Stability Explained Part 2:
Wasted Potential (A.K.A. Why do I Get Injured?)
As we’ve discussed, stability is vital to the healthy functioning of our bodies, as it provides our joints with checks and balances that lead to safe and efficient mobility. The various strategies our bodies use to accomplish this function are complex—too complex to have to develop and monitor consciously. But rest assured, we are inherently designed to move!
Your body is hardwired for stability.
Per one of our previous posts, many of our basic mobility and stability strategies progress naturally and predictably with the maturation of the nervous system during development. This applies particularly to our ability to stabilize joints.
Our brains are hardwired with the software required for the precise coordination of the muscle effort necessary for safe and stable movement. Under normal development, we’re essentially born with these strategies and we refine them, as we become movers.
If we had to consciously recruit all of the muscles needed for movement and stability at the precisely correct times, while also utilizing the exact effort needed for each task, we wouldn’t have the mental capacity to do anything else. Luckily, for the most part this happens automatically (good news for those who wish to walk and talk at the same time!).
Don’t believe me? Here’s an exercise that demonstrates how stability is wired into our bodies:
While seated in an upright position, place your left hand behind your lower back and apply pressure with your fingertips into the muscle at the bottom of your lower back, directly next to the centre of the spine, While you maintain this contact, lift your right arm up in the air and shake it up and down. What did you feel with the fingertips of your left hand?
The muscles that contracted under your fingertips fired up automatically as part of a strategy that’s hardwired in your nervous system that prevents your lower back from buckling while you’re lifting and moving your right arm. While it’s difficult to tell just by feel, these muscles actually fired up before the muscles of your right arm even began to initiate any movement!
Image captured from Visible Body
A baby doesn’t develop the ability to purposely lift their legs against gravity and touch their hands to their knees until the fourth or fifth month of development. This occurs soon after the child begins to stabilize their spine and torso through abdominal and spinal muscle activation, in coordination with the ability to generate adequate intra-abdominal pressure.
Under normal development, we inherit built-in abilities to stabilize our joints.
Stabilization strategies mature prior to the point where a child initiates purposeful movement. When you think about it, this makes sense: Stabilization strategies, though unconscious, are important safety mechanisms that need to be in place before a child attempts certain movement skills. Otherwise, injury can occur. And together, our joint stabilization strategies evolve at the same time as our movements become more complex—with practice! (Learn more about how practice nurtures development here.)
But I’m physically strong. Why do I get injured?
It would be erroneous to assume that all injuries can be avoided. Injuries are a part of life and no one is completely impervious to them. Sometimes injuries are a product of direct trauma and are highly unavoidable, as in the case of a collision due to an accident or during sport.
Other times, injuries are mechanical in nature and relate to movement, such as a repetitive strain injury related to an activity (like having knee pain related to running) or back pain from bending over to pick something up. This type of injury is more common than you’d think and encompasses most of the physical complaints that a vast majority of people suffer from. Yet in most cases, these injuries are highly preventable.
It’s in your power to prevent movement-related injuries.
Yes, movement puts stress on our bodies. But “mechanical” complaints like those mentioned above often relate more to our “movement mechanics” than the tissues themselves—that’s to say, the efficiency of our movements, including the inherent safety buffers ingrained in the ways we move that mitigate the stresses on our body.
At this point, you may be asking yourself: If we’re born with these ingrained abilities to move safely and efficiently, why do we still suffer from mechanical injuries?
The answer: It all comes back to Nurturing Movement!
To maximize your potential for injury resiliency, nurture your movement practice.
As mentioned in the opening series: Movement is nurturing, but it too needs to be nurtured. Failure to do so can lead to wasted potential.
Summary: Movement is Nurturing
During our developmental stages, as our nervous systems mature, so does the software that governs our movements (see “Movement is Nurturing [Part 1]”).
The progressively maturing software guides us through predictable and increasingly complex stability strategies and movement skills, which eventually lead to the achievement of the various motor patterns that we utilize as we grow. At this point in development, it’s imperative to encourage practice and repetition in order to refine early, crude movement skills, as these are often prerequisites for more complex movements and play an influential role in shaping our developing bodies.
If development is affected by disease or external factors (such as lack of exposure to movement practice or rushing motor milestones), this can manifest as poor movement and stability strategies later in life (for more on this, see “Movement is Nurturing [Part 2]”).
Unfortunately, today’s modern lifestyles provide us with an abundance of factors that can negatively impact our ability to move safely. That’s why, even if we’ve got a solid foundation built that involves ideal movement development, we still need to continue to nurture our bodies with an adequate dose of high-quality, variable movement in order to maintain efficiency and stability [see “Movement Needs to be Nurtured (Part 1) and (Part 2)”]. Failure to do so will negatively affect our resilience to injury.
Injuries have consequences that should not be neglected.
Injuries are a part of life and not all of them are avoidable. They may lead to lasting disruptions in joint stability, affecting our movement quality and propensity for further injury.
For example, cartilage or ligament injuries may permanently affect the passive stabilizing elements of joints. In addition, most injuries have some short- and long-term affect on the muscles around the site of the injury, which can cause spasming in some muscle groups, while inhibiting others. This can create imbalances around joints and segments of the body. Since stable (A.K.A. safe) movement hinges on the precise culmination of passive and active stabilizing efforts, injury can indeed have drastic long-term affects on our ability to move safely and efficiently
Regardless of how the injury happens or its outcomes, if it does occur, it’s paramount that the road to recovery reflects the fundamentals of “Nurturing Movement”—with a focus on returning to adequate levels of quality movement that challenges your body (and its injured tissues) in a variety of ways, in order to regain optimal conditioning.
And while you’re at it, it’s important to consider duration: Many people make the mistake of only continuing with a rehabilitation program until pain subsides and movement is symptom-free. But, in order to recover and maintain ideal mobility and stability, you’ve got to continue to nurture movement over the long haul—even and especially beyond the point where you feel like you’re back to 100% after an injury.