The typical day in a patrol officer’s life, if there is such thing as a typical day, is one of sitting. Long hours on patrol, driving, standing and driving some more. At some point the call will come where your stiff and sore body must go from zero to sprint with little to no warning. A professional athlete will spend a good 10-15 minutes getting ready to sprint, jump, climb, run and fight. An officer does not have that luxury. Sadly the act of sit to sprint has a lot of nasty effects on your body. The knees, ankles, back and hips all take a virtual beating as they try desperately to do what you ask of them, but all those hours of sitting and getting stiff has put them at a distinct disadvantage. There is a reason that so many injuries occur to the lower body and back, some of it you just cannot change, but there are things you can do to make your job easier and decrease your chance of injury. To top that off these changes may make you run faster and jump higher too!
Sitting for long periods of time, especially in all your gear, vest, cuffs etc. forces a pretty poor postural pattern to occur. On top of not being able to sit comfortably you are placing a lot of deleterious forces on the lower back. Many of these bad forces come from compression as a result of sitting but many of these bad forces come from your hip flexors becoming tight. As we sit for long periods the muscle that flexes the hip (knee to chest) and the muscle that flexes the trunk (chest to knee) get compressed and become tight. The tighter they get the more they send out a dominating signal to the abdominal wall, to do less work. Concurrently this signal forces to hamstring to get tight in a response to the tight hip flexor. So your hamstrings feel tight and your back and knees are sore and achey but the problem more often lies in the muscle group that has no pain, in this case the hip flexors.
The best thing to do to combat this scenario is to stretch. Spend a few minutes prior to each shift stretching your hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, calves and lats. Hold all your stretches for 60 seconds each, that’s right longer is better but less is more. Stretching should be mildly uncomfortable but never painful and remember to breathe. When on break or in the rest room, stretch. When you have a free minute stretch. Stay hydrated as muscles move better and stretch better when properly hydrated. When you work out never do leg raises, crunches, situps, decline ab’s or anything that fixes your feet in place while your torso moves, this actually makes the imbalance worse and the muscles tighter.
For many of you these muscles may be difficult to stretch, may be uncomfortable or may cause some discomfort in the back. While there are many causes for this discomfort it is most likely caused by adhesions or trigger points in the muscles. It’s impossible to stretch an adhesion which is essentially scar tissue, and these nasty adhesions changes how the tissue and moves and how you move. So one of the easiest and most cost/time effective methods to self treat this is through self trigger point massage; essentially using a tennis ball to self massage those nasty spots. By addressing these trigger points you can effectively mobilize the tissue to move as we need it to. This is a fantastic technique while watching TV or in the gym prior to your workout. Keeping these trigger points loose means that when you go from zero to sprint your body has a good chance at safely doing what we want it to do.
When you give you body proper flexibility, good mobility, hydration and by avoiding exercises that compound the problem. You will not only be able to do your job more effectively and safely but you will have given yourself the tools to run faster and jump higher, simply by removing the roadblocks to its performance in the first place.