Last weekend, I helped out at the local Police and Citizens Youth Club (PCYC) annual 3 on 3 basketball competition. Players and spectators were able to receive complementary Bowen treatments.
It was a great day ! Lots of talented kids, having lots of fun whether they were winning or not scoring as many points…
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It’s been years since I played any basketball – it was high school I think ! As I was preparing sheets and the table to take with me, I was thinking about the types of injuries I might see, the treatments I may need to do.
A quick online search gave some statistics and typical injuries for basketball…
Injuries were mostly caused by falls, player contact, quickly changing direction, landing awkwardly, and being hit by the ball.
Lower body injuries are what’s mostly seen. Sprained ankles are the most common basketball injury, while knee injuries tend to account for most lost time.
Other common injuries are to the hand, the fingers, or the head, face or teeth.
Interestingly, when I treated players on the day, it was for none of those injuries !
Basketball players want to move on the court more easily
What most players needed help with was muscle tightness that was preventing them from moving as freely as they’d like. Preventing them from playing their best.
Player after player who saw me spoke about their tight hips. Their lower back ached, their hamstrings and legs felt tight, and it was often hard to stand up straight.
Remembering my basketball playing days, watching the games, and understanding the body meant that some of the muscle imbalances at play became much clearer.
A couple of things I noted as I watched a few games was players’ body position, and how they ran.
While players clearly run and jump a lot during a game, much of the time is spent holding a squat-like position. Knees bent, hips bent, often leaning over a little. Whether they’re dribbling the ball, moving about to get into position to take the ball, or defending and blocking another player, so much of the time is spent in a squat-like position.
After a basket is scored, the players need to run to the other end of the court. Sometimes they had time and could run forward, as we normally run. But very often, to not take their eyes off the ball or the person they’re defending, they’re running backwards.
Noticing these body positions and actions meant that those basketball induced tight hips and hamstrings made a whole lot of sense.
tight hip flexors
Most players I treated complained of tight hip flexors. For many, it was also symptoms elsewhere caused by tight hip flexors.
Deep in the hip, these muscles join the lumbar spine to the top of the thighbone. These are one of the key muscles that contract when you want your hip to flex, when you want your thigh and tummy to get closer. They’re the muscles used to lift your upper leg when walking up stairs. They’re also critical in keeping the pelvis and trunk stable in movement.
When doing a regular squat, just moving down then up, then hip flexors don’t come into play so much. Glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps do the bulk of the work.
However, when holding a squat position and moving about, the hip flexor muscles play a larger role. These muscles engage to keep the pelvis stable, as the body twists and turns, and moves around court.
When hip flexor muscles find themselves in a contracted, or short, state for a long time, they often have trouble relaxing, letting go. Some people will feel that tightness in the front of their hips. Because these muscles link the lumbar spine to the thigh, many feel that their lumbar spine is tight or achy, especially when trying to stand up.
and tight hamstrings
When the basketball players are holding a squat, it’s not just the hip in flexion but also the knee.
The muscles that hold that knee in that stable bent position include the hamstrings – joining the bottom of the pelvis to the top of the shinbone. When the hamstring muscles contract and shorten, they bring the shinbone and bottom of the pelvis closer. If standing, then this would have the knee bend and foot move backward. In the case of our basketball players, keeping the feet on the floor, the knee will bend and the bottom will move toward the floor… of course, quadriceps and glutes help maintain balance and flexing other joints to not fall over !
Like those hip flexors, when hamstrings find themselves in a contracted, short state for an extended time, they have trouble letting go. Some people will feel the tightness in the hamstrings, while others realise that they have trouble touching their toes !
I’d been told that sports players who run backwards a lot (such as basketball or soccer) often experience problems with the hip flexors. It’s an interesting observation, and one that I looked into more since watching the games.
Walking or running in a forward motion relies on a specific sequence of muscles contracting and relaxing. Beginning to step forward, the hip flexor contracts to lift the leg, followed by quadriceps and hamstrings in the thigh quickly taking over as the leg and foot swings forward. With heel strike comes the tibialis (in the shins) and glutes (the buttocks). Then weight transfer, with the quadriceps and then calves in use as the body moves forward.
Running backwards changes the gait, with muscles activated differently. The glutes contract to lift the leg backwards and the hamstrings play a major part in extending the leg backwards. The hip flexors need to relax to allow a longer stride back – something you often don’t see with the usual backward, short-stride shuffle. Weight transfers from the toe through the foot, with hamstrings, then quadriceps moving the body backwards.
When walking or running forwards, the hip flexors need to release when extending (or straightening) the leg backwards before pushing off. When the stride is longer, the hips in that back leg opens up more.
But when jogging or shuffling backwards, the hamstrings do a lot of work in the movement. Unless efforts are made to make big strides, the hip flexors often never fully extend and maintain a level of contraction. And when hip flexors are chronically contracted, the glutes don’t always work as well – long backward strides depend on glutes being strong.
How Bowen Therapy can help
Bowen Therapy is a very gentle form of bodywork. Small, gentle, precise moves are made on muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves, triggering the body to begin a healing process.
Bowen influences the body through the connective tissue known as fascia. Fascia plays a major role in muscle coordination, postural alignment, and overall structural and functional integrity.
A Bowen treatment aims to help the body as a whole – balancing the body, while also addressing the injury/pain site. Posture and compensatory patterns are also assessed, to ensure the problem has a higher chance of staying resolved. The treatment initiates changes in the body that continue for up to a week. Following a Bowen session, improved mobility and posture is commonly seen.
How Bowen Therapy can help basketball players
For the basketball players last weekend, gentle work to relax the lower body and balance the hips gave players freedom to move. Even in ultra-fast treatments in the minutes before a game.
Depending the time available, some players were able to receive specific work to target hamstrings or other muscle areas, where those areas were giving more grief.
While the players are still young, restrictions in the fascia may not yet be showing through in other parts of the body. One player treated complained of a sore knee – a pelvis that was out of balance is likely to have been the cause.
But if players continue with help (be it stretching, massage, or Bowen Therapy), then further tightness in the fascia up or down the body to shoulders or knees/ankles may be prevented. Assessment of the whole structure allows targeting treatment of problem areas, bringing the body back into balance and alignment in a gentle way.
Because Bowen triggers the body to change over a few days, a session a few days before a big competition would have the body at it’s best. While treatment soon after a competition helps the body recover.
There were many smiles as players got off the table, feeling different, even after a short rushed treatment. These players bringing team mates to the table to also try Bowen confirmed how they felt.
And, like last year, many players who experienced Bowen were on the teams that won.
walking gait picture sourced from http://epomedicine.com/clinical-medicine/physical-examination-gait/