movement for how it lengthens my spine in lateral extension without moving the opposite side into lateral flexion… and I can feel it from my fingertips, throughout my arm and shoulder, through my low back side body, into hips, down to the knee. This is a position of length that our bodies rarely experience… and desperately need.

Seated Rotation

Same as above.

I love this movement for its focus on the relationship between the thoracic spine to hips. I can feel spine move segment by segment… I can sense which joints are allowing movement and which are holding it down. Once I find a good spot… I will softly move in and out of it… encouraging length… without forcing it. It should feel like a soft stretch… not massive.

Did you found these videos helpful? Please check out my Patreon page to learn how you can help support this work.

Please pardon the editing. With your help, I am working on hiring a content manager 😊

Jumping and Landing

Do you jump well?

Jumping and Landing

Woman doing box jump Jumping is a powerful exercise with many great benefits. However, your jumping is only as good as your ability to land efficiently.

Landing is the equivalent of the brakes on your car. It’s your ability to slow down or stop momentum. It is your body’s ability to absorb the energy of impact. The inability to land efficiently is a huge reason for pain and injury.
Landing is one of the most important movement skills that most people don’t do well. Something that makes landing doubly important is it is a part of the ONE movement you do more than any other… Walking/Running Gait mechanics.

If you don’t land well, then every step you take loads a poor movement pattern into your body. If you take the recommended 10,000 steps a day, eventually something is going to hurt.

Landing Phase of Gait
Jumping and Landing

With each footfall, impact energy should be absorbed throughout the kinetic chain of your body – i.e. joint by joint from your feet to head and back out through the opposite foot – like a loaded spring.

When this full body loaded spring isn’t functioning optimally due to injury, overtraining, or just lack of use, it is unable to absorb and unload energy efficiently. This creates energy leaks somewhere in the kinetic chain. Your body still has to slow down or stop momentum, so the load of impact is leaked out into the less absorptive areas of your structure – such as directly into the joints. This can create all kinds of secondary compensations and pain.

And because landing is a full body movement, the compensations and pain can be anywhere. Maybe that pain your neck is actually coming from the how your body interacts with the ground?

I put a huge focus of my program design on teaching and integrating the skill of efficient landing because it is so important for the prevention of pain and injury.

Learn to land well so that when you jump, the sky’s limit.

Does Massage Therapy Solve Your Pain

Does Massage Therapy Solve Your Pain?

Do you have a standing massage therapy appointment? Do you foam roll the same areas each week? Does this provide Massage therapy - Austin Texas - The Art of Fitnesstemporary relief, but eventually the same aches and pains come back? If so, something is missing in your fitness and wellness approach.

As a massage therapist, I cannot fix you with massage therapy! No massage therapist or movement therapist can fix you. You are not broken.

How you move is directly related to how well you feel.

Hands on massage therapy is an incredibly valuable tool. Massage therapy is a tool in my movement arsenal. However, by itself, massage therapy is limited. If you want to feel better in your body, you must focus on the quality of your movement. How you feel will alway comes back to how well you move. If you move better, you will feel better.

I can help most people get out of pain through massage. However, If all my focus is on table work, you will leave my office and go back to the exact same movement patterns that caused your pain to begin with. The pain will eventually come back.

Want the pain to stay away? Learn to move well.

This is what I teach… how to move better. I develop a Personalized Exercise Program so that through your own movement practice, you begin to heal yourself. This is where the magic happens.

Move better to feel better

The Art of Movement Effienciency

Movement efficiency is a lost art in today’s fitness industry

Movement Efficiency - Personal Training and CoachingWith the desire to work hard and look fit, we are sacrificing movement efficiency – moving well – for conditioning. This is why you hurt!

I don’t care how hard you can workout. Anyone can workout hard. That’s easy. How well you move takes practice. Instead I focus on how efficiently you can work.

During Personal Training and Coaching sessions, I teach clients to learn and perform movement with skill… First, second, and last! As you learn the skill of movement efficiency, you can then apply load and intensity to improve conditioning, but you are always applying the art of movement efficiency.

Conditioning isn’t sacrificed. You gain both competency of movement and conditioning. Your conditioning is built upon a stable foundation of movement skill.

Move well, feel well. Be strong to be helpful.

The Art of Fitness Austin Texas Newsletter Update

The Art of Fitness Austin Texas is moving!

Oak Hill Fitness, Austin, TexasWe are happy to announce that The Art of Fitness Austin Texas will be partnering up with Oak Hill Fitness beginning March 1st, 2015!!!

