In Part 1 of my blog, I discussed chronic pain and it's effect on the brain and nervous system. For Part 2, I'll explain the role of a Kinesiologist and how we can help.
Now, diving right back in to my observation about guarding and and/or compensation. Two things have happened here:
1) Pain from an ailment or physical trauma has imprinted messages to the body regions on the brain map thus creating some behavioral guarding to the area ie: not wanting to stress or elongate the area
2) Any pain that may exist emotionally, whether related to the cause of the pain or not, can further the perceived physical pain.
The emotional component comes with it’s own body behavioral pattern. Example: the head protruding forward or down along with tight and elevated shoulders is commonly seen. Everyone knows this look. It’s a classic. Any type of pain can and likely will result in this posture. There are numerous subtle changes as well that a Kinesiologist would identify but that’s a big one.
The intervention of exercise when it comes to chronic pain influences these objectives:
- Postural changes; not allowing the muscles to behave as if they are in pain
- Achieving more range of motion; again, not letting the muscle tissue stay guarded and contracted
- Length/tension relationships; building strength where appropriate
The head forward, rounded shoulder case will typically have a tight chest and therefore a decent amount of strength there by virtue of the positioning. Does chest strength matter to a Kinesiologist at this point? No. Creating mid-back strength to open the chest and complimenting that with chest stretches is more appropriate. This is one simple example of imbalances that Kinesiologists will deal with regarding chronic pain. By training the body to present or behave in a way that is void of pain, the feedback loop for the nervous system can be intervened. The mapping can be re-trained. In other words, our brains can influence our behaviors but our behaviors can also influence our brains. The mapping effect and the regions in how they are situated on the brain allow us to understand how our behaviors can influence our brains. Body positioning is huge! It’s becoming more and more appreciated but I still often see it overlooked. If your body is able to achieve non guarded movements and utilizing postural muscles appropriately, this re-mapping can begin.
Once the re-mapping out of pain has begun, we typically see specific patterns. Almost always, the reported wide-spread pain will alleviate (the “de-mapping” down of unnecessary body parts) and what will linger is the focal and often milder pain that represents the original injury area. It’s like a cycle has been broken and the neuron messaging has become less efficient so it goes back to the most paved path -- the original one.
Another aspect of the feedback loop is that if more and more movements are not guarded or accommodated, we notice over time that overall muscle tension goes down. Guard perpetuates more guard. If someone is still in pain but has learned to un-guard, it’s only a matter of time before the re-mapping relieves the overall pain. Outlying influences take part in this loop as well; clients often comment on how the pain doesn’t wake them at night (there’s the sleep centre being influenced) or get them down as much (there’s the emotional centre). Longer term posture training will continue to have benefit. Envision the map of the brain only receiving a minor pain stimulus for the original injured area. At this point, clients will say that they barely notice it and they are able to return to their old lives. I often hear that the area still feels different but they aren’t bothered by it because it’s a huge improvement from where they were.
The big take-away that I want to emphasize is to never stop working on your posture. Injured or not, the brain will read the body positioning. Know that working on your posture will help you feel better regardless if you suffer from an injury but ESPECIALLY if you are suffering from an injury or any type of pain for that matter.