Have you ever had a flat tire? With anything like regular driving, you’re bound to get one eventually.
The ones that explode on you while doing 80 on the freeway are the worst. In addition to the high-pitched squeal of terror that you swear you will never admit to another living soul, there is the real danger that the sudden loss of control will have more dramatic consequences than a damp driver’s seat.
A flat can also just appear one day. No loud bang, no perceptible change to drivability, just a slow leak that one day leads to your neighbour stopping by to let you know that your front driver’s side is a little low.
The second type is tricky because it means you’ve been gradually compensating for a loss of speed and list in the steering that you never really noticed. You’ll notice it for sure, however, when you get the PSI back up. A low tire brought true with the others is a good feeling; that tiny little fix momentarily makes your sensible sedan feel just a tiny bit more like something traffic cops keep an eye out for. It’s ok to enjoy it.
Even still, all that time spent slowly losing pressure put small strains on the rest of the vehicle. Nothing major: fuel pump and injectors having to work a little harder to maintain an equivalent speed, bearings straining a bit at the fraction of a degree change in direction that never amounts to much, but is always there and always grows. Its just how cars are: sometimes stuff needs fixin’.
Imagine for a moment that one day you make the usual right turn into your driveway and the steering groans a bit. You’ll make a mental note to take it in and have it looked it, and then promptly lose that mental note until the next time you make a right turn.
This, of course, continues for some time.
Finally, when the power steering fails completely and right turns have started to resemble an 80’s training montage, you suck it up and go to a mechanic. While examining the car, kicking tires and such, you both discover that front driver’s side flat, just as obvious as could be.
Now imagine how strange it would be if the mechanic then turned to you and said, “Well, I recommend a new battery, getting your injectors cleaned and, of course, I’ll keep it here for a few days to overhaul the engine. A turbo kit would also be in your best interest.”
“But what about the flat tire?” you might reasonably inquire.
“Yeah, it’s a shame. Really drags down your top speed, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, that turbo kit will put a stop to that.”
“But I came in with a steering problem,” you tentatively remind him.
“Yeah yeah, I’ll throw a steering column replacement in with the overhaul, no worries.”
“Ok, so I really feel like that flat tire is an obvious . . .”
“Look, buddy, I’m the expert here, and I have tons of revolutionary tools here for boosting your car’s performance. You do want to boost your performance, don’t you?”
“Of course I do, it’s just that I’m sure the tire is . . .”
“Alright then! Give me the keys and I’ll bill you in a few days.”
Surprise! We are, in fact, really talking about your body, where a “flat tire” is any one of the minor physical inefficiencies that we all face, no matter our age, physical fitness, or athletic ability.
The only difference between our automotive analog and the real world of fitness and physiotherapy is that no self-respecting mechanic would ever have the conversation above; he’d fix the flat, make a few tweaks to true your alignment and send you on your way.
There’s a different standard in the fitness world. Exchanges like the one above happen all the time:
A woman six months postpartum wants to get back in shape? Build muscle mass! Do “core” work (whatever the hell that means…)!
Chronic low back pain has left a 45-year-old man sedentary for the last four years? Stretch until you sweat! More abs!
A competitive runner is suffering from chronic ankle instability in her dominant leg? Power Plate! Bosu Ball! Single leg squats while juggling kettle bells!
You yourself may have heard this exact fitness advice, but these are all just iterations of the same boneheaded notion that replacing the engine is a reasonable response to having a flat tire.
That new momma? Her low back has been caving in for the last 6 or 7 months (maybe more, if she was lordotic to begin with). All she really needs is to reposition her pelvis a few degrees, shift her center of gravity forward a couple centimeters and voila! Casual movement will take care of the rest.
Sedentary dude with low back pain? Sitting for long periods of time means that, instead of bearing weight on his feet, he’s been bearing weight on his spine; It’s not a stretch of the imagination to assume this has changed the way he walks. Maybe start with that?
Competitive runner? Why on earth would anyone train an unstable joint by making it more unstable? In all likelihood, her shoes are locking up her subtalar joint. Get her to walk barefoot in the grass and get a massage once in a while and she’ll probably improve.
A shocking majority of the aches and pains that we all deal with from time to time—from the minor to the acute—can be addressed through simple mechanical means. Sometimes we need to think, not train: kick a few tires, ask smart questions, look for the simple answers and try those first.
Absolutely get that turbo kit and go rack up a few speeding tickets—just do it with all four wheels pumped up.
If you are experiencing any of the issues mentioned above and are not sure how to approach recovery, feel free to leave questions in the comments and I will provide information and/or referrals for your area!