Common Biomechanical Problems Exacerbated By VI and How to Fix 'Em
As in all populations which have similar movement patterns, some injuries or movement faults are more common than others. Through observation with biomechanics in mind as well as consideration of my own experience being visually-impaired, I have found some commonalities which can easily lead to increased physical ailments. In this article, I would like to briefly discuss some of these issues and some steps which may help alleviate them. Of course, if you have serious ailments or medical concerns, visit your healthcare practitioner. These tips are meant to act as a guide for potential issues and strategies to combat them. Again, this is based off of my own experiences and my observations as someone with an advanced degree in Kinesiology. I am not a medical doctor. If you have serious issues, please reach out to a qualified medical professional.
As a visually-impaired person, one tends to walk in a more quad dominant style. This extension of the foot in front of the body allows one to quickly put on the brakes if an obstacle is encountered by one’s mobility cane. It also feels safer and more condensed in my experience. While getting around safely is very important, it may rob the body of important time spent in hip extension. It also allows the quadricep muscles (the front of your thighs) to be overused in comparison to the hamstrings (the back of your thighs) and glute muscles (your, well, butt). This could manifest in knee pain, limited ability to engage the glutes and hamstrings, cause issues with other movement patterns such as squatting, etc.
Stretch your quad muscles intermittently. An easy stretch is grabbing your ankle with the same side hand and bending the knee so your heel gets as close as possible to your glutes. This is done standing so use your other hand to grab onto something for adequate balance.
Any position which gets your knee behind your hip to encourage hip extension will be greatly useful. An elongated lunge position or the classic “couch stretch” are great. If you want a strength exercise that accomplishes this at the same time, the Bulgarian Split Squat is one of the best.
When walking, make contact with your foot as smoothly as possible. Avoid jamming your heel into the ground in front of you,as doing this will cause the quads to take a majority of the load and stress your knee.
Posterior chain weakness
Related to the issue of quad tightness, if one doesn’t work hip extension adequately, their hamstring and glute muscles will be underdeveloped. These muscles are hugely important for locomotion, posture, and strength. To shore up these issues, special attention must be paid to these muscle groups. Strength exercises such as deadlifts and kettlebell swings can be greatly helpful for these muscles when performed correctly.
Perform glute bridges after opening up your hips for extension.
Learn the deadlift and kettlebell swing to master the hip hinge pattern that will help you engage your hamstrings and glutes.
Progress to single leg variants of the deadlift and glute bridge as you become more advanced. Use a balance point as necessary.
Postural muscle weaknesses
Another issue is poor posture leading to slumped shoulders, protruding chin and low back pain. While this could stem from a skeletal or neuromuscular problem, some work on commonly neglected areas and better attention to good posture can be of much help. Slumped shoulders can be helped with increases in upper back strength and stamina. Chin poke can be aided by retractions. And oftentimes, a stronger core protects a suffering low back.
Perform neck retractions several times a day. This will be both a good doublecheck of proper posture as well as exercise to help strengthen the requisite musculature. You can perform retractions simply by shifting your head backwards, almost as if you are trying to give yourself a double chin. Keep your head pointing straight forward not letting the chin dip up or down.
For upper back posture, practice squeezing your shoulders blades back and together as hard as you can for 5-10 seconds. Perform 3-5 repetitions of this. Repeat intermittently throughout the day. Keep in mind that if you are working out in a home or gym setting, there are many other movements to advance to after this.
Performing planks will help your core muscles to strengthen and better cope with sitting often or trying to maintain good posture.
Using a mobility cane requires the wrist be kept in a repetitive range of motion. This cocking of the wrist neglects its antagonist motion and can lead to overuse. Some impacts of one’s mobility cane on an obstacle or crack in the sidewalk can also send unwanted forces up into the wrist. These redundant positions can be taken into account to help the wrist stay healthier.
Stretch and activate into the opposite of your typical cane holding position. Try using your other hand to tilt the wrist toward the thumb side of your forearm.
Activate this same range but performing radial deviation exercises. The simplest will be making a thumbs up then tilting your wrist as if you are trying to point your thumb into your elbow pit. Return wrist back to a straight position and repeat for repetitions.
Lunges for fall prevention/recovery
One last specific consideration is fall prevention. Tripping and/or falling is part of the game when you have a visual impairment. But obviously we want you to be more capable of catching yourself and decrease your likelihood of getting hurt. That is why I think performing lunges as part of your exercise routine is paramount. It will help mimic the position you need to achieve to catch yourself with a quick step and build the strength to recover from that position.
Don’t let your back hunch over during your lunges. You can lean forward if necessary but be sure your spine doesn’t round.
Make sure your front knee doesn’t go forward over your toes too much. This will increase quad dominance. Try putting more pressure on your front heel and stomping down into the ground to stand back up.
These issues may or may not be applicable to your situation. Use these ideas and tips in a way that’s best for you. Keep in mind this is just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope it helps open some doors for you to pursue what makes you happy, in a better physical state.