jo skates

Skating in the key of life


More hip exercises

I did a check-in with PT Sarah today. I have been taking a group Pilates class from her every week, but haven’t been assessed in a while (bruises, Nationals, and more bruises got in the way).

My hips are looking pretty much aligned (hooray!). However, I still have some muscle imbalances. Sarah suggested that these may be due both to older patterns of movement when I was constantly compensating for the hip misalignment, and some adjustment issues since I am now getting used to what is a newly balanced chassis.

At any rate, I have a new set of exercises, some of which target my right side as well as my left. I really need to stretch the “hip capsule” on my left side as well as work on hip alignment and glute strength on both sides.

I also need to work to fire up certain right gluteal muscles in tandem with abdominal and adductor muscles on the left. Here’s the only video I could find of one key exercise that I did today. The video is of a very detailed teaching demonstration; the level of detail does show how hard it is to do these exercises correctly, and how many different muscle groups are involved.

I also did a “skater” exercise on the reformer with the left leg on the stationery part. (I don’t think I could get away with these tight white shorts, though.)

Boy, I can tell that I’m going to feel this tomorrow. Can’t wait to see if the skating improves!



Mystery solved!


Yes, folks, that is indeed Rodin’s Le Penseur (The Thinker). He is sitting there with his right elbow on his left thigh, which means that his torso is rotated counter-clockwise, and his left side is somewhat scrunched up.

When I put myself into this position, I feel this familiar tightness deep in the back of my hip, where my femur inserts. I have had this for years, and nothing seems to help with it.

At our last session, my PT Sarah told me that she thinks my hip problems might be related to too-tight obturator muscles. There are two obturator muscles. The obturator internus is located underneath the gluteus maximus and helps to laterally rotate the hip. Along with the obturator externus, it works to tilt the pelvis forward.


Posterior Hip Muscles

When the obturator internus is too tight, the pelvic bone becomes tipped too far forward.

So it’s all beginning to make sense. I’ve had this tight obturator and my left hip bone tipped forward for a really long time.  No wonder I could never get satisfactory turnout on the left side–my leg bone was already rotated out to the max in an effort to stay upright.

I confess that I have totally misunderstood my problem. For years, I thought that I was just built wrong for ice dancing, with turned-in knees.  I kept trying to increase my turnout through stretching exercises that emphasized the external rotation of the leg, which was simply aggravating the problem.

The exercises I have been doing emphasize internally rotating the thigh (picture Le Penseur pushing his left knee into the right one and rotating his left leg clockwise). This activates both the adductors (inside thigh muscles) and the muscles on the outside of the hip.

I have also been working on allowing my knees turn in while skating. What a difference this makes! Really, my knee is aligned right along the edge, but it feels like I’m turning in. I was really surprised to find that even skaters with really good turnout look like they do this.

Canada's Scott Moir and Canada's Tessa Virtue perform in the Figure Skating Ice Dance Short Dance at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 16, 2014. AFP PHOTO / YURI KADOBNOVYURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images ORG XMIT: 461448105

Canada’s Scott Moir and Canada’s Tessa Virtue perform in the Figure Skating Ice Dance Short Dance at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 16, 2014. AFP PHOTO / YURI KADOBNOVYURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images ORG XMIT: 461448105

Sarah pronounced my hips “neutral” so my exercises are doing their job.  Now it’s just a matter of strengthening certain muscles and loosening others (like the obturator internus) so they stay that way. More exercises, including some for my lower back and core.

But first, a song from Carly!



‘I’m looking right at the other half of me”

. . . croons Justin Timberlake.

I’ve been looking right at the other half of me in the plexiglass surrounding the rink, in photographs, in the large bathroom mirror. Narcissism aside, what I’ve been looking for are signs of bodily distortion–twisted upper body, dropped hip, shoulder raised–as I stand, skate, walk.


Correcting alignment issues might well be a lifelong task, even if I stop skating. I’ve been practicing my walking skills, doing those eccentric exercises for my foot, doing a variety of morning and evening exercises to strengthen my left side. These are in turns challenging, frustrating, or just plain boring unless I invest them with some kind of meaning. One of my goals is to be able to do this on my left side (the beach is optional, but would be nice):


So in the bigger picture, skating gives me a way of making meaning of this, something else to focus on while I straighten out my body. I have to believe that improving my strength, balance, and control on my left side will pay off.

I will stand up straighter. No more foot pain. Being able to walk for longer distances (or maybe even run again). Tried out my cross-country ski boots yesterday and thought about what it will be like to get out there into the snow on a bright, sunny winter day.

Over the years, I’ve made all kinds of excuses to keep skating. It puts me in touch with my body on a regular basis. It is a welcome break from my desk job. It helps me sleep better. It teaches me patience. I get to hang out with cool people. It’s cheaper than therapy. I’ll add the “equality of the left” to the long list.

Sing it, Justin!

Cause with your hand in my hand and a pocket full of soul
I can tell you there’s no place we couldn’t go
Just put your hand on the glass, I’m trying to pull you through
You just gotta be strong

‘Cause I don’t wanna lose you now
I’m looking right at the other half of me
The vacancy that sat in my heart
Is a space that now you hold
Show me how to fight for now
And I’ll tell you, baby, it was easy
Coming back into you once I figured it out
You were right here all along


All clear! All level!

