Dr Josh Boak – Osteopath
Movement is Medicine
Our bodies are designed to move. It keeps us happy and healthy but is also beneficial for our tissues, even when we are injured. Movement is a key focus of many forms of manual therapy and I want to delve into why it is so important! Firstly, sometimes it is important to rest an injury. In the event of serious tissue damage (ie: a broken bone or a severe muscle tear) it is important to rest the affected site so that we can prevent any further tissue damage. Movement is still an important part of the progress of these injuries but the severity of the injury can hinder how much movement we have in the early stages. However, the majority of the time tissue damage isn’t too bad and movement plays a vital role in the healing process.
So how does movement help?
There are three key ways that movement benefits an injured tissue.
The first is that it helps fluid move to and from the injured area.This fluid contains cells that are responsible for the repair of damaged tissues, a process that requires access to the injured site as well as away from it so that any by-products can be removed. If we don’t facilitate this process we can end up with with increased swelling, pain and delayed healing.
The second is that movement inhibits pain signals. This is a cool little neurological reflex that the body has to help us deal with pain and it’s actually something that you do quite naturally even if you aren’t aware of it. Think of a time where you’ve hit your head on a cupboard door or whacked your leg into the coffee table. After getting irrationally upset at the inanimate object that brought you so much discomfort, your reaction is typically to rub the area with your hand. If we think of pain as having a volume setting, the act of introducing light touch to the area turns the volume down. Movement works in much the same way.
The third is that it allows us to load muscles and tendons to help regain strength. Muscles also tend to tighten up in response to an injury so movement helps to loosen everything up and improve range of motion. This is a major part of the recovery process and the earlier we can introduce it, the quicker you can get back to being as active and pain-free as possible.
So what kind of movement is best?
It depends on the injury. Sometimes more specific movement is necessary such as with an ankle sprain; your clinician might prescribe a forward/backward movement to place gentle pressure through the injured tissues. Sometimes a more general approach suits such as with non-specific low back pain; where walking has been shown to have a positive effect in decreasing pain (Sitthipornvorakul et al., 2018). As the tissues continue to heal movement can be progressed with activities that require more movement or more load. For example walking can be progressed to running and then to sprinting. The movement is always specific to the individual however. The movement plan for a tennis player with an injured shoulder looks very different to a casual jogger with an injured ankle.
As always, It’s important to have a chat to your practitioner about what suits you best. They will work with you to help figure out if a period of rest is necessary or if more targeted or general exercises are required. Regardless of what stage an injury is at movement is invariably a part of what gets us back to 100%. Remember, Movement is Medicine!