I have always loved walking, especially hiking for day after day. I find that all my worries melt away with every mile, and whatever was dominating my thoughts and sapping my energy becomes insignificant, replaced by the simple rhythm of placing one foot in front of the other repeatedly, hour after hour. A diary entry from 1996 records how reassuring I find walking; a movement that I feel I can repeat endlessly.
Fast forward twelve years and I am struggling to walk more than ten miles before hip pain sets in. This is succeeded by a struggle with sciatica, then achilles tendinopathy. By 2014 I was still walking regularly but now keeping to a maximum of eight to ten miles, and I'd decided to take a year off running altogether. Then in January 2015 I took a high step up whilst walking in the snow along Birchen Edge and I felt a tremendous pain in my calf that twanged all the way up my hamstring. 'Rupture!' was my first thought, but cautious tests after a few moments reassured me that I still had full if painful range of movement so I sat with snow packed around my calf for 20 minutes. As I limped back to the car, I could feel improvement; 'ah, this will be right in no time!' I said to my partner Adam, and proceeded to follow protocol.
A week later, I was walking normally but something didn't feel right; there was no sense of spring in the affected leg and I sensed that trying to run would be a bad idea. Of course I forgot this when I saw an opportunity to nip across the road; I pushed off hard with my leg, and instantly the same pain kicked up my calf and hamstring, only this time it did not abate. I was only a five minute walk from home but it took me twenty minutes and I was in tears by the time I got there. A week later I was exhausted by the physical effort of getting around when my leg was not able to function efficiently. I could feel the strain through my whole body. Three weeks later there was barely any improvement and I was at a local physiotherapy practice. 'You've overstretched the nerve, of course it hurt!' was the diagnosis, and some therapy to my back provided rapid relief; within a few days I was walking normally again. Even more useful was the postural assessment.
Eight years ago I hurt my knee and had to walk with a stick for a while. I was very busy at the time and after one trip to the physio to have it checked out, I never went back for any rehabilitation. Unbeknown to me crucial postural muscles became deactivated and I developed new, compensatory movement patterns on top of my existing thoracic stiffness that began to cause problems as I tried to walk longer distances.
This time in 2015 I decided to visit the physio regularly, where each time I was assessed and given exercises to do at home to remind my neuromuscular system of how it is supposed to be working! I began to feel the benefit, and after a few weeks went for a 5km run. I could really feel how my muscles were engaging differently, especially the gluteals; all felt strong and positive. Then I strained my back by lifting a heavy weight incorrectly. The next run, I could feel how the movement between legs, back, shoulders and arms was blocked; the gluteus maximus didn't seem to be firing, and very quickly I felt the old sciatic pain in my right hamstring and an ache in the Achilles tendon. I abandoned the run and headed back to the physio....
It's all been a learning experience. I have learnt a great deal about how the body works, and also just how exhausting it is when part of it doesn't; what an impact a problem in one part of your body can have on the rest as it seeks to compensate and complete a movement that is no longer efficient, if indeed possible at all. All so different to just reading about it in text books!