Oak Hill Fitness is a sweet little indoor and outdoor gym located on Old Bee Caves Road, just about a mile off west 290/71. We will be working alongside some great trainers and coaches who offer Yoga, martial arts training, personal training, and group workouts… What I’m most excited about is they have a nice outdoor obstacle course!

Check out the Oak Hill Fitness website and like them on Facebook to learn more….

Oak Hill Fitness
7401 Old Bee Caves Rd
Austin, Texas 78735

This new space will give The Art of Fitness Austin Texas the opportunity to continue growing and expanding the level of top notch pain elimination, injury prevention, movement skill development, and athletic performance services we offer our wonderful clients. Speaking of expanded services… Are you aware of just how much our services have grown? Check out our updated website and see for yourself.

I’m Going To Go Over The Edge…You Can Help!

Over the Edge Austin supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation Austin Texas.The Art of Fitness Austin Texas is raising funds and awareness for Make-A-Wish® Central & South Texas by joining 200 people on June 13 & 14, 2015, to go Over The Edge – literally! Jesse James Retherford will rappel 38 stories down W Austin in the heart of downtown.

More than 350 children in central and south Texas are diagnosed each year with a life-threatening medical condition. Last year, Make-A-Wish® Central & South Texas granted more than 230 wishes for local children. You can help Make-A-Wish® reach more of these children and create hope, strength and joy in their lives. Money raised by rappellers goes towards granting these wishes.

Help The Art of Fitness Austin Texas conquer Jesse James Retherford’s fears (yes repelling over the edge of a 38 story building sounds kind of scary) and raise money for Make-A-Wish Austin. We need to be one of the first 200 to raise $1500 and Jesse James will get to rappel the W Austin in Downtown Austin. We don’t want to miss out.

If you donate just $10 or more, you would help us achieve this death defying goal, and make a huge difference in the lives of children who need it most!

Donate to Over the Edge Austin supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation Austin, Texas.

Please share this post with your friends. Make-A-Wish is a worthy cause.

Offering Pain Elimination, a Pain Free Future, and Warrior Care

Warrior Care backflip. The Art of Fitness Austin Texas.It is our passion to help each of you move and feel better in your body and in your life. By following this passion I continue to dive deeper and deeper into what IS natural human movement and how to develop the movement skills that not only eliminate pain right now, but also keep us pain and injury free well into our advanced years.


Personally, I want to be able to get up and down from the floor with ease and grace; climb trees; and crawl on the floor with my grandchildren well into my 90’s. I know that to have these skills later in life, I must develop them as a practice right now.


This has lead me into taking some amazing course work; studying walking and running gait analysis, movement assessment, and advanced natural movement workshops; and mentoring with some of the top trainers, anatomists, coaches, and movement therapists from around the world. It has expanded the level of movement therapy that I offer. The results are really paying off with the results I am seeing with clients and I would like to share with you the new level of services I am offering. Check out updated The Art of Fitness Austin Texas website or better yet give me a call.

[clicktocall number=5125872283]512-587-2283[/clicktocall]

What is NeuroKinetic Therapy

“I want to exercise, but it hurts when I move!”

When it comes to pain and discomfort, there is no longer any need to “deal with it.” NeuroKinetic Therapy is a powerful movement assessment used as both diagnostic tool and rehabilitative technique. It is incredibly effective for eliminating pain; improving walking/running gait, correcting poor posture, creating a pain and injury prevention program, and enhancing athletic performance. For many, treatment can result in nearly instantaneous relief from pain and discomfort.

The Art of Fitness is your local NeuroKinetic Therapy Austin TX therapist

Instead of chasing the symptoms of muscle tightness, soreness, and/or pain which can become a guessing game; NKT identifies the root cause of pain through direct assessment of the relationship of painful compensation patterns in the nervous and musculoskeletal systems.

In essence, an NKT movement assessment is asking the body:

“why does it hurt when you move this way? What do we need to do differently to make this movement non painful?”

The answers to these questions determine the specific patterns of imbalance, dysfunction, and compensation that are leading to pain and injury.

During an NKT session, we will assess the specific movements that are causing pain or dysfunction. As an example:

Your knee hurts when you run

A person with knee pain seeks Neurokinetic Therapy Austin relief.

