The evidence for treating musculoskeletal pain has remained consistent over the years. It supports two basic aspects of physical therapy: to move your joints and to understand pain science. So why, early on in my career, was it so hard for me to successfully treat patients in pain? I guess moving without pain is harder than you might think. Just ask the old me that didn’t have access to a “zero-gravity” suspension exercise system.
Let me start off by explaining what happens to your muscles when you experience pain. I love to simplify the anatomy by discussing the differences between our inner muscles versus outer muscles.
Our inner muscles are the postural stabilizers that sit very close to the spine and other joints. They’re supposed to be on constantly to give our joints support for upright posture and functional mobility. Some examples include the deep hip rotators, pelvic floor, multifidi, deep neck flexors, and rotator cuff. These are smaller muscles that have lots of receptors to communicate with the brain.
When pain occurs, the connection to these inner stabilizer muscles gets disrupted or diminished. It's a process known as neuromuscular deactivation. Basically your body’s deep stabilizing system begins to shut down. I use the analogy of cell phone reception and how difficult (and frustrating) it is to complete a call when you only have one signal bar. Pain has this same effect on how the brain and muscles communicate with each other.
To make up for this loss of joint stability, the brain will naturally send more signals to our larger muscles which are closer to the surface of the body. These are the outer muscles that make you look good in the mirror. Some examples include the lats, pecs, biceps, triceps, quads and hams. They are commonly known as "prime movers" since their primary role is to move the body. They turn on to accomplish a specific task (walk, run, squat, push, pull, etc.) and then they're supposed to turn off, relax and recover. However, if the inner muscles went dormant, the outer muscles will be recruited to pick up the slack and work overtime.
So now the outer muscles are doing two jobs: moving and stabilizing. But they weren't built to stay on constantly like the inner muscles. So it's only a matter of time for them to tighten up like a knot. A classic example of this is tight hamstrings (outer muscles) compensating for a weak core (inner muscles). It is the body's innate way to protect the spine by stiffening up muscles further down the chain.
Therefore your hamstrings might be tight due to joint instability at the spine. If not properly addressed, this muscle imbalance will set in motion a cycle of pain that could lead to more serious injuries, like pulling or tearing your hamstrings while running or playing sports.
Eventually these outer muscles will throw in the proverbial “white towel” and say they can’t take it anymore. Usually this is the moment when most people seek out my help.
To find and fix these muscle imbalances, I use a system of ropes, slings and bungee cords that comes from Norway. It’s called the Redcord suspension system.
The science behind Redcord is known as NEURAC (NEURomuscular ACtivation). It's a method of rebooting the body's deep stabilizing system. Essentially, by having you perform gentle repeated joint motions in a "zero-gravity" environment, NEURAC tells your brain that it is safe to turn the joint stabilizers back on. It's like turning on a light switch to muscles that went dim from chronic pain and trauma.
Interesting concept, huh? Well, it totally blew my mind when I was initially introduced to Redcord and the NEURAC treatment method back in 2007. The Norwegian physiotherapists explained to me why my patients would only feel better temporarily from traditional PT. The pain always seemed to come back. Little did I know that it was their outer muscles tightening up because the inner muscles went dormant.
Check out this inspiring story about how Carla overcame pain through the power of neuromuscular activation:
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.