With a great amount of motion comes great need for control of that motion. The body has many different joints, each functioning based on the dynamic needs of the system. Some joints function in one plane, the elbow is an example of a hinge joint that allows flexion and extension of the forearm. This joint is specific and limited in its motion, limiting the chances for instability of said joint. The shoulder is an example of a ball and socket joint, which has the greatest amount of motion of any joint in the body. You can bring your arm behind your back, reach overhead or even pat yourself on your other shoulder if you wanted to.
Our muscular system is designed to move the skeleton and protect the associated joints. Of the muscles that are involved with a joint, some of them are necessary for moving that joint and producing power, while others have a more behind-the-scenes type of job. That job is to stabilize the joint and ensure that the safest position of the joint is maintained through motion. These muscles are responsible for protecting this joint while an increased amount of pressure (load) is placed on the joint. Stabilizing muscles must be engaged throughout the time that a load is placed on the joint, otherwise you are compromising the joint and allowing for increased stress on the internal structures; labrum, intervertebral disc, ligaments etc.
Muscles of stabilization are intended to work under a constant low level load. These muscles are continuously working to keep the joint in the safest place while a load is placed on the joint. But what happens when these muscles are not working properly? We see daily that athletes, weekend warriors and parents who are lifting their new born out of the crib or car seat, are placing load on their body without proper stabilization of the involved joints. The results will vary from decreased ability to maintain an Olympic lift, tear an ACL or experience a sharp pain in the shoulder. It is impossible to tell you when the insult of the joint will lead to an injury such as a tear of the ligament or herniation of the intervertebral disc, but it is a guarantee that if left untreated, an unstable joint will undergo degenerative changes.
One of the most common injured areas that we see in athletes is the shoulder. Remember we mentioned earlier that with increased motion comes increased need for stability. The Rotator Cuff muscles are the prime stabilizers and protectors of the shoulder. Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor and Subscapularis and the four muscles which make up this stabilizing unit. They play a constant very controlled game of tug of war, to keep the head of the humerous (the top part of the arm) in that socket. Imagine now that you had an injury to your shoulder 8 years ago in high school and your subscapularis never regained proper health and function. That game of tug of war will no longer be an even match and this imbalance will lead to your shoulder not sitting in its proper position. Now add load; kipping pull-ups, throwing a football or lifting your child from the crib or car seat. This will place an unsafe load on the labrum and will cause an unhealthy distribution of pressure on the surrounding tissue. This is not an all or nothing injury, every load you place on the soft tissue structures will be an accumulation of damage. Sometimes it may be asymptomatic, other times it may be pain or swelling and of course there is always the chance of permanent damage.
How to increase the stability and longevity of the joint should be the number one concern with anyone reading this article. As the title states, true strength comes through stability; therefore, we must increase stability before increasing load. Some keys to helping with this:
• Proper amount of load – Ensure that you are performing exercises and routines that are within your abilities. I recommend that you become proficient in all exercises and techniques without weight. Have someone who has good technique work with you on proper form. Proper technique will limit the stress added to the joint and soft tissue structures.
• Ensuring healthy muscles – We mentioned that the stabilizing muscles must be functioning properly, but what if the muscle is not healthy. Having any breakdown of the muscle evaluated and treated by a trained professional who specializes in this type of muscular overuse and breakdown will always be an important step in these types of injuries. This is where the ability to improve performance and decrease further injury is removed from the athlete and placed in the physician’s hands (pun intended). Do not watch a YouTube video and think that someone’s 24 hour research can compare to a professionals 9 year college degree.
• Proper rest – Another common concern I see with new athletes and seasoned athletes alike is the lack of proper recovery. I see on a regular basis the dangerous “If some is good than more is better” approach. Rest is an essential part of your body’s recovery but it is also how your body grows. Pay attention to your body and take that day off after two in a row. Ample sleep in here as well guys! Make sure that you are shutting down and allowing your body the time to rest and recover!
• Nutrition. Another topic that I am passionate about is Nutrition. We are what we eat so it is vital that if we want to perform on an optimal level, we must eat optimal food. The healthier the food we eat, the cleaner your body will break it down and turn it into nutrients and energy. Consume chemicals and unhealthy processed foods, and your body will suffer trying to break down products it does not recognize. This will decrease your body’s ability to perform and recover. Every time you eat something you are either introducing health or disease into your body. Always go with health!
As a Chiropractic Physician and CrossFit Coach, I am constantly seeing both ends of the spectrum. I see the new athletes who are excited about their new journey to health and they expect it to be tough, expect it to be challenging and hurt, but they rarely expect that they may incur an injury. Often it is this injury that will derail their excitement and cause them to stop exercising, or lead them to simply ice or medicate to hide the pain. The smart ones are the ones who at the very least choose to be evaluated and treated for the increased stress that they have placed on their body. The point I am stressing here is that the best way to limit injury and increase the chances that you will enjoy your new journey towards health is to ensure that your body has the proper stability and internal strength required BEFORE you place an increased load on it.
Want to become stronger, healthier or just limit the progression of break down in your body? Increase the stability of your joints by ensuring that your muscles are functioning at their optimal abilities.