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Shotokan Karate for pain relief?

21/10/2011
Shotokan Karate

Shotokan Karate

First of all, here is the disclaimer…I am not a physiotherapist, or qualified in pain relief in any way.  I am just a person with an interest in the way the human body moves and works.  So if you know more than me, and know that i am just talking out of my hat, leave a comment below and tell me.

But I work with several people with various injuries and disabilities.  A few of whom suffer from chronic pain.  It took me a while to appreciate the concept of chronic pain.  As a young, healthy bloke with a background in martial arts I would think that i have been hit by loads of people and got hurt (I was never that good at martial arts!).  I would think:

“Its just a bit of pain!  Man up and deal with it!”

But then someone explained it to me in the following way:

“Imagine the pain you feel when you get hit/hurt.  It hurts like hell, but you know the pain will subside in a few minutes/hours.

Now imagine the pain you feel when you get hit/hurt.  It hurts like hell, but now you know the pain will still be just as bad a few hours/days later.”

Then i think i started to understand.  It is not only the pain you feel there and then (although that is bad enough)…it is the certainty that it is not going to improve/get any better for ages!

One thing that I have learned over the years though, is that exercise/activity can help in so many ways, including pain relief.  Simply moving the joints through gradually increasing ranges of motion can help in many ways.

  • It can reduce stiffness in joints.
  • Helps increase temperature in the joints and body.
  • Improves Range Of Motion (ROM) in joints, which can increase efficiency of movements.
  • Can improve strength and “robustness” of the body.
  • The sense of self-belief and pride it can generate can boost a persons emotional state.

And because of my background in martial arts (which involves a huge amount and variety of movements) I have always thought that people should take it up.  But how the hell can I convince someone to do that when they are in constant fear of hours/days/weeks of constant pain from the slightest knock?

The other day, I tagged along with one of my clients to their hydrotherapy session with their physio.  And while I am massively simplifying the treatment here, it seemed the goals were based around maintaining/improving mobility of the joints…and I saw that many of the exercises given could be replicated in Shotokan Karate.

The marching on the spot is almost identical to the first half of a Mae Geri front kick.  The standing twist is very similar to a Kizame Tsuki (lunging punch) followed by a Gyaku Tsuki (reverse punch).  The walking forwards and backwards can easily become the simple stepping drills we do in line.

The main difference being in the speed/power/explosiveness of the moves.

So a few days after their positive experience at their hydrotherapy session, we tried a similar thing in the local swimming pool.  But this time we tried going over some basic karate moves (punches, kicks, steps etc).

This got them doing very similar movement patterns as to their hydrotherapy (but obviously at a very different pace/intensity), but it also put them in a really good mood!  Suddenly they felt like less of a patient, and much more of a “normal” person, doing things that a fully fit person can do.  This improved sense of wellbeing lasted for the rest of the day.

The key message I think I am getting from the hydrotherapy sessions, is that a major priority is maintaining mobility of the joints.  It is easier to move the joints through a greater ROM in a warm pool where you are supported by water, than when you are on dry land.

Another priority seems to be finding the balance of how much to do.  Doing too much can cause aches and pains and put the person off (see my discussion about Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness for more on this), but doing too little can reduce effectiveness and maybe reinforce the feeling that the person needs to be “molly coddled” and can’t have a fulfilling life.

So me and my client are going to experiment a bit more and see what works and what doesn’t.  But I think we may be onto something  (I know for a fact that many people with injuries are referred to the local “aquacise” class, run by people with a lot less experience and a much looser grasp of the human body than me).  So as long as all goes well, we are thinking of trying to do a few Katas in the pool over the next few weeks.

But do any of you have any experience with this kind of thing?  Have you tried it, or seen it done before?  Does anyone know of any studies on this kind of thing they could point me to?  Any and all feedback on this would be greatly appreciated!  Just leave a comment below.

And if you know anyone who might benefit from reading this, please “share” it with the buttons below.  The more input from as many people as possible, the better things will be for us all!

Thank you.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Ruth Briggs permalink
    21/10/2011 4:30 pm

    hi cerin! sarah shared this blog. The benefits you describe in relation to martial training and working out in the pool are all studied in depth in tai chi – specifically chi kung. Chi kung movement training i martial training for health which is developed by chinese in depth. The chi kung emphasises slow gentle pulsating movements to facilitate joint mobilisation and working with breathing in a similar way to yoga. There are some fundermental differences (pholosophical, emphasis on different body mechanics) the chi kung system also emphersise flowing movement over fast or violent movement that sends muscles and joints into shock or spasm. (i understand that some seniour sensis have spent time in the pool for re-hab after joint surgery). i found your article intereasting and some good links to explain how marital arts are good for health you could google chi gung / or chi kung and Tai chi or look under yoga. Bruch Francis (energy arts I think)or Raymond Towers (uktqf). I use tai chi and martial arts training to manage my epilepsy. it has changed my life.

    🙂 all the best happy googling!

    Ruth

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