Almost immediately after starting CrossFit, I became aware of some pain in my left knee and on the outside of my left shoulder. I don’t believe this pain was the result of specific CrossFit workouts, but more likely my muscles were (and still are) out of balance from a lifetime of being sedentary. I have been careful to not further aggravate my knee and shoulder; however I realized that both probably needed some attention in order to allow me to exercise in a way that would limit my risk for injury.
About a month ago I found Julie Donnelly, a local sports massage therapist, who happens to be an expert on the type of pain I was having. In fact she has written several books including The Pain Free Runner and Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living (available on her website). It turns out that in both my shoulder and my knee, the problems were originating from other areas. The analogy she gave me was to imagine pulling on someone’s hair. They would feel pain in their scalp, but the problem would be where the pulling was originating.
In the case of my knee, the most likely culprit was the psoas muscle (attached to your lower lumbar, inserted through your hip, and attached to your femur). With a lot of time sitting in front of a computer my psoas muscle was in a contracted state and shortened. This shortening caused my hips/pelvis to rotate slightly forward which caused a lot of other muscles to be stretched out (hamstrings for example). Add in some serious exercising (squats and lunges in large numbers) and the long stretched out muscles tightened up even more and began to pull my kneecap slightly out of alignment (causing the pain/irritation).
The fix: Trigger point massage on the areas of my left leg that had knotted up and some ongoing stretches for the psoas. Let me give you fair warning if you have never had trigger point massage therapy. It isn’t a pleasant, spa-like experience. Getting a muscle to release out of spasm hurts a lot, but the relief is immediate.
The shoulder problem is also likely the result of chronic use of the computer (think rounding of the shoulders and hunching forward) but slightly more complicated. Basically I need to carefully build up strength in the shoulder and avoid moving into any range of motion that generates significant pain.
Undoing a lifetime of bad habits will take more than a few well intentioned weeks in the gym.