Mastery (2): practice, practice and then….practice

Mastery is defined in the Oxford dictionary as:

  • comprehensive knowledge or skill in a particular subject or activity
  • control or superiority over someone or something

The concept of mastery is often applied to a musical instrument, golf, martial arts or a language. The word is rarely used in conjunction with the rehabilitation of an injury or a painful condition. It occurred to me that there are vast similarities between the principles and experience of training for a sport or a skill and the participation in a rehabilitation programme. The difference will be the end goals and the specific reason for the training. In the case of mastering a sport, it is about performance enhancement with greater skill and efficiency to achieve fewer shots or more accuracy for example. In rehabilitation the goal are pain relief, normal mobility, control of movement, restoration of strength, power and a return to daily activities (work, home, exercise).

End-stage rehabilitation

Undoubtedly the body has incredible mechanisms that heal injured tissue. Unfortunately there are many people who despite the healing process do continue to suffer painful symptoms. We see many cases of enduring and problematic pain at the clinic and set about the problem with a contemporary approach. This involves a range of treatment techniques and strategies including active rehabilitation or training. This training requires instruction, understanding, dedication, awareness, consistency, intention and practice. Just like learning a golf shot or the piano.

Setting up the principles of training (I will refer to the rehabilitation now as training) creates the right context and mindset. This includes pain/condition specific education so that the programme makes sense, the aims of the exercises, when to do them, how often and how to progress or moderate the intensity. In laying out the way forwards, the concept of mastery is introduced. What is it that needs mastery?

Mastering the mind

When we are in pain we change the way that we move. The longer the condition has been existing, the more the body and brain will have adapted alongside your thoughts and beliefs about the problem. The meaning that you give to the pain can also change with time and this is important. If the ‘meaning’ of the problem is significant, negative in nature and threatening to you as an organism (evolution speaking), the brain is more likely to protect you. This protection includes pain and altered movement, therefore perpetuating the cycle. This subject is for another day, important though it is, but dealing with negative thought patterns and unhelpful beliefs is fundamental, and requires restructuring. Returning to altered movement, this needs to be re-trained to reduce the guarding and protection. Of course this is one aspect of a treatment programme, but it is a great example to use when thinking about how you are going to master normal movement.

Mastering normal movement as mastering a language takes instruction, practice and dedication as mentioned. Often along the road we meet challenges and resistance both physically and mentally. One of those challenges is the plateau when it appears that nothing is happening or changing. The performance still seems to be the same, the outcomes like before. It is during this time that there is change occurring but it has not yet clearly manifest. Understanding that the plateau is an important part of the process and using the time as a chance to learn and an opportunity to create change. The nervous system is very plastic and adaptable according to the stimuli that it receives. In rehabilitation, the repeated stimulus of the right movements, in the right setting and mind set create such an opportunity.

To be good at any skill we must fully engage and spend the time with ourselves practice for the sake of practicing. Applying similar principles to rehabilitation in re-training normal movement, thoughts about movement and exercise and the functional skills of your chosen activity, provides a framework and a well trodden philosophical pathway to success. You will have your chosen goals that you will seek to achieve and on reaching them you will have further targets to attain. This is the journey.

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