A while back 17thman’s thumbs started to stick out instead of keeping with the rest of his hands, and he wondered if drilling more with hand paddles would correct the problem. I took the opportunity to point out this typically was symptomatic of a bad back and suggested paddles probably wouldn't help. Sure enough he was having a difficult time breaking in a new chair at work and his back was hurting. Sometimes it’s impressive how much minutiae one learns from years of physiotherapy.
Course learning never stops. A month ago I told my Alexander teacher about a problem in my right big toe I was experiencing: a sharp, burning sensation much like sciatica but much more localized and particularly evident doing kicking drills with fins. She immediately questioned whether I had my toes right. “You’re sure it’s the right and not the left?” she asked as she bent down to check how I stand on my feet. Yea I was sure. “Did you know tight back muscles can cause your thumbs and big toes to stick out from their normal resting position?” she said conversationally while manipulating my right ankle. Well I knew about thumbs but I didn’t know about the big toes. “The thumbs are caused by upper back problems and the big toes from lower back and hip difficulties”, she explained, “ ...causing your big toe to rub up against the fin”. “You’re sure it’s not the left that’s the problem?” she persisted. Well readers, it doesn’t take a detective to know which side of my body she thought most of my problems stem from. But after a couple more minutes she left off inspecting my feet and ankle positioning and returned to our regular lesson. In Alexander Technique trying to correct specific problems is known as end-gaining, something particularly frowned upon because the process ends up only adding still more corrections to an already overburdened musculature instead of addressing the originating problems. And that, friends, is how our postures deteriorate in the first place. A week later I was giving the same explanation to one of my massage therapists. “But if it can bother you even when you’re not swimming with fins it has to be more than that”, he said out loud as he puzzled it out. “You must have pulled your ____ muscle, that one travels all the way from the big toe to your hip”, he concluded. Well that made sense to me, and even if it didn’t stop the pain it was good to know as I pounded up and down the pool with my fins hurting all the time. But yesterday I had a session with my second massage therapist (I use the two of them because of their contrasting styles) and of course told him about my troubled right big toe. “Aahh”, he immediately responded when I’d finished, “you have a metatarsalphalangeal joint sprain – you’ll have to stop using your fins for a month or two”. See, that’s why I have two massage therapists. What’s a metatarsalphalangeal joint sprain you ask? Turf toe. I’ve gotten turf toe from swimming! You’ve gotta be kidding me!