A Lyno Therapist’s perspective
There are definitely more people out there who are struggling with chronic injuries, than those who suffer from an acute injury. Why do some injuries heal quickly, yet others become chronic and more than often force athletes to stop training altogether?
Acute versus chronic injury
Let us first define these two types of injuries:
An acute injury is a ‘new’ injury, which was probably caused by trauma – you fell and hurt your knee.
An acute injury of soft tissue (muscles, ligaments, skin, tendons, fascia etc.) takes 3-6 weeks to heal completely, given that the body has the necessary abilities to heal itself and that there is no pathology involved. An acute injury of bone takes 6-12 weeks to heal, given that the body is strong and capable of healing itself.
A chronic injury is an injury that was not caused by specific trauma; it appeared spontaneously and it is not healing within the periods mentioned above.
What is then the cause of these chronic injuries?
Spontaneous (chronic) injuries normally appear in the following situations:
- You had a previous acute injury and trained through pain or started to train before it had healed properly
- You had surgery and started to train too early before your body had healed properly
- You started a new habit too quickly without allowing the body to build up strength
- You changed a pattern of movement and your body was not strong enough to deal with the new load.
- You ignored the body’s warning signs to lower the load by disguising the symptoms
- Your emotional state changed, which affected your body and your strength
Chronic injuries are maintained by injury patterns
In the first 2 examples above, where chronic injuries appear following acute injuries or surgery, the common factor is that the brain has changed your normal natural movement patterns into a compensation pattern in order to avoid and protect the area that is still healing. The muscles and other soft tissue structures are not prepared to deal with the new load and soon the brain needs to compensate again, resulting in layers and layers of compensation. When we do a full body assessment on these clients, the body clearly shows all these different layers of compensation patterns, and only once we have released them all, can the body return to full function.
The same happens when you suddenly start a new habit or change your patterns of movement. This includes starting a new sport, changing your running shoes, changing your chair at work, carrying a baby on one hip, taking up gardening and all situations where the body suddenly requires strength in new patterns. If you change too quickly, without allowing the body to build up the strength of the muscles that need to perform the new action, the brain will divert movement away from the overloaded areas, starting a series of compensation patterns, resulting in even more areas taking strain and becoming ‘injured’.
One of the most important causes of chronic injury is a factor that will be a surprise for most, and that is receiving symptomatic treatment. As soon as the body starts to move in a compensation pattern, new muscles are called up for action and the load increases on certain parts of the body. This can cause all kinds of symptoms like tendinitis, muscle tears, arthritis and bursitis, which are all caused by strain and overload of the specific areas. If the focus of the treatment is to relieve the symptoms of the painful area, the brain gets a message that the load is lessened and the client is able to move more strongly, but remember, in the compensation pattern! Symptomatic treatment therefor cheats the brain into thinking all is well, and as a result, the brain lifts the protection, the overload increases and the pain returns.
Huge amounts of money is spent every day on medication and treatments to relieve pain, while very little goes towards finding the cause of the symptoms. It is only when the therapist or exercise coach takes a holistic look at your movement patterns, that the real cause of chronic injury presents itself. Only then, by releasing these patterns, will the body get its strength back and can proper healing take place.
Does rest help for chronic injuries?
Yes, if you stop the action that is causing the pain, the ‘injury’ will get better. However, if you rest without dealing with the compensation pattern, which means releasing the locked fascia, the pain will return as soon as you resume your training.
I so often hear athletes say that their doctor told them that their knees were not made for running, and that they should rather cycle. This is partly true, as running in a compensation pattern weakens the muscles around the knee, resulting in chronic injury. Although, once you release the injury pattern and strengthen up the weak muscles, you will be able to return to running without any problems.
How does a compensation pattern affect the body?
When we assess bodies suffering from chronic injuries, we come across 2 very obvious patterns. The first is a specific pattern of stiffness in areas remote of where the symptoms are. There might be less mobility of the left shoulder, running across and including the abdominal muscles on the right and combining with the hip flexors of the opposite hip, while the chronic symptom is a left Achilles pain. By treating the Achilles or asking the client/patient to rest, the symptoms reduce, but the stiffness remains untreated, which results in the same injury as soon as the client starts to train again. This stiffness is caused by immobility of the fascia (connective tissue), protection used by the brain to protect and support areas of overload.
The other pattern is that of weakness. When we perform our Bunkie Test, it clearly shows specific patterns of weakness, and only once we have released the identified areas of stiffness, will the muscles be able to strengthen up and function properly again. As a result, the Bunkie Test scores improve and the injury disappears.
How does emotional stress influence injuries?
The effect of emotional stress is often overlooked as a cause of chronic injury. Strong emotions not only rob the body of energy, leaving you weaker and more vulnerable to injury, but it also causes postural changes. Depression or sadness causes a forward bent posture which weakens the back and shortens the hamstrings. If the body is already slightly stuck in a compensation pattern, these emotions will cause more weakness and these clients soon complain of aches and pains everywhere. There are 2 great books on the market which offers information on how emotions and thought patterns affect the body. The one is You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay and an even more comprehensive book is The Body Is The Barometer Of The Soul, by Annette Noontil. I have used both these books extensively in my 35 years of practice.
Knowledge is power
The more information we have on how our bodies work, the better our ability to solve chronic injuries and chronic pain. Always work with health and lifestyle practitioners who look at the bigger picture and who don’t focus on the symptoms only. We all have a responsibility to keep our bodies healthy and strong and by finding the right support team, it will enable us to achieve our full potential.
Benita is a qualified physiotherapist and the founder of the Lyno Method. Find a lyno practitioner here.