Tuesday 4 October 2016

Case Study: Why Not To Over-Mobilize

I've got a case study for you, and it's a great example of why we need to be careful to not take mobility principles out of context. (Look at me, kicking that horse again. Get used to it.)

The Client

In this instance, I had an adult recreational hockey player in to see me for treatment. He had a history of shoulder injuries, some shoulder pain, and ongoing neck tension and headaches following his weekly hockey game. He exercises regularly, but doesn't often workout his upper body at the gym due to his lifestyle demands not requiring it.

In short, my plan of attack was to do some moderate soft-tissue release through his traps and neck, give him some self-mobility exercises to do before hockey, and some stabilization movements to strengthen his scapular and deep neck muscles. From the rehab side of the world, basic basic.

We tried this approach for two sessions in a row, a week apart. In both cases, my client felt great all week.

Oh wait, except for the two days after his weekly hockey games. Then the pain was like none other.

What Went Wrong?

I'll tell you what went wrong. My client was very responsive to the stabilization exercises and could feel himself standing taller and his shoulder sitting back much better all the way through. However, by increasing his shoulder and thoracic mobility (both through the treatment and through his home exercises), we inadvertently created instability that his muscles weren't yet ready to fully compensate for. 

He described the pain after the second hockey game as "piercing straight from the back to the front" of his thorax. Essentially, after we freed up his joints and increased the movement happening through his thoracic spine and ribs, we created a need for the muscles in the area to work harder to maintain stability, Unfortunately, the strength and endurance in those muscles weren't yet there, and pain resulted for the days after the demand was placed upon them.

So after puzzling this one out, our third session was spent exclusively on strengthening exercises. We purposely avoided doing any hands-on soft-tissue release or joint mobilizations (aside from his self-mobility drills) to try and create a better foundation for stability first. After that treatment, he went to his hockey game and reported, finally, a relief in pain in the days following.

The Takeaway

This is a great reminder to be cautious with the amount of mobility and soft-tissue release that we're providing to our clients (whether you're an Athletic Therapist, a chiropractor, or personal trainer) or even to yourself. Rapidly releasing muscles and freeing up joints does not automatically translate to good health. It must be balanced with proper strengthening to allow the muscle to compensate for the increase joint movement, and those muscles will continue to need further conditioning in order to endure any extended workload demands. Even the best of us will still overshoot when it comes to these principles, but all's good as long as we can take care to reevaluate and not try to maximize range of motion in too short of time.

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