Most people who service their cars regularly do this without much thought… it is just something that needs to be done to keep their vehicle running well and prevent breakdowns. It gives us some piece of mind… you know you feel much better after you’ve had your car serviced, because it’s been thoroughly checked over, and you know the chance of something weird happening in the middle of a freeway somewhere, raising your blood pressure and stress levels, is a lot lower. You notice the difference in performance also… it feels “zippier”….smoother.
Would you agree that the human body is much more complex than a car? There are a lot of things that can go wrong with it. Lets look at just the musculoskeletal system for the moment. Have you ever got out of a chair and felt a little twinge in your back, or got up in the morning and felt that you have a stiff neck? Or have you pulled up a little sorer than usual after a run, or felt some discomfort with certain exercises in the gym, or playing sport?
Worse yet, have you ever developed a painful shoulder condition where it hurts to lift your arm up, or leg pain that makes walking or running difficult? These things can have a significant effect on our lives for days, weeks or even months.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to prevent these issues from arising, so that we can move with freedom and confidence, and enjoy an active pain free lifestyle on a long term basis?
It is possible to prevent many musculoskeletal ailments, but this requires looking at pain from a different angle.
The Science of Pain
There has been a lot of research recently in the field of pain and neuroscience. What this research is showing us is that pain is an output signal created by the brain… a warning sign that something is amiss. Where the pain is does not have to be where the problem is, ie the cause of the pain may not be in the region of the pain.
The warning signal is processed by the brain first before it is sent out to our conscious awareness, and this processing involves memory, past experience, learnt behaviours/beliefs and education. The purpose of the pain signal then is to cause a behavioural change in the individual so that the cause of the pain is corrected.
For example, Harry may develop pain in his forearm while sitting at a desk for long periods. The pain persists, despite some stretching exercises Harry found on the internet. He may then have a scan on his elbow which states he has mild “tennis elbow”, even though he doesn’t play tennis! Harry sees his local health practitioner, who treats the problem with some local massage, advice and exercise. The problem improves, but then is reaggravated when Harry attends a conference and sits all weekend.
Harry then sees a different professional, one who looks beyond the elbow and takes a more holistic approach. They find that Harry’s thoracic spine, especially one segment, is under most load, is very stiff and rotated. Manipulating this makes the most difference to Harry’s grip test, elbow tenderness and other movement restrictions related to his problem arm.
When Harry’s poor posture is sited as the reason for this tension, and is likely to be what’s causing his pain, the light bulb goes off for Harry. He recalls getting stiffness in his back long before his elbow became a problem, but had largely ignored it. The pain in the elbow was more annoying and stopped him from gardening and playing sport with his kids, whereas his back tension had not restricted him this much.
With the correct treatment to the cause of Harry’s problem, and exercises to improve Harry’s posture and awareness, the elbow pain subsides and Harry has a great long term result for his problem.
Accumulation of Strain
In this case, the warning signs were there for Harry, but he had largely ignored them, until the problem had presented in a different area and had restricted him more. The accumulation of strain on Harry’s spine had been the trigger for his elbow pain, and this strain was caused by prolonged static loading on the spine from poor postural habits.
Other factors that can increase the build up of strain in your body are:
2. Poor diet and sleep.
3. Inadequate recovery after training.
4. Movements such as lifting grocery bags, picking up the kids, moving furniture or gardening.
5 Over training or training with poor technique.
6. Biomechanical or strength imbalances in your body that you may not know about….we all have them!
If this strain builds up to beyond a safe threshold, then your brain will send you the warning of pain, or some other feeling like stiffness, tightness or even fatigue. If you do not heed the warning, and strain continues to build, a more severe or limiting warning sign can occur, one which you cannot ignore.
On the graph below we have the amount of strain on the vertical axis, and time on the horizontal axis. This strain creates protective responses in the body such as tense, tight muscles, stiff joints and nerves that do not glide well. This is detected by the brain as “noxious input”. When the level of this strain is below the safe threshold, we may not feel any symptoms… the brain can manage this amount of load on the body.
Once the threshold is exceeded, the brain perceives there is too much strain/noxious input and will create the warning sign of pain, to create a behavioural change within the individual.
With the right treatment to the correct area, ie the primary contributing factor (PCF), the pain and symptoms settle and the problem is addressed long term.
The important thing to note here is that the strain/noxious input can be detected well before the pain or symptoms arise. This is done through careful hands on assessment of muscle tension, joint glides and nerve mobility, as well as testing faulty movement patterns. These are protective outputs/signs created by the brain as strain accumulates, and these are present before any pain develops.
So correcting this noxious input, and treating the main area of strain, can reduce the overall level of dysfunction in the body to keep you well below the pain threshold. This will help you move better, be more comfortable, and reduce the risk of developing pain. You will be tuned -up! Feeling zippier, more energetic and less restricted! We can also show you how to manage yourself long term to prevent this strain from further building up.
If this appeals to you, feel free to call us at the clinic to discuss your specific case, and how this proactive approach can benefit you.You can also book a 30min tune up by going to our diary here.