A movement pattern is a deeply learnt unconscious process that the brain has adapted over time based on previous life experiences (injuries/trauma) and the things we do every day. It is the way our brain coordinates, balances and moves our body in any plane of motion.
To use a computer analogy, think of your body parts- bones/muscles/joints/ligaments etc. as the hardware and think of your brain as the software. Your brain is the computer program and coordinates and runs the hardware of your body. During your first few years of life your brain learns to coordinate your arms and legs and core so you can crawl and stand and walk and move through the world. Your brain has figured out how to efficiently move your body and is so engrained that you very rarely think about how you move unless you are learning or refining a new skill. How you walk, twist, reach or bend is a movement pattern, if these movement patterns are not efficient you will burn out your hardware. Often people tell me that they simply bent forward to pick something up and experienced a back injury, this is the best example of how poor movement patterns over time lead to ‘burn out’ of our bones, muscles, joints etc. The issue is, our bodies are made to move in many directions at various speeds for various purposes and we should be able to do so safely and effectively.
The most common phrase that I say in my clinic is ‘treat the cause not the symptom’. Understanding that pain is the symptom of a larger cause (especially with chronic or recurrent pain) allows us to know that getting rid of the pain is just a Band-Aid solution to a larger issue. Pain only tells you there is a problem, it does not tell you what that problem is. A large part of what I do as a chiropractor is help manage people who have chronic or persistent pain. For many people the pain either started months to years ago after a trauma of some sort or it progressed slowly with no known cause. Either way a similar process has happened in the body to allow this pain to persist. Imagine rolling your ankle while walking down the street, imagine that ankle swelled up and bruised and for the next week you were forced to limp around. Now usually once the swelling has subsided and bruising has gone you regain your normal walking and movement patterns. Imagine if you didn’t regain your normal walking pattern and that limp lasted for months to years and your brain felt as though that ankle was still injured even though there were no signs of injury any more. Well this is the process that happens commonly through our body. It may not be as obvious as a limp but subtle changes in your movement patterns after an injury often leads to pain persisting for longer than it should. That is the common process for someone who has once injured themselves and still feels the effects months to years late. For the people with no previous injury a similar process occurs, this is usually through poor daily health and movement habits. As mentioned in my previous blog ‘The SAID Principle’ our bodies adapt to what we do most commonly and we lose what we don’t use. If we sit all day we often lose the capability to move in certain ways (Could you once touch your toes and now can’t?) or lose areas of strength or endurance. Over time as we lose movement patterns we create a limited movement environment within our bodies that can drive certain areas to pain.
Often going back to basics with movement is the key. Learn variations of breathing patterns, crawling, squatting, lunging, rolling or rocking. These movement challenge your body in most aspects of movements. They utilize all muscles and joints through your body at different angles and speeds. Having a variety of different positions to play with forces your brain to re coordinate and re calibrate how you function day to day. Yoga or pilates are fantastic ways to practice challenging your brains ability to move well.
The absolute key to fixing persistent pain is patience and consistency. Patience and consistency in learning new movement patterns and challenging them daily. It is easy to alleviate pain for the short term however if the movement pattern isn’t fixed the pain will always come back. Essentially changing a movement pattern is learning and refining a new skill and needs to be trained and challenged constantly. Most people will stop treatment and exercises once the pain has stopped, that is the band aid solution, be consistent with exercises, be consistent with treatment and constantly challenge new movement patterns to gain better long term improvement.
Book: A guide to better movement, Todd Hargrove