When we sustain an injury or experience a painful condition, our movement changes. In the early stages this can be obvious, for example we would limp having sprained an ankle. Sometimes the limp, medically termed an ‘antalgic gait’, persists without the individual being aware. This is the same for other forms of guarding that is part of the body’s way of protecting itself. By tightening the affected area or posturing in a manner that withdraws, the body is changing the way that we work so that healing can proceed. Clearly this is very intelligent and useful. The problem lies with persisting guarding or protection that continues to operate.
We know that when the brain is co-ordinating a response to a threat, a number of systems are active. This includes the nervous system, the motor system, the immune system and the endocrine system (hormones). This is all part of a defence in and around the location that is perceived to be under threat. It is important to be able to move away from danger and then to limit movement, firstly to escape from the threat (e.g. withdraw your hand from a hot plate) and then to facilitate the natural process of healing by keeping the area relatively immobilised. Interestingly, at this point our beliefs about the pain and injury will determine how we behave and what action we take. If we are concerned that there is a great deal of damage and that movement will cause further injury, we will tend to keep the area very still, looking out for anything or anyone who may harm us. Over-vigilance can lead to over-protection and potentially lengthen the recovery process. This is one reason why seeking early advice and understanding your pain and injury is important, so that you can optimise your potential for recovery.
We have established that we move differently when we are injured and in pain. In more chronic cases, the changes in movement and control of movement can be quite subtle. An experienced physiotherapist will be able to detect these and other protective measures that are being taken. These must be dealt with, because if we are not moving properly, this is a reason for the body to keep on protecting itself through feedback and feed-forward mechanisms. Re-training movement normalises the flow of information to and from the tissues to the brain. Often this process needs enhancement or enrichment as the sensory flow and position sense (proprioception) is not efficient. Movement is vital for tissue and brain health, nourishing the tissues with oxygen and chemicals that stimulate health and growth.
To train normal movement is to learn. The body is learning to move effectively and this process is the same as learning a golf shot, a tennis stroke, a language or a musical instrument. Mastery. You are asking yourself to master normal movement. What does this take? Consistency, discipline, practice (and then some more practice), time, dedication, awareness and more. The second part of this blog will look at mastery as a concept that can help you understand the way in which you can achieve success with your rehabilitation.