In Part 1 of this series, I looked at the two components needed to maintain a neutral alignment/braced athletic position. While it may seem a little ass-backwards to look at that area prior to addressing the restrictions I will in this blog, it will come into play today as we look at the proper functioning of the motor pathway. Today’s blog will dive deeper into the soft tissue and joint/bone variations that are contributing to your asymmetries and are negatively impacting your performance and long-term health.
It takes a trained eye, and a trained individual to fully unlock potential and establish proper movement patterns. It’s one thing to establish proper alignment and to maintain system tension (as discussed in Part 1), and a few simple cues might be enough to promote posture that will alleviate your symptoms, but more often than not the underlying restrictions must be hammered out in order to prevent further distortion.
Soft Tissue Restrictions
When it comes to injuries or performance restraints, soft tissue restrictions and motor control issues are more often than not the cause. Whether that’s a lack of strength in the agonist (think muscle that produces the movement), antagonist (think muscle that opposes the movement), or synergist (think muscles that assist the agonist), shortening of a muscle group (think hip flexor shortening from long periods of sitting) or an improper movement pattern causing the wrong muscles to fire and the proper muscles to remain underused. All of these can contribute to impeding performance and joint health. Always remember: when someone has a mobility or soft tissue restriction, they automatically have a motor control challenge. Think of it like this: a highway is designed to run smoothly, but if an accident occurs that places an obstacle in our way, drivers must merge over to a different path, thus impeding and slowing the flow of regular traffic. The same concept exists for our motor pathways (the central nervous system). The brain and body are designed to function optimally when we are aligned and moving in a proper manner (as discussed in Part 1 of this series), if for whatever reason we deviate from that proper alignment (no matter how slight), we impede the flow of regular signals travelling to and from our muscles. This can be carried over to every single area of the body. Take for example the posterior cuff, if tight and overactive it can cause a myriad of issues that affect normal joint range of motion and shoulder health. No matter how much shoulder rehab you attempt to perform, nothing will fix this issue if you don’t address the posterior cuff tightness (and other facilitated structures), or clear away the car accident impeding the traffic.
KEY NOTE:” When someone has a mobility or soft tissue restriction, they automatically have a motor control challenge.”
Facilitation vs. Inhibition
Quite simply put, facilitation refers to overactive muscles, and inhibition refers to underactive muscles. In today’s age of sports medicine, a lot of health professionals are finally starting to address the cause of dysfunction instead of simply treating the symptoms. This can be applied to anything from muscles, fascia, ligaments, tendons, capsular restrictions, bony blocks etc. For example, strengthening your lower trapezius muscles if you have shoulder pain or are lacking full scapular upward rotation is a commonly prescribed exercise. While the merit of the exercise is great, it’s important to look at the reasons WHY the lower trapezius muscle is weak (could it be an overactive upper trapezius that is inhibiting the lower trapezius? Could it be on overactive serratus anterior that is ‘impeding traffic’ and not allowing the lower trapezius to fire properly? Could it be a tight pec minor that is pushing the scapula into too much protraction and downward rotation and isn’t allowing the lower trapezius to properly do it’s job?) Simply telling an individual to strengthen their lower traps without addressing any of the underlying issues is treating the symptoms and not the cause. Keep in mind, this is a complex matter and does require a trained individual. The body is a complex machine, and sometimes the answer isn’t as simple as black and white. A lot of times, there may be more than one cause of impairment (read more here). Depending on the situation, an antagonist (opposing) or synergist (assisting) muscle could be the cause for a muscle issue. Conversely, an issue with one area of your body could be caused from an area in complete opposition to the injury. Would you believe me if I told you that due to specific kinetic chains and specificity of joint-stacking that run throughout the body that a right shoulder injury could be caused by a left ankle injury? Or that a fallen arch on one foot could be contributing to your TMJ issues? Or how about a scalene issue (neck) that is caused from a hip flexor or groin restraint? Well, you better start believing it!
The second part of the equation has to do with joint abnormalities and restrictions that are possibly contributing to your asymmetries. Again, this goes with the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model that is unfortunately still present in the realm of health and fitness. Every bone in the body is capable of deviating between you and I. Or between you and your brother. Or even between you and your parents. There is NO one-size-fits-all model for health and fitness. The examples of this are widespread throughout the entire body. For example, different acromion arches amongst individuals may predispose them to insufficient shoulder range of motion, pain while overhead pressing, and impingement like patterns.
Someone with limited hip flexion, deeper hip sockets or compromised ankle mobility won’t be able to squat as deep as someone with no limitations.
Image 1 depicts deeper hip sockets, which while great for producing power at end range hip extension, will result in more bone-on-bone restrictions than Image 2 at the bottom range of a squat (because of this bone-on-bone contact, the extra depth must be found from an adjoining joint, usually the lumbar spine, thus resulting in an inability to deep as squat as someone with shallower hips like Image 2).
“Ass to grass” certainly is NOT for everybody, so can we please end that hashtag and all of the hideous looking squat videos associated with it?!?
*The key to a proper squat is utilizing the range of motion that you have, and realizing that your range of motion will most likely be different than the person beside you. Fortunately, this isn’t a squat blog. So let’s get back on topic.
Bony abnormalities in the hip may also be contributing to your inability to squat as deep, or squat deep and pain-free like your training partner. Specific deformities in the hip known as cam (a bone deformity in the head of the thighbone) and pincer (a bone deformity in the socket of the hip) can certainly affect your hip joint health and performance.
Cam and Pincer Deformities
Different femoral neck angles (coxa vara and coxa valga) can affect the angle at which the ball inserts into the hip socket, further affecting other issues down the kinetic chain (knee and ankle joints).
Rotational compensations that occur at the hip vary from one individual to another. Hip anteversion (forward rotation of the head and neck of the femur), and hip retroversion (posterior rotation of the head and neck of femur) both affect normal gait mechanics and alignment. Individuals with hip anteversion are more prone to greater ROM with internal rotation, and lack external hip rotation, whereas individuals with hip retroversion are more prone to great ROM with hip external rotation and lack internal hip rotation. If both situations, joints further down the kinetic chain (knee, ankle, subtalar) are more than likely going to be compromised, resulting in asymmetry.
Other bone abnormalities, such as scoliosis (mild or severe sideways curve in the spine) and flat feet (minimal to zero foot arch), are most definitely going to affect someone’s performance and health to surrounding joints if not corrected. The same goes for Rickets, bone spurs, and hundreds of other joint/bone abnormalities that occur and vary amongst all individuals.
TAKE-HOME NOTE: Simply treating the symptoms of an asymmetry rather than determining the cause of the issue is going to get you nowhere.
The fact of the matter is, no one body is built the same. A proper strength and conditioning program, whether for elite athlete or general population, should always place an emphasis on individualization. There is no one-size-fits-all model for athletics and performance. The reason you are struggling to correct your shoulder or hip or neck (or any injury) is most likely because you are simply treating the symptoms and not the cause of dysfunction. Seek out professional help, get a proper movement assessment and screen, utilize soft tissue quality, mobility and strength drills to address your problem areas.
Looking for a facility out there that is good at improving your performance AND good at treating and fixing your asymmetries and injuries to remain healthy and durable? Looking to maximize your potential, while focusing on an individualized approach designed for you and your body? Check us out at Redline Conditioning – THIS is our motto!
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