Sunday, May 27, 2012

Of Chinese Finger Traps and Beating Knee Pain

Ever see one of these before?

It’s called a Chinese finger trap and made of braided bamboo. The harder you try to yank your finger free, the more stuck it gets.

To achieve your goal -- escaping the trap -- you have to behave in a counter-intuitive way. Don’t struggle and pull. Relax and push gently into the trap.

Knee pain sufferers would do well to heed the lessons of the Chinese finger trap. That’s especially true for those of us who have Type A personalities and tend to be competitive overachievers.

Take my own experience in Hong Kong. I fell into my own Chinese finger trap of sorts, after my employer agreed to allow me to work half time for three months, so I could try to heal my knees.

I had done the research and knew my joints needed motion to get better. And so, I vowed to use that free time to move, move, move. The first week I spent a lot of time walking slowly.

And my knees got worse.

I finally realized I was trying to beat knee pain the same way I’d train for a 5k road race. But my program was too intense for a pair of weak knees. I needed to back off, relax, and not try to grab six months of gains in a few weeks.

If you want to borrow lessons from the Chinese finger trap, I’d say you need to:

Know when to ease off. Don’t be ashamed to take a light day of exercise, or even a light week, if you need to. If your daily walks normally total 5,000 steps, maybe you cut back to 3,000 steps for a while, if your knees suddenly start complaining.

Get enough rest. Sleep helps injured tissues mend. Sleep makes you a healthier, nicer person with a better, more upbeat outlook. (P.S. Lack of sleep has now been found in a recent study to help cause diabetes and obesity, through impairing your glucose control mechanism.)

Meditate if you’re stressed. When you’re stressed, your muscles tighten. If you have pain while sitting, tighter muscles just worsen it. Also knee pain can make you very angry. Try to find a way to lose that rage and negativity. I tried meditating for a while. It helps!

Be as happy as you can. Make yourself smile. The very act of smiling, even forced smiling, improves a bad mood. Find what’s good in your life and celebrate it!

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