4 ways firefighter mobility is compromised

The body is a complex system and mobility-limiting pain in one of these four areas is often the symptom of correctable problems elsewhere


It's 7:30 a.m. and you come trudging into the station for another 24-hour shift. As you grab your bag out of the trunk you notice that your back is pretty tight; that obese patient that your volunteer department responded to last night was difficult to extricate from the house.

You push that out of your mind as the coffee flows and eases the pain. Just as you start your station duties, mopping out the bay, you bend down to move a mat off the floor.

The next thing you know, pain is shooting down your leg and you cannot get up off the floor.

You can use any wall to perform this T-shaped rotational stretch. Work both sides.

You can use any wall to perform this T-shaped rotational stretch. Work both sides.

A career in the fire service can be hard on your body. Sitting for long periods, the load and weight of your gear and the job itself will all take a toll on your body. Biomechanical patterns start to develop early and progress through your career.

1. Foot and ankle
When we start to loose mobility in the foot and ankle, it can cause the calves to become very tight. If you use a foam roller, which you need to do every shift, you have already felt how tight the calves are.

When they get tight, it directly affects how you walk, climb on and off your apparatus, squat, kneel and lunge. As these motions become inhibited, it begins to affect the joints above the foot in the knee, hip and back.

2. Knee pain
Knee pain that is not the result of a trauma can often be attributed to poor mobility in the foot, ankle or hips. If I do not keep my left hip loose and mobile, I have left knee pain.

The knee is fine, but the tightness in the hip from an old injury causes additional strain on the knee. One is a symptom; one is the cause.

3. Back pain
Back pain is more often than not biomechanical in nature. Provided there is not trauma to the spine or the disks, the pain is due to mobility issues.

My tight left hip that causes knee pain on occasion is also the trigger area for back pain and tightness on my left side.

If it's not in the hip, the next suspect is the group of muscles on either side of your spine where your lower back and mid-back meet just below the floating rib. All these muscles attach into the pelvis and the spine, and when tight cause pain and mobility problems.

4. Shoulder pain
Shoulder pain is tricky as it can be from overuse, muscle imbalances, postural distortions, injury or a combination of some or all of the above. When the head and shoulders protract forward, it's known as upper cross syndrome.

When the head pulls forward, the shoulders also round causing impingement in the shoulders and reduced mobility in the thoracic spine. All of this can cause headaches, upper back pain, sprains and strains, rotator cuff tears and even bone spurs in the neck and shoulder.

Corrective measures
The fix is relatively easy, but it takes time and consistency. All you need are a very specific scientifically accurate mobility routine and two simple tools: a tennis ball and a foam roller.

First mobilize the tissue with the foam roller; this is also an awesome pre-shift or pre-training warm up, which everyone should be doing. Spend about 1 minute on each calf, hip flexor, glute and hip, lat and shoulder, and the upper back.

Next, use the tennis ball against the wall to hone in on the deeper nasty spots that cause many of the injuries. Thirty seconds per spot usually does the trick; the more you use the ball, the easier it is to get into the deep spots.

Now that you have improved the soft tissue mobility, get the joints and soft tissue to move together. There are hundreds of great mobility exercises that will work wonders to help you move better, feel better and reduce injury.

I teach a series of six movements that take less than 5 minutes.

The body is a complex system. To correct any faulty system, we need to follow a system and make that system a process. For these four issues, roll with the foam roller, hit trigger points with the ball and then mobilize with some full body motions designed to get it all moving together.

By following this simple yet highly effective process, you will move better, feel better and get hurt less. Plus this teaches you that pain is not normal; it's a symptom and that symptom can be treated.

With all things fitness, it's all about consistency and progress. Do these mobility drills every shift or every day and maybe just picking up a mat in the bay will not induce a preventable career-ending injury.

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