It’s 7.30am on a Sunday morning, day 2 of my 4 x 12 hour shifts…post-furlough I’ve needed to find myself some work that will keep me from going stir-crazy at home- working at the coal face back in hospital was not an option for me as a single parent- so taking up a position with Unipart, who look after the logistics for the NHS’s PPE supply chain, seemed to be a good second option.
10 weeks in now, and it’s been an eye opening experience- on all fronts- from both the physical and mental perspective! I’m hoping that with my physio hat on, I can offer some thoughts that might help you cope with the ups and downs of working life- especially if your job involves a chair/ desk/ computer screen.
The first, and probably the most fundamental challenge I’ve faced, is that my pre-COVID working lifestyle couldn’t be any different from what I am currently doing. Most physios will tell you that they will invest just as much (if not more…) in a comfy pair of trainers for work, than they would on a pair of Lauboutins! We’re on our feet A LOT!
Working with athletes and patients alike, I’m constantly on my feet- either watching patients perform various functional movement tasks, demonstrating exercises or standing at the couch and treating. So, moving to a job that involves an hour’s drive either way and then sitting at a desk for 12 hours, for 4 days back to back- has provided a significant change in what my body does- in terms of position and the loads placed on the joints and muscles.
We know from various research papers, that the human body adapts very quickly to new conditions; once elite level athletes stop training, there is a measurable reduction in muscle strength even after just 10 days! For us mere mortals, it will be a case a couple of weeks perhaps.
So…picture the scene- I’d survived my first 4 days- alien environment, lots of new stuff to learn, along with A LOT of sitting…I really felt like going for a run, get myself into the fresh air! When I say run, I should quantify that- it’s a steady 1 minute run: 2 minute walk. I should also say at this point, that I’m not a “runner” as such- I’m a regular gym goer and I throw myself enthusiastically around a netball court x 1 a week…with a VERY occasional run.
During this first run, at about the 30 minute mark, I felt a sharp cramping sensation in my right calf that literally stopped me in my stride- let’s stop, walk a little- have another go… nope! Definitely not going to “run this one off!” So, disappointingly, I limped the rest of the way home and popped a bag of frozen peas on it for 20 minutes. I could still feel it the following day so I concluded that I’d pulled it (but not torn; no bruising or swelling and although slightly sore, walking was much easier.) So, what to do about it? Something that we see commonly in clinic, are people who hurt themselves and then rest too much- many weeks in some cases- then returning to running once pain-free, without having prepared the injured muscle adequately, often resulting in re-injury.
Fortunately, having worked with a lot of court-based sports at Derby University (with all the associated calf and ankle problems!) I know the importance of good strong calf muscles- and how they can protect the ankles and lower legs- so, I got going with the calf strengthening circuit that I had devised for the athletes to do. It’s a series of various types of calf raises (also known as heel raises) that don’t require any pieces of gym equipment (apart from a step/ set of stairs) that can be very helpful when trying to prepare a previously injured and weak calf muscle.
But how do you know if your calf muscle is strong enough to run? Well, as a general rule of thumb in the clinic, if someone who’s had a significant injury (knee surgery-ligament repair or muscle tear) and wanting to return to running or a running-based sport, I would ask the patient to perform a single leg calf raise endurance test (how many can they perform to fatigue- off a step?) I would expect to see around the 25 rep mark- or certainly no less than 5 reps difference compared to the non-injured side.
I duly did this and within a week or so, I went out for another run- but knowing that I hurt my calf at around 30 minutes, I felt it sensible to keep it to 20 minutes (the reality being; it felt good so I managed 30, but no more!)
So- key questions to ask yourself before doing something new;
- What does the new activity involve?
- How does is differ to my normal “day to day” activities?
- Am I strong enough/ flexible enough to do this new activity?
You may need some help addressing these kinds of questions- our staff can be really helpful when it comes to starting something new.
Closing thoughts; “Most injuries occur in people who’ve done too much, too quickly having done too little for too long!”
Thanks++ Jo Keegan for finding the time to pen your experience and share it with us