We know that the human body functions as an entire system otherwise known as the Human Movement System (HMS). The HMS comprises the articular (joint), myofascial (connective tissue in and around muscles and tendons) and the neuromuscular systems. When all three of these systems are functioning properly, it allows for the greatest neuromuscular efficiency so our bodies can perform functional, day-to-day movements. This means your body will produce force with the least amount of energy and stress, making your workouts more effective while reducing risk of injury.
When one or more of these systems is affected by injury, repetitive motion, sedentary lifestyle, or occupation, it creates a pattern of dysfunction known as the cumulative injury cycle. This cycle causes common compensation patterns, muscular imbalances, and altered joint functions, which, in turn, makes the body less efficient, susceptible to pain, and at higher risk for injury.
The world we live in today is very different from the world a century ago. Modern technology has improved our quality of life and made many tasks less physical than in the past. Unfortunately, this has also contributed to an increasingly sedentary population and forces many of us into postural alignments that the human body was not designed to maintain over long periods of time. While we sit at desks, typing on computers and hunched over smart phones, we are actually creating dysfunction in our movement systems. Over time, the body begins to treat dysfunction in the connective tissues as an injury. An injury, otherwise known as a tissue trauma, begins the process of the cumulative injury cycle. When the human body experiences a trauma to its tissue, inflammation occurs. Inflammation is a natural response to trauma, which, in turn, sets off your body’s pain receptors and instinctually causes your muscle fibers to create tension, thus resulting in a muscle spasm.
Over time, prolonged muscle spasms create adhesions in the soft tissue of the body. These adhesions are also known as knots. Adhesions decrease soft tissue extensibility and elasticity that ultimately lead to joint dysfunction. In simpler terms, your body no longer fires off the correct muscles in the proper order, your synergist and stabilizer muscles become overactive, and your joint movements change. This leads to altered neuromuscular control. Over time, your body will begin to create new, inelastic soft tissue that prevents your muscle fibers from properly moving.
Because your body is consistently following this different, incorrect movement pattern, the newly formed tissue decreases the muscle’s ability to properly function and will result in muscular imbalances. A common scenario in today’s population is caused by excessive sitting, which causes the gluteus maximus to become under-active or lengthened, and the hip flexors to become overactive or tight. Overactive hip flexors can cause a myriad of issues including, an excessive anterior pelvic tilt, IT band tendonitis, anterior knee pain, and a lack of mobility when performing exercises like squats and lunges.
Under-active glutes can also cause the hamstring complex and its synergistic muscles to overcompensate during actions that involve hip extension. This causes lower back pain, knee pain, hamstring strains, hip and ankle joint pain, and decreased mobility of those joints. Over time your body will start to recognize these altered movement patters as normal and repeat the cumulative injury cycle. You will be less efficient at performing functional movements and much more likely to be injured or in chronic pain. As you can see, the human body works as a kinetic chain – even small muscular imbalances in certain muscle groups can trigger whole patterns of dysfunction and poor movement.
A knowledgeable and well-trained fitness professional should be able to program a client’s workouts based on their goals and abilities. Basic movement assessments performed by a trainer allow them to identify and correct muscular imbalances through proper strengthening and stretching techniques. Corrective exercise, integrated into a client’s programming, will make workouts more effective.