We will analyze your walking/running gait as well as assess the function of specific muscles involved in a running from head to toe. Much of this work is done on the table. We perform hands on manual muscle tests to determine the compensation patterns i.e. which muscles are overworking — compensating, and which ones are underworking — inhibited. Once these compensation patterns are determined, we perform a Hands on massage therapy release on the compensating muscle and immediately strengthen the inhibited muscle with a corrective exercise to reprogram the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. We will then reassess the original movement, walking and running, for improvement. Once a primary compensation pattern is determined, you receive a daily personalized exercise program. The daily exercise program reprograms, trains, and reinforces this renewed efficient pain free movement as a permanent habit. You build a renewed way of moving and being in the world… Pain free.

If you ever experience pain or discomfort, perhaps caused by an acute injury or from simply living life, email or call The Art of Fitness and schedule a free NeuroKinetic Therapy Austin consultation. We will work together to craft an individualized set of treatments for you, so that you can eliminate pain,  feel better, move better, and live better.

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If you’re interested in learning more about NKT, check out these articles: Stop Chasing Pain and What is NeuroKinetic Therapy.

Don't Fear the Wobble

“Wow, I have a balance problem.”
“No, You have a fear the wobble problem.”

Last week I was working with a personal training client. The exercises I had her doing became super challenging to her balance. She began to wobble and said, “Wow, I have a balance problem.” My response was “No! You don’t have a balance problem. You have a fear the wobble problem. Your balance is doing exactly what it is supposed to. It’s working! And that’s a good thing.”

Balancing on a fallen tree. Don't Fear the Wobble

For many of my clients, falling is a real concern. A fall can lead to bruises, broken bones, pain, and chronic injury. Most of my clients have an understandable fear of falling. This is the main reason I get my clients out of their comfort zone and focus a great deal of attention on including balance challenging exercises into training sessions. Balance is a skill, and just like any skill it improves when practiced well and diminishes when ignored.

Don’t Fear the Wobble

With a fear of falling comes a fear of being off balance… or a fear of the wobble. The “wobble” is my term for the neurological edge of where we still have control of our body in space before gravity takes over pulling us down to the ground with a loud and uncomfortable thud.

Fearing the wobble is understandable. An injury due to a fall can be devastating. However, there is a problem when the fear of the wobble or fear of a fall leads a change in movement behavior. The fear of the wobble means we are less likely to explore movement that is anywhere near our neural edge. Instead we pick smaller ranges of movements that are stable and safe. We stay within our “comfort zone”. We are less likely to move into physical spaces that makes us feel wobbly. This means that over time, we move less and explore smaller ranges of our movement potential. When we don’t explore the spaces outside of our comfort zone… our comfort zone literally shrinks. Eventually, the edges of movement that once felt stable begin to feel weak, unbalance, and wobbly. Again we retreat our movement even further back into a “safe” zone. This becomes a cycle that feeds into itself until standing and walking become wobbly, where the neural edge has become the distance of each step.

Next time you are at a grocery store take notice of how people 10, 20, or 30 years older than you move and walk. Notice how many people shuffle along.  They don’t shuffle because they are old (which I write about here). It is because their comfort zone as well as their neural edge have grown so small. You can see how the fear of falling resides with each step. Even at advanced age, this can be improved significantly.

When the simple act of walking becomes wobbly we are at our greatest risk of falling. The unfortunate irony of this fear the wobble cycle is that instead of being safer the risk of falling actually increases. The smaller the neural edge, the less time we’ve spent training within specific fundamental movement patterns. If on our way through the parking lot, we slip or trip, the less time and room our nervous system has available before we reach the event horizon or point of no return. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I incorporate exercises that challenge the skills of balance into every personal training session. It is in these wobbly edges that our nervous system lights up, becomes re engaged, and challenged to support and prevent falling. By exploring the wobble, in a safe way, our edge expands wider providing a larger, more stable range to safely move. In essence, we push the event horizon further and further out. I want my clients to explore the wobbly edge in a SAFE environment where they won’t fall. So that when in “real” life, when they find themselves in an “unbalanced” position, and they truly need the ability to find balance… they have the skillset available to find it. But this means they must move and train outside their comfort zone.

Our comfort zone feels safe. In it we feel strong and capable. It’s called a comfort zone for a reason. This is where we have been successful for a long time. It’s where we spend the most time. This is not a good thing. When we remain inside our comfort zone for too long, we become rigid and inflexible. The world in which we move becomes smaller. Our strengths diminish. We become less capable and ultimately less successful. There is no growth by remaining in the comfort zone. You must push beyond fear the wobble resistance, and move outside your comfort zone to expand, grow, and evolve.

