Pain is a way of your body telling you that something is wrong. It’s a survival mechanism designed to alert you that if you continue to stay in a certain location or move in a specific way, a more substantial injury may occur.
Our bones and muscles make up a complex biomechanical system that relies on muscles, tendons and fascia being the appropriate tensions and lengths for movement to occur optimally.
Movement, or conversely, lack of movement can contribute to discrepancies and adhesions in muscle tissue, which manifests itself as dysfunction, leading to symptoms of pain.
When we sit at a desk or in a car for hours on end, week after week, year after year, our body slowly learns that certain postural muscles are not needed. These muscles become weak. As the body does not like weakness, it compensates by tightening compensatory muscles in order to create “artificial stability”.
For example, when people sit at a desk all day, they lose musculature in the glutes and positional stability in the lower back (due to slouching). This makes the pelvis very unstable when challenged with load. As a way of compensating, the hip flexors and adductors usually tighten as a way of stabilising the hips.
Muscle adhesions are a common culprit in biomechanical dysfunction. An adhesion is the building up of tissue (commonly known as a knot) that shortens the length of a muscle. Adhesions work in a vicious circle, they can be caused by dysfunction or THE cause of dysfunction. Either way managing these issues is vital for improving movement patterns.
An area that is very prone to injury is the knee. The knee joint itself is quite a simple joint which works on a hinge mechanism. When knee pain is present, it’s possible that the knee is not actually the issue.
The direction of the knee depends on the movement potential of the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia and fibula (shin bones). There are numerous amounts of muscles in the pelvis that contribute to the articulation of the femur (piriformis, glute minor and glute med being a few). When these muscle become inactive, or tight, they can cause the femur to either be forced inwards (valgus collapse) or outwards (vagus collapse, less common).
When this dysfunction is accompanied by similar issues at the ankle (restricted calves and soleus etc) both the tibia & fibula, plus the femur can be fixed in a faulty movement pattern.
Over time, the nervous will associate this type of movement as normal, engraining the pattern in to the brain. You learn dysfunction.
In order to correct these issues you would need to take 2 approaches, A) change the structure of the muscle and B) re-learn the correct movement pattern.
To learn which muscles are causing the dysfunction, a simple muscle screening test can be used to show which muscles are tight or inactive. This is something I use during my initial consultations with clients. From there, soft tissue work using a foam roller or manual manipulation can be administered to correct the issue.
If it is clear there is a problem with movement, it is best to regress an exercise in to less intense formats, for example, regressing from a squat to a step up. Usually compound movements can be the biggest contributors to dysfunction. Moving back to less intense isolation work can be an excellent tool for re-learning a movement properly. This by no means will make the exercise easier, as it is still possible to challenge someone greatly only using a simple movement.