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This Is Why Strength Is So Much More Than Your Muscles

There’s a sort of inside joke in the world of physical therapy that says, “strengthen when you’ve run out of treatments that work and there’s nothing else left to do!” It’s not really a particularly funny joke, but there is some truth to it. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve come across a doctor’s prescription that boldly commands me to “strengthen all the muscles” in the region where the patient hurts. I feel it’s almost a throw-around catch phrase to “stretch and strengthen” as a last resort, instead of addressing the patient’s specific problems in the more precise, “surgical,” and exacting approach that physical therapists were actually trained to do. In fact, your strength is so much more than the squeezing ability of your muscles to contract, it’s about the proper posture and alignment you possess within your body — and even within your mind — that determines your power to overcome pain.

We should all hold up the young child as an icon and ideal standard for the healthy state that we should all strive to live by. Take the same principle of strength, pain, and posture and apply it to your two-year-old niece or nephew. Do they constantly need to stretch their bodies, crack their joints, and lift weights to avoid being in pain?

Of course, children are not the adult “world weary” workhorse’s that we’ve become. They are only a couple years shy of being a perfect baby — filled with pure energy, abundant circulation, a complete absence of arthritis or injury, devoid of mental stresses or disease, and possessing of a posture that is perfectly straight as an arrow.

In fact, if the gripping reflex in a baby’s hands were translated to that of a full grown adult man, then he could probably crush a chowder clam.

Our nervous system’s ability to contract muscles and recruit power is heavily dependent upon the alignment of our joints to fit this natural, “child-like” ideal. Within our brain there is a template-type of mapping, or neurologic representation, of our entire body called the homunculus. All of the physical and emotional aspects of our various organ systems, including movement and strength, are graphically represented across the tapestry of our body and linked to various regions of our brain. This is part of how acupuncture works. The stimulation to the body with needles can influence the mind via nerves, and thus through nerves the mind can affect the body.

Therefore, it is no coincidence that the entire nervous system develops from the same cellular layer in the fetus as the skin.

If you are wondering how the skin, connective tissue, and the sensory functions of your body can influence strength then look no farther than the extreme example of the patient who suffers a traumatic dislocation of her shoulder. Anyone who has had the unfortunate occurrence of suffering such a disabling injury knows it’s basically impossible to move your arm in such a state. The nerves around the shoulder are over-stretched and extremely painful, the micro-blood vessels are ruptured, the tissues are swollen and distended with inflammatory chemicals, and the bones are ripped out of their protective enclosures. The brain “senses” this misalignment of the shoulder’s glenohumeral joint and instinctively shuts down all the muscles surrounding it, such as the rotator cuff and deltoid.

It is not until proper realignment is established, and the shoulder joint is “re-set,” that the long, arduous two to four month healing process can begin. This makes sense. The arm dysfunction and its subsequent recovery process is logical. It’s a big injury. It’s a dislocation of a joint. It takes a long time to heal.

But, what if a joint falls out of alignment without suffering a traumatic injury? Is it possible to have a “micro-dislocation,” or faulty positioning, that is so small that only your brain is able to pick up on it, when even an X-ray or MRI cannot?

Actually, there’s an entire branch of modern day physical therapy, pioneered by Brian Mulligan in New Zealand, that devotes itself to identifying and correcting these positional body faults. I, myself, have utilized his techniques for years to gently reposition the painful joints of my patients by using their own, active participation. And, believe it or not… it actually works!

It’s hard to personally understand how such a subtle, almost imperceptible, type of manipulation can reduce pain and increase function without actually experiencing the process on yourself. From my experience I have come to believe that strength is actually a combination of your external postural alignment mixed with internal confidence and control.

Invigorating blood through any muscle or tendon usually makes it feel better, at least for the moment you’re using it. Ask any young, healthy young runner with chronic plantar fasciitis, and it’s usually later at night or the next morning when the inflammation pain from her flat feet usually sets in. Now, if you’re much older and dealing with other illnesses, or your painful problem is much more severe, then exercising the muscle may make you feel worse. That is why it is essential that you seek that second opinion from a doctor or physical therapist about your pain before you commit to “working through it.”

If you would like to schedule a visit to talk with us at Alté View regarding your specific type of pain, then please reach out to us here.



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