The Human Healing Machine

The human body has an immense capacity to heal itself. At any age, and in nearly any state, human beings are capable of significant tissue repair and remodeling. While herniated discs are slow to heal and torn ACLs don’t magically reattach, the body can take a lot of abuse for sustained periods of time before it finally gives up the fight.

The human body has a freakish amount of functional tolerance allowing people to engage in unnatural movement and make poor lifestyle choices. Do not misplace this miraculous genetic inheritance with a tacit rationalization for sleeping, eating or moving irresponsibly. Most musculoskeletal dysfunction that people and athletes suffer from is preventable disease.

Pain and injury caused by movement dysfunction can be classified in four categories; pathology, catastrophic injury, over-tension and open circuit faults. Pathology is a category of traditional medicine that goes deeper than the pain’s surface, identify factors and criteria potential for underlying internal causation. For example, identifying underlying criteria for a kidney infection as the root cause of simple back pain. Pathology accounts for 1% of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries experienced in the gym.

Catastrophic injury is where modern sports medicine excels. Severe injury will happen to those, like athletes and soldiers, pushing their limits in their respective fields. Through technological advancement, reconstructive and injury management techniques are flourishing and at an all-time high. With the exception of wounded warriors, catastrophic injury also falls into the 1% range.

Having accounted for 2% of the typical movement dysfunction, the remaining 98% reside within the preventable disease categories of over-tension and open-circuit faulting.

Over-tension is experienced in athletes who lack significant ranges-of-motion. Full range-of-motion includes the body’s rotational capacity where limbs and joints will experience stiffness near end-range and then suddenly stop. They should not be limited in range or be excessively stiff during full range-of-motion as these are indicators of a tissue-based mechanical system error or over-tension.  in the limbs and joints. Tight tissue in the limbs and joints means missing normal range-of-motion.

Athletes that compensate mechanics due to an injury often have significant restriction in the joints and or tissues immediately above or below the site of dysfunction. Achilles tendinopathy, for example, indicates stiff calf muscles and limited dorsiflexion in the ankle. Simply put; ankle pain indicates a high potential for calves tightness which causes pulling on the ankle joint thus limiting range-of-motion. Knee pain, for example, indicates the potential for tightness in the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, and or calf muscles, all of which connects to the knee. Pain causes the body to respond by compensating with bad form and incorrect positions or movement because normal and full range-of-motion cannot be achieved. Mitigating over-tensioned systems using mobilization techniques feeds slack to the injured site, reducing localized joint pain by improving the efficacy of the system.

Muscle length plays a pivot role in over-tension. Although it is commonly believed that over-tensioned tissue pairings, like back and shoulder pain, is the result of short muscle failure it is a far more complex phenomenon. Neurodynamics, motor control, intramuscular stiffness, hip and joint mechanics and hydration also play an important role in over-tensioned tissue pairing failures. When the system is over-tensioned the necessary remedy is to address positioning and range-of-motion restrictions.

Open-circuit faults encompasses the most serious athletic trauma. This includes injuries like labral tears of the hip and shoulder as well as ACL tears, flexion-related disk herniations, torn biceps tendons and torn Achilles tendons. The body is a sophisticated, yet simply refined, mechanical system composed of wet biological tissue. Optimal operation is when the body can create an ideal and stable position before it generates output.

In fact, most people are familiar with the maxim that functional movement begins in a wave of contraction from the core to sleeve, from trunk to periphery and from axial skeleton to peripheral skeleton. This principle is a good example of the body operating best when all of its circuits are closed; spinal, hip and shoulder stable, and ankle not collapsed before movement is initiated. The problem is that the body will always be able to generate force, even in poor positions. Humans do not need to consciously address ankle or hip range-of-motion, for example; the body will naturally address it by turning feet outwards. Open-circuit faults include; feet turned out, elbows flared out, head tilted up or down, a rounded back, shoulders rolled forward and an overextended lumbar spine.

We have confused functionality with physiology. Positions that serve functionally like jumping and landing become a liability when load, speed or fatigue is introduced. The human body is constructed to lift heavy loads for a long periods of time, but at some point the tissues will fail, resulting in injury. Eventually, the off label tissue uses with which you exercised and moved so freely will expire.

The implications of this concept are incredible. Most of the ACL injuries are preventable, especially in kids, as are herniated discs and shoulder dislocations. The body and it’s tissues are designed to last 100 years so avoiding unstable, tissue degrading positions and catastrophic injuries is vital to maximizing the quality of life.

The less obvious implication of lifestyle maladaptation is on the athlete’s tissues. Connective tissue, menisci, spinal disks, fascia, articular cartilage, tendons, and ligaments all suffer from the immediate and downstream effects of unhealthy lifestyle choices. Managing and optimizing lifestyle aspects of sports performance in an athlete’s mobility begins when they address and correct vital aspects to adaption errors like; proper warm up and cool down, ret, hydration, nutrition, excessive sitting, stress, insulin sensitivity and chronic inflammation.

Considering how complex human movement can be and how many different aspects of life affect body mechanics and tissue health it’s easy to get overwhelmed and misstep. Behind the body’s complex technology is an amazing capacity to deal with poor mechanics and an extraordinary capacity to self-correct with little to no input.