This is our gorgeous Molly. 50% English Bulldog, 37.5% Labrador, 12.5% Staffie, 100% nutcase. A happy ball of energy with big sad eyes and a wrinkly anxious forehead. The best Chief Lockdown Entertainments Officer ever.
Unfortunately, Molly has some joint issues. Since puppyhood she has sat in this peculiar way with hind legs straight. Initially we thought this was just a cute puppy thing; but as she grew, it became more pronounced; she would (and still does) curve her spine alarmingly to avoid bending her hip and knee joints so much.
At just 15 months, Molly needed ligament surgery on her left stifle (knee) and she’ll need the right one doing next year. Her hips don’t look too great on the X-rays either, so she’ll likely struggle with mobility in later life.
We only learned about these problems when she started becoming lame after chasing balls with her chums. Part of the trouble is that she just doesn’t realise she’s not a whippet. You’ve never seen anything like this bandy-legged cross between an Exocet missile and a cannonball at full tilt. Other dog walkers would marvel at her ball-chasing velocity and she did look hilarious.
But a dog in pain is never funny, and a young dog needing surgery is pretty sad. The brilliant vet surgeon spent a good hour of his time explaining everything to us. We had deliberately gone for a crossbreed dog, hoping for fewer health issues; but we learned that the gene pool for all dogs is still pretty tiny, in the great scheme of things. And ‘bandy-legged’ dogs like Molly are apparently particularly prone to cruciate ligament instability.
Why am I writing about all this? Well, I often recall F.M. Alexander’s many warnings about the perils of exercise. Running too hard, causing or worsening joint injury is an obvious case in point. It’s important to move and get enough exercise to be healthy; but of course it's just as important not to hurt yourself in the process.
Molly, bless her beautiful heart, isn’t able to discriminate and reason out how to moderate her exercise so that she doesn't do herself a mischief. That responsibility is ours. We are careful to limit her time off the lead more these days and ball games are strictly in-house only.
Humans, on the other hand, get to choose whether or not to exercise caution! We can’t plead ignorance when we have the capacity to think before we act, and when there’s so much support available out there to help us figure out how to move safely.
Granted, there’s a bewildering array of advice and coaching. And unfortunately, some fitness experts don’t take into account the different issues people may have, and operate on a ‘one-size fits all’ basis; which can spell disaster for muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, bones, and indeed morale. Never stay with a health practitioner or fitness coach who isn't listening to you, really working with you where you are and within your capabilities. Keep looking until you find the best fit for you.
Mr. Alexander wrote, in exemplary fashion, “I will not permit my enthusiasm to dominate my reason.” Which is a very elegant way of saying, if you're built like a bandy-legged English Bulldog (which I wouldn't dream of saying that you are), perhaps it's best not to try and run like a whippet.
Are you a keen runner? If you would like a chat with me about how the Alexander Technique helps with economical movement and injury prevention, please drop me a message.
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