This morning I saw Megan, my PT, who pronounced my leg length equal and my hips level!!! So we are done with PT for this episode in which, to use her words, “your chassis was all cattywampus.”

We went over a final set of exercises for my foot. Here’s a new (medial) view of the tendons, since in my last post I provided a lateral (away from the center line of the body).384foot6

The affected tendon seems to be the tibialis anterior tendon, so she came up with an eccentric muscle exercise to do. I am to flex my foot with very little effort, then push down on the top of the foot to provide resistance while pointing the toe. I can do this seated using my hands, or use a theraband attached to the leg of the bed or circular weights around the foot while sitting. The trick is not to use force to flex the foot (this would undo the purpose of the exercise) but to really work the foot by providing downward pressure while it is unflexing.

So the recommendation for “professional athletes” on these exercises (which of course I will gleefully adopt) is 15 times a set, with 3 sets per session, punctuated by a 2-minute rest between each one. And I have to do this 3 times a day. For 12 weeks.

No calf raises for a while, and I must take it easy on stressing the foot in other ways, which I hope will be much easier now that my hips are level. (I didn’t really need to put that in boldface, but my rapture level is pretty high right now.)

We also talked about my relearning to walk and run and do other things on my new chassis. She gave me some ideas about Feldenkrais and Alexander technique, which I will look into. But the main thing to try is to pull my lower abdominals as I walk (or skate, or stand). When I do this, I can feel the muscles all around my left hip kick in, front and back, which is a reminder that I haven’t been doing this enough so that it’s instinctive.

So it’s a great day. It’s -6 degrees (F) outside with a wind chill of -28 degrees, so cold that our brand new dishwasher has stopped working and they cancelled school for my kids. But I’ll be singing as I’m doing the piled-up and crusted-on dishes and looking forward to those eccentric exercises and standing tall and level. Hooray!


Happy feet

I’ve been working on this post for several days now, but not been able to finish more than a few sentences. It’s a treat to sit down with a nice steaming cup of something warm (I’ve become quite a fan of Kava Stress Relief tea) and actually try to finish this post. But I have done this multiple times now, and each time something comes up: the email that begs attention, the clock saying it’s time to pick up kids, something cooking in the oven for dinner. Or bedtime for those of us who get up quite early (not to skate, but to prepare for the school bus that picks up at the outrageous time of–gasp!–6:55 a.m.).

It is very very cold here, so the cup of tea (or lunchtime soup, since it is so cold) becomes tepid or down right cold before I get back to it. Still, there are those moments of peace, when the only thing I have to do is tap on the computer–and tap my toes along with the music.

One of my goals for 2015: to have happy feet.

I confess that before last year, I did not give a lot of thought to my feet while skating. Oh sure, I’d have that occasional soreness in my left foot after certain moves. And after a hard-skating session, I’d breathe a sigh of relief after taking off my skates, but who doesn’t? Several years ago when Laurie was teaching us the Paso Doble, she had some great things to say about using one’s feet to help articulate the rhythm and style of the dance. But there were so many other things to think about in that dance that I am only now appreciating her comments.

It’s payback time. The last six months have proven to me how much you use those feet while skating, and how important every part of those feet are. I have been writing mainly about my misaligned hip, but my feet have been much more outspoken (if indeed feet could talk!) about all the posture and balance problems. It was my left foot that gave the clearest signal (ouch! help me!) that something was really wrong.

So after reading a number of web articles, I think I have tendonosis, a kind of degeneration rather than inflammation of tendons (tendinitis) in my foot. It occurs in the area of the tendinous sheath of extensor hallucis longus and/or the tendinous sheath of the tibialis anterior (the long blue thing and the blue thing above it that you can barely see in this diagram).


The difference between tendinitis and tendonosis is that, as one of the articles says, while tendinitis is warm and swollen, tendonosis is “abnormal collagen or protein buildup–the tendon’s microfibers start to resemble sticky, overcooked spaghetti.” (Okay, I’m going to need a moment to recover from that image.) Unfortunately tendonosis also takes much longer to heal (I’ve read from three to nine months), and persists in spite of rest, icing, anti-inflammatories, and all the treatments effective for tendinitis.

I am looking into different eccentric exercises that seem to be recommended by a number of sources. “Eccentric” here doesn’t mean skating around with a bag on one’s head; it refers to the type of muscle contraction. Concentric means that the muscle contracts in the same direction as the joint it moves; eccentric is when the muscle moves in opposition to the direction of the joint. The eccentric muscular exercises presumably help to break down all those sticky spaghetti-like collagen fibers and help the tendon remodel itself. I think this type of exercise is what I did a number of years ago to help with with a dogged case of “tennis elbow.”

The good news is that continued activity (without overdoing it) is actually more beneficial than just sitting around. And the even better news is that my foot does seem to be improving with stretching, massage, and these exercises. Less pain, more mobility.

Speaking of pain–ack, time to shovel snow before it gets trampled into our walk. And then time for bed. I will add pictures tomorrow.

Gotta love those feet!