Much of the work I do involves moving people beyond their comfort zone. I want to challenge them. To do this, I set up a safe environment to challenge this fear and insecurity. I want them to see their fear, step forward into the wobble, and move freely beyond it. It is at the edges of our comfort zone that our nervous system gets really charged up. We work harder, break into a sweat, and feel challenged. This is where the magic happens. This is where we grow. In 10, 20, or 30 years do you want to shuffle in a small comfort zone fearing each next step? Do you want to fear the wobble? Or do you want to explore a world of movement with no edges?

The Vibrams Settlement

Vibrams Settlement: People who bought these Vibrams FiveFinger shoes may be entitled to a refund

Vibrams Five Finger minimalist shoes. Vibrams Settlement.

Last week, the Vibrams Settlement story blew up on my Facebook page. I was immediately asked for my opinion on the Vibrams settlement by several different people. Here are my thoughts.

People are making a big of a deal out of this Vibrams settlement, but in my opinion it is a total non story. It’s pretty simple. Vibram made a claim they couldn’t back up with scientific research. The basics of the claim was that simply wearing Vibrams Five Finger minimalist shoes would strengthen the muscles of your foot and decrease injuries. The fact that Vibrams settled has nothing to do with whether the claim is true or not. And since Vibrams hasn’t admitted any guilt or wrong-doing, we really don’t know why they decided to settle. It’s possible that Vibrams felt it was cheaper to settle than to fight this lawsuit further.

The reality of barefoot shoes is this:
If your structure is solid and you have NO MOVEMENT DYSFUNCTION, then training barefoot/minimalist will make your feet stronger than training in highly structured shoes. If you are a loyal reader of my blog, you will know I consider this kind of a no brainer. If the intrinsic musculature of the foot is allowed to function properly, it will get stronger with training. Just like with any other muscle. And if you brace a joint (which is what an arch support does), the muscles of that joint will grow weaker. So with perfect structure and good bio-mechanical movement, Vibrams claim is true. However…

If you do have dysfunction in your structure and you train with this dysfunction, you highly increase your risk of pain and injury. Your shoes, any shoes from five fingers to Hokas, will not fix this problem. They may help hide the pain for awhile, but eventually the dysfunction will rule movement.

The reality is that If you have dysfunction in your structure and in your bio-mechanics, then It does not matter what is on your feet (minus a few obvious shoe choices such as high heels and flip flops, but that is another story altogether). It’s not the shoes that are the problem, it’s the dysfunction in the structure and mechanics that needs to be addressed. Add barefoot/minimalist shoes to a poor structure and poor mechanics, and you’re going to exacerbate problems and actually increase your likelihood of injury.

So if you have dysfunction in your structure and biomechanics, then the Vibram settlement claim is not only false, but also potentially harmful. Training minimalist/barefoot, will actually increase your likelihood of injury. To truly get the benefit out of moving barefoot/minimalist, you have to treat your underlying structural and bio-mechanical issues first.

My professional/experiential advice:
I do not recommend making a drastic transition to barefoot/minimalist shoes especially if you have movement dysfunction. Again, your number one priority needs to be addressing your structure and mechanics. Here is one of my favorite posts on the effects of attempting to train through dysfunction.

I do recommend a conservatively slow transition into barefoot/minimalist shoes for people with solid structural mechanics. I look for a shoe that does not control your natural movement, but allows natural movement to take place. Here are a couple of my favorite shoes that I recommend regularly Luna Sandals and Soft Star Shoes (affiliate links).

If you are interested in transitioning into a barefoot/minimalist lifestyle, here are a couple of articles I wrote that may help with your transition here, and here.

If you’re injured, don’t look for barefoot/minimalist shoes to fix your problems. There are no magic fixes. It takes work and you’ll need the help of a movement therapist. This is the type of help that I offer.

It Hurts When I Run

It hurts when I run

This past week on The Injury Corner — a Facebook group I created to offer guidance and support for people dealing with chronic pain and injury — there was a great discussion with some helpful nuggets I wanted to share.

We talked about whether barefoot running can help heal low back pain and instability to the sacroiliac (SI) joint, and the difficulty of being told the activity you love may be hurting you.

I find these two subjects to be especially valuable and important both professionally and personally. As a movement specialist, I see many people struggling with the issues of pain while performing the activities they’re passionate about. As an active former athlete, I’ve struggled with the exact same issues myself.

anatomy pics of pelvis and sacroiliac joint. It hurts when I run.
It hurts when I run. Does barefoot running help heal low back pain and potential instability to the sacroiliac (SI) joint?

