Hidden Signs You Are Unstable And Headed For An Injury
The human body craves stability! It wants to be secure and supported through the spine and in the joints, so as to prevent injury and to continue moving. Evolution has granted us with the fantastic ability to cheat in our movements. If we cannot perform a movement we will adapt our posture to be able to perform it in a different way. For example, if you cannot perform a squat, often we buckle our knees and round our back and perform something somewhat similar to a squat but in a dysfunctional manner. If you hurt your knee and can’t run from predators, your body will develop a new way of running, because if it doesn’t, you won’t survive! Luckily nowadays we don’t often run from predators, but we can still harbour weakness and dysfunctions in our movement patterns. Someone may appear to be in great shape, but may not facilitate good quality movement. If we have dysfunctional movement under the surface, this can often load tissues with stress and eventually lead to injury. It is important to watch out for signs of instability and compensation, in order to promote better quality movement and minimise risks of injury, not to mention to develop superhuman strength and wellbeing! If we can identify the dysfunctional pattern, we may be able to prevent an injury before it happens, or treat a stubborn injury that is already there.
If you are always tight in an area no matter how much you stretch, it is likely that there is an underlying weakness or instability in a surrounding area. In response to this, the brain will increase muscle tone in order to stabilise the area or provide ‘fake strength’. So no matter how much you stretch it, it will eventually become stiff again.
If your body does not have the neuromuscular control to support itself in difficult compromised positions you will often find yourself holding your breath. The nervous system cannot control the position of the body whilst also engaging the diaphragm to inhale. For example, your brain may struggle to maintain the position of a plank while breathing deeply into the diaphragm/abdomen. This helps to provide an extra temporary boost of strength but ultimately will leave you blue in the face and unable to continue!
Jaw Clenching and neck tightness
We often recruit our jaw and facial muscles in an effort to provide more structure and support in a difficult position. If you notice that you are clenching your teeth or jaw a lot, it may be down to the fact that other surrounding muscles are weak – for example the neck or shoulder muscles. If one muscle isn’t doing its job another will try to help! Often during a pilates class with any flexion pattern, where we lie on our back and try to flex forwards, our necks overcompensate due to lack of stability from our pelvis and abdominals, resulting in neck pain and tightness. If you notice this you may lack the neuromuscular control of this area to perform this movement, and your neck may become tense or sore as it is trying to help you to complete the desired task.
Are your knuckles and fists squeezed tight when you perform a plank? Try to perform a plank with your hands relaxed and flat on the floor and you will notice a difference – it is a lot more difficult. As the core and pelvic area struggle to maintain a stable position, your body calls on all our muscles to tense to make the job easier. Commonly, people may also grab hold of the side of the reformer machine. This extra squeeze can often make the movement a little easier, but it is not a habit we want to get into!
Does your foot posture change when you perform a squat or movement? Sometimes we see the toes arch back, or curl into the ground to try to provide additional tension and support. This is an indicator that another muscle is providing enough support and the brain feels unstable or insecure, and recruits the help of the toes. Similarly, the foot may collapse in due to weakness in the foot or hip.
These are very normal traits but can be indicative of dysfunctional movement. The brain cheats and always tries to allow us to move in the path of least resistance, which in simpler terms means that it will try to do the least work possible and make things easy for us. If we can identify our dysfunctional movement patterns, we can consciously begin to challenge ourselves more and build more strength, improve our performance and wellbeing, and remain injury free.