Tuesday 25 October 2016

Treat the Whole Chain - Necessities of Recovery

There's no manual on the human body. You can't just open a troubleshooting guide to find out how to fix a piece that's not working properly. As such, I'm not a fan of calling the body a machine. Rather, it's this moist, fleshy mass of tissue and organs that sometimes comes together to work properly. (Yes, "moist". Deal with it.)

How do I look?

That being said, when a piece breaks down and pain is experienced, we don't have the luxury of focusing our attention on that piece alone to try and correct the issue like car mechanics do. If one segment is out of whack, then, guaranteed, others are as well.

Compensatory Mechanics

We all know by now that, when injury occurs or bad motor habits are left unchecked, that the body will compensate by lengthening, shortening, tightening, and restricting in other spots; thus, maintaining functional integrity.

Because of this type of mechanism, spraining an ankle, for instance, means that the overall issue won't stay isolated at that one joint. Because of that sprain, the body will favour one side with a limp, resulting in a lateral hip weakness on the opposite side. That weakness can then be cause for poor knee tracking, SI joint instability, spinal tension, and more. And do these things require years of being unchecked to occur? No. Try a week or two instead.


With that knowledge, how can we expect to correct the issues by only targeting the site of the most pain? Here's a good example of how working globally is a necessity when it comes to correcting dysfunction.

I have one client who had discomfort in their hip. We determined that there was an imbalance around the hips that resulted in one side becoming stuck in a hypomobile position. What we did, for the first treatment, was mobilize the joint manually, provide mobility exercise prescription, and then started working on stability for those lower-chain muscles surrounding the area.

So the hip felt great. However, what happened next was that the spinal erectors tightened up by the time of the next treatment. As we promoted more movement through the pelvis and began activating the hip and core muscles to stabilize the area, we were promoting more movement through the rest of the kinetic chain and creating more mobility through the entire spine at the same time. Thus, even though we were strengthening the core, we were also forcing the back muscles to start activating more than they were used to. As tone and tension increased in the lower back, the tension creeped up all the way to the top, exacerbating neck tightness as well.

Sidenote: When we're talking about headaches and 
pressure, we're usually looking at these guys here.

Does that mean we did something wrong during that first treatment? No. It just shows that the body can very effectively compensate for a dysfunction, but when you suddenly intervene in that dysfunction and start to return a joint to its proper mechanics, you need to keep providing similar retraining to the entire chain, both above and below that area.

Significance for Self-Help

These thoughts hold more significance that just for clinicians who are treating a client's injuries. The principals apply to every individual who is trying to address their own fitness and health. 

I talked about "foam roller syndrome" before and how a reliance on self-releasing only the site of pain on a daily basis signals that there are mechanical errors not being addressed. That's exactly what I'm talking about again here. If you are constantly experiencing lower back pain, then constant work on your lower back along will not fix the problem. Neck pain? You need to do more than simply stretch the neck muscles all the time. 

The point here reiterates the time-tested rule that you can't chase pain and expect to chase it away. When there is a dysfunction, it's important to look up, down, and away from the dysfunction and correct the kinetic chain as a whole. Zoning in on one spot will feel great on the first day, but if you stop the efforts there, you can expect the pain to return just as bad - or even worse - soon after.

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