I have lived a barefoot/minimalist lifestyle for over five years. However, I have been unable to run consistently for the past three. I have gait dysfunction connected to 5 knee surgeries, and a long list of other injuries associated with sports, stubbornness, and my reckless youth. The gait dysfunction shows in my body’s ability to absorb the impact energy of footfall as it transfers up the kinetic chain through my ankles, knees, hips, spine, and shoulders.

leaf springs of a large truck. It hurts when I runSpring mechanism of the arch of the foot. It hurts when I run

Some quick anatomical mechanics: As you can see in the pictures above, the arches of the foot create a spring leaf suspension system similar to that of a truck. This system absorbs the energy of each step, distributes this energy equally throughout your fascial system, and re-releases the energy through the propulsion phase of your gait.

With this dysfunction in my suspension system, the arch is unable to act like a nice shock absorbing spring, and my foot lands stiff and solid. Instead of spreading the energy load throughout my fascia, the impact goes directly into the harder tissues of bone and joint structures, which don’t have the ability to absorb impact as well.

Based on my personal and professional experience, both as a barefoot runner and through helping other runners transition into a barefoot lifestyle, I don’t believe that barefoot running will help heal your SI joint. If anything, there is a really good chance that in the short term it will make things worse. SI joint instability is a mechanical-structural issue, which means the relationship between how you move (mechanical) and how your structure is able to mobilize and stabilize through movement (structural) isn’t functioning in its most efficient state. The problem has little to nothing to do with what is on your feet, whether you are running barefoot or shod. It is a problem with the mechanical-structural relationship of your running gait.

It is not an issue of whether you should run barefoot or shod, but rather should you be running at all? In my professional opinion, you should not.

Now I want to take a moment after that last statement. If you’re a runner currently running through pain, did being told you should not be running kick up an emotional response? Tune in; do you feel anger, fear, judgement, dread? If you feel any kind of emotional process, please take a deep breath and let that move through you before continuing on.

Being told a certain movement isn’t best for your body is a hard pill to swallow.
Believe me, I know how hard a pill it is to swallow. Over the past three years, I’ve repeatedly attempted to get back into running. Each time, three or four weeks in I would get painful calf spasms and I’d be out for weeks again. It has taken me years to change my mindset around exercise. I had to let go of the ego drive to do what I wanted to do (run), and instead focus on the quality movements that my body needs and desires to allow it to heal.

The path to quality, pain-free movement begins by changing your mindset around your fitness, health, exercise, nutrition, and so much more. It begins with a simple understanding:

If I am in pain, then the way I have been moving is hurting me. If I want to feel better, I must change the way that I move. To do this, I must change.

Change is a scary thing. It is a hard pill to swallow indeed. It often brings with it some big fat emotional processes such as noted above. However, If you find the deep desire to change, you have made the first step toward fundamentally changing your life.

With a desire for change, the next step is to begin checking in with your body and asking yourself some important questions about exercise and movement. When you hear yourself saying “It hurts when I run!” Here are a few questions you can ask:

Is this movement safe?
Is this movement healthy?
What is my motivation to continue to perform a movement that hurts me?
What can I let go of from my old paradigm of movement?
What movement is safe, healthy, and loving to my body?

These are questions that must be asked every day and for each exercise based movement you feel a desire to engage in, whether it is yoga, running, resistance training, swimming, cycling, etc. One day a movement may be healthy for your body, and the next day it may be unsafe or unwise to do. Even exercises which you would consider “gentle” can be too much, and yes, this can change from day to day. By getting in the habit of asking these questions each day you will learn how your body communicates with you through pain, and you will develop a new relationship and understanding with your body. This is a beautiful thing that will then shift to other areas of your life.

Pain-free running and beyond
I hope to be able run regularly again. But only when running is a healthy movement choice supported by my body. Only then will I even consider the question of whether to go barefoot or shod. To help me achieve this long-term goal to run again, I am receiving regular assessment and treatment from one of the top movement specialists around.

As long as you are saying “It hurts when I run”, running is not a healthy movement choice. At least not until the inefficiency of movement in your running gait has been fully assessed and corrected. To do this I highly recommend finding a highly skilled movement professional who specializes in gait assessment. This would not be a shoe salesperson!

If you need help finding a movement professional in your area, please let me know. I will do my best to connect you to the best health care team available. If you are in Austin, Texas, contact The Art of Fitness for walking and running gait assessment so we can get you running pain free again.

Do you have a frustrating or inspiring injury related question or story? Please share in the comments below.

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