“Motion is lotion”: why you should move when you’re sore

I wrote last week about how I turned 55 and immediately hurt my SI joint and started hobbling around going “oh my hip” .  I saw my chiropractor twice right away, who repeated the phrase “motion is lotion” a few times as she did all sorts of magical things to mobilize me.

As anyone who has experienced joint or muscular crankiness knows, your first instinct is to lie on the ground demanding that people bring you frozen grapes. And then to put those grapes on the part that hurts, sitting still until everything eases up. Or seizes up.

I did that for half a day. Then I did a whole bunch of yoga and stretching and the things my chiropractor told me to do. I was such a good client she made a video of me doing TRX squats, ferociously tracking my knee over my toes to set new patterns.

That’s the thing: a lot of the time, if you do some sort of soft tissue damage, it’s not the thing you hurt that’s the problem. It’s the result of some other pattern of all those interrelated tissues. With me, it all began with poor ankle mobility, which goes WAAAAY back to 1999 when I trained for a marathon too quickly after a sprained ankle.

So my new mission: mobilize my ankle, learn to squat with the force of rotating my inner thighs, re-engage in form.

Over the week, I did some yoga, some more stretching and some light running. And then by the time I had personal training a week later, I was ready to let Alex boss me around again.

She started with some very intense hip and leg mobility, squishing every painful fascia and adhesion and overused muscle one by one against the hard handle of a kettlebell.

A friend wandered by when I was in that position and later said, “you looked like you were in so much pain I was ready to push her to the ground at your signal.”

The thing is, it did hurt like hell. But then it all released. And I had the good endorphins, and I was sweating. And 15 minutes later, I was doing this.

Wall walks give me a lot of pleasure. And for the whole day, my body was looser and calm and whole. No pain at all.

Coincidentally, another friend posted on facebook this week that she had hurt her back shoveling snow. Her feed was immediately flooded with injunctions to rest, drink tea, put her feet up.

“No resting!” I thought. “Motion is lotion!”

Then I started wondering what the actual evidence was for movement vs. rest. I have been thinking about mobility and aging and what it means to keep moving through the long list of discomforts as my body develops whole new ways to show its fatigue. Should we always “move through the pain?” When is it a good idea to keep moving our bodies, and when should we rest?

Turns out, of course there is no easy answer.  The bottom line seems to be:  of course your body needs rest and recovery, and you shouldn’t act as though muscular or fascia pain doesn’t exist.   BUT slower movements and thoughtful stretching are an important part of both healing the injured area and preserving your mobility in the rest of your body.  This applies to normal muscle soreness from an intense workout as well as muscular, fascia and joint pain. 

For my immediate issue, my sacroiliac joint pain has tons of evidence to support easing the pain through stretching and movement.

But more important, to me, is that when we hurt, we have a strong tendency to stop moving.  And then it’s a lot harder to start moving again.  And if we don’t start moving again, all of the issues of aging and mobility stack up quickly.  And then we just… stop moving.  And then everything else in our lives gets smaller.

There is a lot of evidence that movement helps the pain and stiffness of arthritis, and reduces your risk of developing any number of chronic diseases, from diabetes to heart disease to parkinson’s. This is well trodden territory for this blog.

And as several of us have posted many times, movement as simple as walking preserves mobility as you age, and eases pain, and it’s never too late to start.

There is growing evidence around physical exercise as a non-pharmacological treatment for chronic pain,  including how to support people who are reluctant to move because it hurts, to overcome their fears for the ultimate benefit. 

So I go back to what I’ve been preaching all along:  listen to your body, and keep moving.  Take the stairs, and walk places, and do things that give you joy.  And now I have a new layer: focused, intense mobilization as part of my workout constellation.

Alex made me a little video of all of my stretches.  And I now have this kettle bell torture program all laid out for me. And what the excellent chiro taught me.  And what the stretch therapist I saw a month ago taught me.  To stay mobile, I need to keep mobilizing.  Sometimes, it IS the workout — not the prelude to the workout.  

That’s a paradigm shift, but I’m slowly learning it.

How about you?  Do you frame activities like stretching, physio, mobilization, yin and restorative yoga as workouts in themselves? 


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who wants to still be able to stand on her hands when she’s 85. 

10 thoughts on ““Motion is lotion”: why you should move when you’re sore

  1. Very strong agree here. On several fronts. Scrambling to get ready right now but I’ll be back in a bit to say more.

  2. I love this. Motion is lotion. I need to do more at home. But I strongly agree. Makes me worried when I hear friends say they have a sore back that put them out and they aren’t interested in getting physio, just take pain killers. When I have had back pain the main thing that helps has been (proper) physio or chiro endorses exercises.

  3. Okay, I’m back, in the car with Sarah driving. I’ve seen this go two ways. One is the do nothing because wanting to protect the injured area. The other is the continuing to do whatever one was doing. I think you’re exactly right that therapeutic movement is what’s called for. And yes, all that counts as a workout. My sports physio guy in London used to say that athletes were the best at doing physio because they had time set aside in their schedules for workouts. Physio is your workout now. Here’s to speedy healing.

  4. This is marvellous, Cate!

    I’m glad your movement brought you ease.

    And I really love the idea of framing physio and rehab exercises as workouts in themselves.

    ADHD wants me to do allofthethings all at once and just add more and more so all of the things get done. A reminder that rehab exercises ARE workouts is immensely useful. Thank you!

  5. Years ago, back in 1987, I put my back out bending over to pick up mail. My physio was emphatic about not lying down. Those days of resting for weeks, she said, are over. She didn’t actually use the words motion is lotion but she worked me hard and I did my exercises daily. In any injury since, the advice has always been the same. Be careful but keep moving nonetheless. I really appreciate the ideas about active release and I’m going to explore those as a preventative measure.

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