Dealing With Pain and Injuries in Your Practice

Special Report

"Little Old Man" Tai Chi - How to Deal With Pain and Injuries in Your Practice

Last updated on by Al Simon

Do you have pain or injuries that prevent you from progressing in Tai Chi and Qigong? Are injuries stopping you from getting benefits from your practice?

Recently, Matthew, one of our ChiFusion students, and I had a discussion on the new ChiFusion Support Forum.

Matthew has had previous knee injuries from which he had never fully recovered (patellar tendonitis and minor chondromalacia), along with problems from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He felt like these problems were holding him back from progressing in the ChiFusion program.

In discussing this with Matthew, I pointed out the "70% rule" in our courses. In the course, the rule states:

Estimate your greatest ability to perform any given exercise, then practice at only 70% of that maximum level ... if you are injured or hurt, go only 40% or less.

In talking with Matthew, I realized that I should probably update that rule - especially for people with physical difficulties. For them, the rule really should say, "Estimate your greatest ability without pain or causing any problems ... ".


It's Your Range - Without Pain

For example, let's say you have injuries or health compromises that make rotating your hips painful. If so, you'll need to find your greatest range of motion without causing pain. Then you need to call that range your 100% level. But don't practice in that range. Instead, your practice should then begin at 40% of that range and then be adjusted up or down as you see the effects on your body.

I realize that in case of injury, that may mean the range of motion is an inch or two, or maybe even fractions of an inch (or a centimeter or two). If that's the case, well ... then so be it. ChiFusion Tai Chi isn't about how much you do, it's about how well you do. You have to work from where you are.

We had one woman in our in-person classes with a lot of physical problems. When she joined us, she had very limited mobility. She could hardly move without pain. It took her almost a year to complete the first level - she took the course over and over. But after that year, she was thrilled. She was moving in ways that used to cause her pain, but by the end of that year, the same movements were now pain free.

We also have students - right now, taking the online course - who have extremely limited mobility. For example, one student in Hold the Sky, can't push overhead to the Sky because of a shoulder injury, because it would cause him shoulder and back pain. Instead, he pushes down towards the ground (not up to the sky) about about a 60 degree angle at the shoulder.

When he started, he couldn't even lift his arm to shoulder height. Now he can - but that of course is his new 100%. So his 60 degree angle represents his 70% level. As he continues to work, he has seen improvements. Will he ever be able to push overhead to the sky? I don't know, but that doesn't matter. What matters is today he can do more than he could a week or a year ago. Continual progress - that's what counts.


The Tai Chi - the "Tim Conway" Way

Most of you know I had my own knee problems, until I met a Tai Chi master who taught me all this. And when I learned this, it was like re-learning Tai Chi all over.

I had to adjust all of my Tai Chi movements so that they were pain-free. For example, instead of stepping 36 inches (1 meter) forward into a Bow Stance - which of course, would hurt my knees - I started stepping about 8 inches (20 centimeters). Instead of bending my knee into a "textbook" 145 degree bend, there was hardly any knee bend at all. My bow stance was more of a "stepped forward" Wuji. In addition, I had shoulder problems, so my arm movements were really small. Imagine seeing someone - especially my size - practice Tai Chi like that? You might not even recognize it as Tai Chi!

At the time, I thought of it as "little old man" Tai Chi. If you're old enough to remember Tim Conway's "little old man" character on the Carol Burnett TV show, and the way he used to shuffle around, you'll get the idea!

I practiced like that for months, but eventually became pain free. Then I began increasing my range of motion. At the time I was going through this process, it seemed like it took a long time. Look back on it now though, it actually was a fairly quick period - about a year or so - until what I was back performing Tai Chi the way I wanted, but without pain.

So when you are in the middle of it, this can take time and persistence. Don't be discouraged if your range of motion is really small. If you keep practicing at 70% (or 40% or less), your range of motion will increase.


Experiencing Tai Chi Like a Healthy Person

After discussing all this with Matthew, he wrote
The discovery that practicing Tai Chi and Qigong at an extremely low level can still be beneficial is a revelation to me. I've always had the belief that I would only experience the benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong if I could practice it close to the way healthy people do.

I'll begin applying this approach (40% or less of maximum ability without pain) to the ChiFusion course, ...

Thanks for taking the extra time to help me with my problem. This type of information is invaluable to me. Actually, all the information you provide is invaluable to me. Perhaps this subject of customing Tai Chi and Qigong exercises and the value of practicing at an individual's personal level, even if it involves moving a small amount, would make a good topic for a ChiFusion Tai Chi and Qigong Blog entry.


I couldn't have agreed more!

As always, you have my best wishes for Chi Development,

Al Simon   Al's Signature



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