Treatment of almost any injury or painful condition will involve some form of movement retraining. Humans are creatures of habit and our bodies adapt to an incorrect movement pattern very quickly. Like starting to walk with a limp if you have a thorn in your foot. Our brain’s main goal is survival and the easiest way to keep going – or surviving – in this case, will be to walk with a limp. In many painful conditions, your body “forgets” the original, correct movement and replaces it with an easier variation.
In the presence of pathology or pain, we often find that this dysfunctional pattern was the reason the pain started or why the injury doesn’t heal. Initially the new movement pattern took some pressure off the injured structure. Unfortunately, taking pressure off one area means adding pressure to other structures. Over time, this constant overload means that some muscles also get weaker due to disuse because your body has learned to use other muscles. One muscle or area is on a semi-permanent holiday and another does both jobs. A definite recipe for disaster somewhere down the line.
In the world of movement science and physiotherapy, almost every form of rehabilitation can be described as movement pattern retraining. There are some aspects that these different techniques have in common, for example using extrinsic or intrinsic learning.
With regards to movement pattern retraining, extrinsic learning is learning a new skill of movement by “thinking”. Your physiotherapist will explain what is expected and what you should see or feel. You perform the exercise and the therapist will guide and correct your movements as needed. This is a conscious process that requires concentration and focus.
Intrinsic learning, on the other hand, can be regarded as learning a new skill by “feeling”. All your senses continuously send information to your brain while you move. Your brain is like a central processor that sifts through the information and sends a message back to your body to adapt as needed. For instance, if you’re climbing stairs and hit your toe on the edge of a step, you will adapt and unconsciously lift your foot higher to avoid making the same mistake again. This is a simple example of intrinsic learning, but the same principle applies to many exercises and movement strategies where your movement keeps changing according to the feedback from your senses.
Let’s look at a common injury, like a hamstring muscle tear, as an example. In the early phases of healing, the muscle should be protected for healing to take place. We will use movement pattern retraining to teach you how to use your hip and knee without overloading the injured hamstring. As your pain stats to improve and healing takes place, we will start retraining leg movements. Throughout the healing process, the movements will get bigger and more complex, getting you back to optimal function.