Understanding Muscle Dysfunction

When we decide we want to become stronger, it seems that we have a general understanding of what it’s going to take to get there.  If for example we choose to employ the assistance of a personal trainer and we go in for a session and after some basic testing, it is determined that we can bench press 100 lbs.  Our goal, however, is to press 150 lbs… that’s why we’re doing the personal training.

Is anyone in that situation is going to be disappointed or surprised that after one session of personal training, that 150 lb goal has not been reached…N0! of course not.  It is understood that making changes in a muscles capacity to produce force takes time.  It’s going to take a while.  It’s going to take consistent effort with adequate rest, to increase the size and strength of the muscles, gradually increasing from the 100 lbs, by increments up to 150 lbs over weeks or months.

Something that is less understood is there are other factors that are going to contribute to that muscles ability to strengthen and contract and grow which are not able to be addressed by repetitive, consistent effort alone.  The muscles blood supply, innervation, presence of adhesions or trigger points, or an overly tight antagonist muscles all affect that muscles performance.

Muscles can become injured or dysfunctional in a few key ways:

1) Overt trauma, such as muscle strain or tear.  This is usually a pretty obvious situation involving a large force, an awkward position, an unwelcome “popping” sound might make an appearance, pain, inflammation, bruising, (all that fun stuff) and a significant recovery time.

2) Repetitive Strain; where a lower force is applied to the same tissue over and over and over again.  This also eventually results in pain, inflammation and decreased functional capacity.  Common examples of this type of injury are “Tennis elbow” and Achilles’ Tendonitis.

3) Constant Pressure or Tension.  This is usually associated with a postural strain, or a prolonged isometric contraction.  The tension/pressure/contraction limits blood flow and thus oxygen delivery.  Our muscles NEED oxygen and when they don’t get it, fibrotic tissue gets deposited, shortening the muscles, decreasing their ability to contract and lowering their threshold for pain.

Our bodies repair the damage, after going through some inflammation, with fibrotic tissue, to start.  This carries with it some difficulties, including: those repair muscles developing adhesions with things they shouldn’t, shortened muscles altering posture and muscle activation patterns leading to bad biomechanical habits.  This is muscle dysfunction.

We can carry these muscle dysfunctions with us for years and not have them be a problem.  We are very adept at making reasonable compensations for muscle dysfunctions.  Only after a faulty motor pattern, or  poor biomechanics leads to another repetitive strain injury does it become a problem, or when we decide to try and take our training to the “next level” and things don’t respond the way we expect.

This is where seeking appropriate treatment for those dysfunctional muscles comes in.  Much like training for muscle hypertrophy, all the changes we’re hoping for are not going to happen in one session!

A.R.T.® or Active Release Techniques® is on treatment that I’ve found to work very well at addressing this dysfunction, but there are lots of effective techniques out there.

With A.R.T., often there will be some improvement after one treatment.  Typically 3 to 5 sessions are required to effectively address an issue.  So when you go in for a treatment and you can lift your arm to shoulder height, but your goal is to lift it all the way over your head…don’t be disappointed when you can only lift it 3/4 of the way there after 1 session.  Stick with your treatments and don’t set your expectations for yourself too low!  Just because you’ve “ALWAYS” had a bad shoulder since that one accident x number of years ago, for example, doesn’t mean you have to give up on ever throwing a football again!…get it checked out and assessed properly.

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About Chief Chiro
Chief Chiropractic & Sports Injury Clinic Inc. is owned and operated by Dr. Leah Stadelmann B.HKin., DC and Dr. Paul Fleming BSc.(Kin), DC. We strive to provide patients with accessible chiropractic and health care services that are founded on research based evidence. Our mission is to help people achieve their optimal levels of health and performance.

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