At about this cold time of year the body starts to hurt a little more. We move a little less, tense a little more in the cold and some of us tend to eat a little more. These niggles, tension and tightness can seem relentless. This leads to a question we hear a lot in the clinic! Is this just the way my body is? Do I just have to deal with this forever?
You’ve seen 2 physios, a chiro, a massage therapist, and 2 specialists, but you’re no closer to understanding what’s going on or what to do about it. No one knows your body like you do, especially when you’ve been in pain for so long, so the most important thing we can do as Physios is listen!
I have so many people coming in to our clinic with a long history of seemingly never-ending niggles, often in their back or neck and shoulders – we all know those niggles, that general sense of tension and tightness that seems relentless. These patients tell me that they believe this is just the body they have, their niggles are their standard, and that any treatment they have will likely only achieve temporary relief.
So often we find that the painful area is the victim rather than the culprit. When we work out what’s causing the problem it can be relieving, validating, reassuring, or even amazing to understand why you’re getting pain. Creating a plan that gets you from where you are to where you want to be is so much easier with a clear understanding of what’s going on.
The term neuroplasticity basically describes the ability for our nervous system to change, and these changes occur in response to a number of incoming inputs. The phenomenon of neuroplasticity means that no matter how long we have been feeling a certain way, it is all changeable, as long as if you give your body the right stimulus. All movement patterns are ultimately learned, and in most cases, it’s the learning of non-optimal patterns that make us feel these ongoing niggles.
For example, if we have an injury say an ankle sprain or ankle pain, we automatically adopt a certain movement pattern, (like limping) to avoid the pain. This pattern is only appropriate for a short period of time while the physical tissue is healing, but often our brain forgets to go back to the optimal and balanced movement pattern even once the tissue has healed. This means that we end up moving in an imbalanced way for longer than necessary and this can cause a bunch of ongoing and secondary problems.
Another classic example of reinforced bad movement patterns would be to do with our obsession with technology. I know my phone has given me some shocking data on my amount of screen time – on a bad day it could be even upwards of 4 hrs a day. If you think about it, for 3 hrs a day, every day, your body is learning to sit in a slouched position with your head buried in to your phone or computer, it’s going to eventually forget how to get out of those positions, particularly when it’s not given any other movement options. Eventually, this leads to some muscles getting tight, some muscles getting weak and ultimately a general imbalance in your system.
Our job as physios is to identify the unhelpful movement patterns you’re using that are making you feel those relentless back and neck niggles. Luckily, due to our ability to learn and the changeable nature of our nervous system a.k.a. neuroplasiticity, if we help you learn and reinforce balanced movement patterns we can achieve way more than temporary relief.
Planning a treatment path usually involves some sessions of hands on physio to help allow your body to move differently, whether this is by releasing tight things that are restricting your movement or teaching you a different way to move. We also usually will have to work on some strengthening; this takes time but can involve things you enjoy. People often ask if they can continue to be active and I aim to keep everyone I see as active as possible because it can help to speed up the strengthening process that needs to take place.
Finally, we want to integrate your movement practice and strengthening into the activities that you enjoy and want to commit to long term. Do you enjoy running, swimming, yoga, golf, or tennis? What if this became your rehab? (so much better than those boring physio exercises right!) For example if running is your goal and we integrate your new movement patterns and newfound strength into your running technique, each time you run you are reinforcing your rehab so that your injury won’t return.
So, in answer to the question “do I just have to deal with this forever?”… no one is doomed to live with ongoing pain, all you need is the right input!
If this sounds like you then give us a call at Balance In Motion. Ask to speak to Gina, James or Lindel about whether we can help you. OR send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your story. As detailed as possible.
We got into this job to help you. Look forward to hearing from you soon x
If you are interested in neuroplasticity check out this video. It does a great job of explaining the concept.