With the holiday season’s flood of unhealthy temptations almost behind us there is a bright light on the horizon, the new year! January 1 is when we will start with our new healthy habits. We’ll eat right, and we will join a gym. Unfortunately, after a short period of time usually one of two things happens: a) we fall off the health wagon or b) we get injured only a few weeks into our new exercise regimen.
According to a study from the University of Arkansas, there has been a 35 percent increase in gym injuries in recent years. But why is that so? First of all, the general population is typically less physically fit these days because we are less active in our daily lives. But then there also those of us who’ve already had injuries in our past such as sprains, fractures, car accidents, or surgeries. For this group getting back into shape can be a whole different story.
It might be the case that your brain cannot find the muscles you actually need for a specific workout. Our brain is an amazing machine. Its goal is to keep the body going, under any circumstances, as well as it possibly can. When you’ve injured yourself and a specific muscle couldn’t be used anymore, the brain quickly recruited another muscle to chip in and help out.
The problem is that the body has no mechanism to let go of the compensation pattern when it is no longer needed. So, long after the injury has healed, the body continues to overuse the bracing muscles it relied on during the trauma and continues to ignore the muscles that were shut down. This creates a vicious cycle. The ignored muscles start to weaken from lack of use, causing you to use the bracing muscles even more. Eventually, the bracing muscles simply stay tight all the time, they become dysfunctional and hurt. The inhibited muscles are those that your brain simply cannot “find” and thus will not use anymore. And they are usually the problematic ones when you start with a new strengthening routine.
Whichever new workout you choose, it will involve certain movement patterns. To carry out a movement pattern in a functionally correct manner the involved muscles need to fire in a specific sequence. So if there are one or more muscles in that chain that don’t fire, the others will have to pick up the slack and overwork. Within a short period of time this can lead to pain in either the overworking or the underworking muscles. And remember, you cannot strengthen something that is dysfunctional.
So what can you do then to safely start training and become more active and healthy? Consider seeing a movement specialist who can evaluate your existing movement patterns. Unless we already are experiencing pain somewhere in our body we are usually unaware of our own dysfunctional movement patterns.
A practitioner who is trained in modalities such as NeuroKinetic Therapy or Neuromuscular Reprogramming can use manual muscle testing to assess neuromuscular functioning and coordination. The process is simple, the therapist will ask you to move a joint or a limb in a certain way and offer minimal resistance in the opposite direction. It will be immediately clear whether your brain can instruct your body to do this or not. If a muscle test fails, the cerebellum registers this as a problem and it goes into learning mode. This gives the practitioner a few minutes to show the body how to access the correct muscle and retrain the brain to use the correct neuromuscular sequence instead.
So what would this look like in real life? Let’s say you want to take up running or walking on the treadmill. An essential muscle group for this exercise are the gluteal muscles in our buttocks. Most of us are sitting way too much every day at work, so chances are that our glutes will be inhibited, often by our calf muscles. So, if you'd start running, your calves, hamstrings or low back extensors might try to pick up the slack and end up overworking and painful down the road.
Now if you knew of this dysfunctional relationship you could work on correcting it and never allow it to even become a problem in the first place. Every time you’d be getting ready for a run you would first loosen up your calf muscles by massaging or rolling them out for 30-60 seconds. After doing this your glutes should work like champions.
Surgical scars, such as C-section scars, can also play a huge role in inhibiting movement patterns. My own C-section scar shut down my hip flexors last summer which lead to me getting injured from going on a run. Months of hip pain and physical therapy followed, without any change for the better. Only after my neuromuscular therapist found the relationship between my scar and the inhibited muscles and after releasing it, my brain found the hip flexors again and rehab showed progress. Now I know that I have to do a quick release on my scar before going on a run. Problem solved.
As the great movement expert Gray Cook puts it: "First move well, then move often." Don’t try it the other way around, especially if you have suffered injuries before. Get yourself assessed and correct any dysfunctional movement patterns first so you can build a healthy body on a functional foundation.
I wish you very happy holidays and a healthy, happy new year!!!
For more information contact me at (425) 236-9900 or browse through my website at www.eastsidebodywork.com.