Movement is one thing we all do on a daily basis. It is involved in all our work and leisure activities and life would be pretty ordinary if we could not move. The system that allows us to move is our wonderful muscular system. Our muscles attach to the bones of our skeleton. By shortening and lengthening the muscle fibers, we can control our body in 360 degrees. However, our muscular system doesn’t only make movement possible. By giving our stability muscle groups constant contraction, they provide us with a stabile base from which our other movements can function properly.
Another great thing about the muscular system, is that it is a system that we have a lot of control over. It can make significant changes in function, to give us better movement, control and a generally healthy feeling. We can exercise our muscles to improve strength, endurance, control and yes, to increase the size and shape as well!
Athletes use muscle strengthening to improve their performance. Similarly, we as physiotherapists use muscle strengthening to improve normal joint control and movement dysfunction. It is important in maintaining good posture and vital for you to move in a pain free way.
So, what does muscle strengthening mean?
Our muscles can become weak due to a number of reasons. It is mostly due to the muscle not being used correctly or when it is loaded too much and brings about weakness. This can happen after an injury, where the body was immobilized, or from not using the muscle correctly for a long period of time.
Muscle strengthening exercises are then used on specific muscles or muscle groups to improve function, strength and size. Afterwards you will be able to perform your task easily and correctly. When we talk about strengthening, we have to work (or load) the muscle to a higher level than is currently possible. This principle is known as overload and is essential in increasing strength and function. If we do not overload the muscle, then no strengthening occurs!
Why we always bring in muscle strengthening
Movement of a joint happens in a very coordinated and controlled way. It involves a number of different muscles working together. If there is a weakness in one of the muscles, it can create abnormal ways in which the joint moves. This can put pressure on the surrounding ligaments and tendons which tries to control the abnormal movement. There may also be excess pressure on the joint itself, and can lead to other muscles getting strained because of overcompensation.
All these factors can lead to inflammation and pain, due to the stress caused by the abnormal muscle and the compensation that occurs. As physiotherapists, it is our role to identify the muscle weakness and to strengthen it appropriately. This is done in conjunction with correcting the other imbalances that have occurred in the other muscles as well as addressing any stiffness or laxity in a joint. The goal of rehabilitation, and especially muscle strengthening, is to get the muscles to work efficiently with all the surrounding muscles to create smooth and controlled joint movement, pain-free.