by Dr. Steve Agocs, DC, RockTape instructor
When people consider competitive multisport events, certainly the triathlon with its swimming, bicycling and running is the first thing that comes to mind. According to Triathlon Business International, the average triathlete age is 44, which adds some more complexity to the types of sport-related problems and injuries triathletes often deal with (ref: http://www.triathlonbusinessintl.com/market-research-survey.html).
The RockTape treatment paradigm that has been taught to thousands of healthcare providers through the company’s education program includes how to mobilize, stabilize and coordinate movement, as well as mitigate symptoms like pain, swelling and fatigue, with the use of instrument-assisted soft tissue methods, kinesiology tape, teaching patients and athletes about self-myofascial release using balls, bands and rollers, and the use of specific corrective and supportive exercises that challenge and “lock in” the changes being made with these methods.
Because of the complexity of the common triathlon-related problems you may run into, it’s strongly recommended that you use RockTape’s provider locator at www.rocktape.com to find a RockDoc trained in these methods. Your training and competition time is limited and you don’t have the luxury of casually approaching the problems you may have, trying a little bit of this and a little bit of that here and there. You need to rely on professionals who can determine what and where the problem is and then target that with specific strategies so you can get back into your sport!
Next to staying afloat, the biggest challenge in the swim portion of a triathlon is on your shoulders. Approximately 90% of the movement in swimming is produced by your arms and competitive swimming is highly correlated to shoulder injuries. Swimming places a lot of torque and mechanical stress on the shoulder complex. Add tons of repetitions throughout the training and competition cycles and you have an obvious recipe for problems. To avoid injuries with swimming, the shoulder needs to have a lot of tissue integrity and stability while also having complete range of motion. Training smart, with a slow progression toward higher intensity, distance, speed and frequency is paramount to keeping your shoulders healthy during swimming training and competition. Jumping straight into an intensive training program doesn’t give your shoulders’ tissues the time to respond and “toughen up” to the new demands you’re placing on them.
A lot of swimming shoulder problems center around the dynamics of three of the four phases of the freestyle stroke. The pull, exit and recovery of a swim stroke all require the glenohumeral joint (what most people refer to when they’re thinking about their shoulder joint) to be rotated and then elevate out of the water. When this is not happening correctly, shoulder impingement is a likely outcome. Shoulder impingement is when aspects of the soft tissue support and movement structure of the shoulder, such as the rotator cuff, get caught and pinched between bony parts of the shoulder. Some people are thought to be more anatomically predisposed to impingement based on the shape of certain bones that make up the glenohumeral and acromioclavicular (AC) joint complexes, but when the rotator cuff gets pinched over and over again and you add lots of torque and shear forces into the mix, your shoulder will develop frustrating pain very quickly even if the anatomy is fine. In order for your shoulder to be impingement-free, you need full range of motion, and very importantly, full control of that range of motion, in the thoracic spine, shoulder blade and glenohumeral joint.
Because of this, the fix for swimming-related impingement often has little, if anything, to do with the site of pain. Most triathletes need to add mobility to the thoracic spine and glenohumeral joints while using specific strategies to stabilize and control the shoulder blade’s movement during the swim stroke. This is why a good assessment and targeted treatment strategy is so important! Instrument-assisted methods and other manual therapies to mobilize tissues and RockTape with corrective exercise, training and even competition are a great way to get your shoulders back on line for triathlon.
It used to be everyone loved the bike portion of triathlon training and competition and hated the swimming, but there has been a trend away from this in more recent years. Where swimming tends to trash athletes’ shoulders, the back (especially lower back and neck) and knees are challenged on the bicycle. First and foremost, bike fit is absolutely critical. No matter how much you try to work around an improperly sized bicycle or parts that aren’t set up correctly, you will pay the price sooner than later. You don’t have to spend a mint on all the latest carbon fiber and titanium doodads for your tri bike, but you should really rely on an experienced bike shop to figure out the right fit for you. The frame, stem, seat and seatpost, crank length and pedals/cleats are all vitally important to how you’re situated in the cockpit and how your knees track during pedaling. Assuming all of that is correct, let’s look at the rest of the story…
The tuck position in the aero bars places a lot of strain on your neck. Bad position and funky breathing mechanics (yes, we all do it, but you’d be surprised how many people just aren’t good at breathing!) both wind up your lower back. A lot of the neck soreness associated with bicycling, assuming your position is correct on the bike, goes away as your neck gets stronger in the aerodynamic position and used to the weight of your helmet. Using RockTape’s rollers, balls and bands to keep the sliding and gliding tissues of the lower back in shape is critical. Long strips of RockTape kinesiology tape applied to the lower back, neck, or even the entire spine in one piece, can do wonders for your spinal comfort during training and competition. Pro cyclists have had a love affair with kinesiology tape for decades for a reason. Trained RockTape clinicians can also use tape to help with your breathing problems and give you feedback for more efficient breathing while on the bike!
A lot of the knee stress triathletes deal with while biking may boil down to the setup of your pedals, cleats and shoes. Even then, cyclists are prone to the same problems as runners, with iliotibial band problems, patellofemoral pain, etc. This is where RockTape really shines. Taping the knee itself and lengthening the strips to include the foot and/or thigh seems magical when it helps you! RockTape helps the brain sense its position more efficiently, helps downgrade pain sensations coming from the knee and can help manage swelling around the knee, too. The knee seems particularly happy to be taped, so don’t neglect making liberal use of RockTape during training and competition!
Who doesn’t run for any length of time without experiencing some amount of foot, knee and hip pain? Almost half of running-related injuries involve the knee and we already looked at how great RockTape, applied around the knee and associated structures can be for pain with running. Most runners benefit greatly from a professional running gait analysis, too. In general, a lot of runners end up taking too few strides and spacing those strides too far apart. This puts tremendous stress on the feet and knees, especially. A good target cadence is around 170-190 steps per minute, and a style of running that keeps the shin vertical with your foot underneath it is usually preferable to a long stride with a heroic heel strike. How much your stride crosses over the midline (crossover gait) is something worth looking at, too, and so it really does help to have a pro assess all of these things to give you targeted things to work on.
RockBlade instruments and soft tissue work, RockTape and mobility tools like rollers (which are often overutilized by runners) are all effective for managing these problems in runners. The key, again, is knowing what to do and where, which is why you should use RockTape’s provider locator to look for providers who have taken taping, instrument and mobility courses.
Triathlons can be a lot of fun to the people who like to do them, but the fact that they tend to attract a more mature athlete and involve three different sport movements is the main reason the sport can be so hard on its athletes’ bodies. There is a tendency for people to self-assess, diagnose and treat with lots of stretching and rolling and taping and then, of course, less conservative measures like medications and injections. The key aspect for triathletes is finding a healthcare provider who has the biomechanical understanding to assess your movements and find their faults and then also has the training to use the best tools to address those problems effectively and efficiently.
For more info and to find a provider: www.rocktape.com