Vail Daily column: Correct dysfunctional movements to help with pain |

Vail Daily column: Correct dysfunctional movements to help with pain

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

Stay out of the surgeon’s office please. You feel hopeless, and surgery seems like the only option. Rest assured you are mistaken. Surgery should always be the last option for the orthopedically challenged. If you tear your ACL skiing or go over the handlebars flying down the trail and shatter your leg, the knife is the only option. There are other options for the chronic sufferer including physical therapy, rolfing, injections, massage therapy, chiropractic care and movement analysis. I’m going to discuss the importance of movement analysis and what this looks like.

I don’t have the qualifications or desire to diagnose and treat pain. I do have the experience dealing with students who experience pain because of the nature of our lifestyle in the Vail Valley. Here is what you need to know.


Too many people experience pain and deal with it on a daily basis. This is terribly unfortunate. For clarity up front, I offer no magic solution, nor do I claim to have all of the answers. Understanding the mechanisms for pain are deep waters and we are merely swimming close to shore here.

In 1998 I underwent a 12 level spinal fusion surgery. I live mostly pain free and live a remarkable quality of life. I receive many questions on how I go about my lifestyle to avoid pain and further complications.

Pain sufferers ask me regularly whether or not I feel they should get surgery on their knee, hip, back, neck or shoulder. Recently, a gentlemen asked me whether or not he should go back for a second fusion on his neck because he was feeling hopeless dealing with the problems associated with the pain, numbness and general consequences of having an orthopedic dysfunction. My answer is always an astounding no.

If you have a specific diagnosis and surgery is an option, why jump all in when surgery will always remain an option?


I met Michael 3 weeks ago who is a chronic pain sufferer and had tried everything. He had been to doctors and therapists. He’s read books. Michael is an active advocate for his health and doesn’t complain but rather sees a problem as an opportunity — a powerful attribute for navigating pain by the way. When I met Michael, I agreed to examine his movements, and see if I could offer any value.

Michael was injured in a car accident 30 years ago. The doctors removed a large global muscle in his back and sewed it into his abdomen. Michael has a plate screwed into multiple levels in his lower back, and his posture is terrible.

His movements and general mechanics are dysfunctional, and he lives in severe pain most days. Within five sessions and the help of a local rolfer and movement expert Jeff Draper, Michael has been mostly pain free for almost two weeks — a breakthrough that hasn’t happened in years. Two weeks ago, Michael couldn’t bend over and touch his thighs. He didn’t have the ability to bend over and touch his upper legs, folks. Just last week, he lifted 40 pounds off of the ground 10 times. What happened?

Most chronic sufferers have underlying movement dysfunctions that elicits pain. Unless the dysfunctional movements are identified using provocative tests, how do you know what to correct?


Most of Michael’s exercises that were prescribed to him involved extension of the spine. However, when Michael performs extension tests, he experiences pain. So why would he be prescribed the exact movements that cause pain in the first place? What movements removed Michael’s pain? Exercises involving bending over were relieving. Even though he didn’t have the strength to bend, we knew this was a missing piece of the puzzle. After a few days of specific conditioning to strengthen Michael’s bending mechanics, he is currently pain free.

A large reason I live mostly pain free is because I train using the right movements for me. Michael is currently out of pain because bending movements relieve his pain; most movement treatments avoid bending movements because this apparently scares many doctors and therapists. Often we assume that specific exercises such as planks fix back problems because they strengthen the core. This is extremely shortsighted without context in terms of how the sufferer is moving and what dysfunctions persist.

Don’t lose hope. Our community is world class for orthopedic care. Seek out the following professionals — Scott Wacker owner of Movement Physical Therapy; Nico Brown, Howard Head Sports Medicine; Laina Eskin owner of Align Vail; Neil Masters at Axis Sports Medicine; David Honda and Merlon Pusey at Vail Sports Medicine Physical Therapy. These are specific individuals who excel at orthopedic dysfunctions. There are many more, but I have had the best experiences with these individuals. Stay healthy and move forward. Have a great week!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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