Why We Need to Make Mobility a Primary Focus

Why We Need to Make Mobility a Primary Focus

by Dr. Matt Fontaine How we move directly impacts the quality of our life.  The following article discusses understanding Human Movement The basic tenet is this:  Moving poorly with load causes injury over time. Moving correctly requires physical intelligence.  Simply stated, we need to retrain our bodies to move the way we are naturally engineered to move.  We are genetically hard wired to move correctly.  Just watch a toddler squat.  It is an effortless, smooth movement with full range of motion.  But as we age and become stagnant, we lose our ability to move correctly.  Monitoring movement is an essential requirement in both diagnosing the cause and effect behind many chronic musculoskeletal issues as well as curating strategies and tactics to resolve these issues and improve human performance. It is important that tissue maintain its ability to deform properly. Tissues must be plastic in that they bend but don’t break.  Tissues must have the capacity to compress, to stretch or lengthen, and at times stiffen and stabilize to resist forces.  Buckminster Fuller coined this system “tensegrity”.  Tensegrity, tensional integrity or floating compression, is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (human bones) are held together by pre-stressed tensioned members (fascia muscle &  tendons) that delineate the system spatially. Loss of this tissue deformation ability results in what is called a stress riser. These stress risers set up us up for later injury. So Why Do We Get Injured? We can categorize orthopedic injuries into the following: 1.  Pathology: something is wrong, some pathology exists that needs to be clinically evaluated and treated. 2.  Trauma and crisis:  Sports injuries, accidents, slip and falls etc. 3.  Bad movement repeated over time:  This category represents near 98 % of the musculoskeletal cases of acute onset and chronic pain that plagues so many of us on a global scale. The average human takes about 10,000 steps per day.  Add that number up over a week, a month, a year.  You can see how these movements add up over time.  Running can create upwards of 5 times body weight impact on our structural frame. Understanding Hard Miles and Duty Cycles I hear it all the time…”I’ve always done this or that and never had any pain before.  I don’t understand what is going on”.


Movement actually hinders pain transmission.  The nervous impulses to the brain created by movement actually compete for pain impulses.  Simply stated, as we move, we typically do not register pain.  The adrenaline of movement actually attenuates and blocks the pain.  This is how endurance athletes can compete in triathlon and runners can run marathons.  The movement can actually block pain transmission. We are designed for adaptation and as we move incorrectly our brain ignores the pain signal.  It takes time for fatigue to set in.  As fatigue sets in, you can start to experience pain. By the time we experience pain with movement, tissue damage has already occurred.  Have you ever noticed how you can go all day long only to notice pain at the end of the day.  Its only after  long bike ride, a run, or a hard work out, when you are laying down and your body is down regulating when the pain begins to register.  The body is an adaptive machine Your body has a backup plan.  As our body looses key movements, it will default to a secondary position of stability, but it pays a price.  That price is undue stress that can cause injury over time.  When we move incorrectly over time, we wear down our body tissues.  What we often fail to appreciate are the long lasting effects of poor posture and repetitive motion.  When you slouch for instance, shoulders round forward and your head is drawn forward (picture the typical computer or texting posture).  For every one inch your head moves forward over its ideal position over the shoulders, it adds 10 pounds of stress onto the spinal system.  The average head weighs between 8-10 pounds, so at just one inch forward, we add 20 pounds of load to the spine.  Compound this over a typical 8-10 hour workday at the computer and you can see how this loads the spine in a bad way. It is important to note that when we are young, our tissues are healthy and supple.  Combine that with the built in tolerance and durability of the human frame and you can begin to see how the body can adapt to increased stress and demands.  What that boils down to is the human body can write a lot of bad checks…until it gets injured.  Indeed the body has mechanisms that can compensate to deal with that injury, but there is always a price to pay. As we get into our 30’s and 40’s, our tissues start to lose some elasticity.  It doesn’t have to be the case.  But, poor hydration, poor eating habits, lack of sleep, poor physiology and a lack of movement can all contribute to loss of function. By the time we reach our 30’s and 40’s, the compounding effect resultant from decades of “hard miles and duty cycles” begins to show up in the form of pain.  Years of sport and recreation, running and lifting, swimming and biking begin to catch up with us.  With regard to human movement, a duty cycle simply refers to percentage of time doing work in a work to rest cycle.  The big picture here is that poor postures create long duty cycles.  During poor postures the body tissues are poorly loaded and some tissues will be under an increased workload stress for prolonged periods of time.  The overall result is that there will be a lengthening of some soft tissues and a shortening of others in a compensatory reaction to these bad positions.  Muscle imbalance will ensue and this will result in loss of range of motion and poor movement.    The big problem is that we jump people into sport and hope that they can move well.  As athletes, we then take this restricted range of motion and poor movement and attempt to perform either in a sport or recreation,  execute an Olympic lift, or swim, bike, and run.   Performing activity with poor movement decreases performance and leads to eventual injury. So, back to why we need to work on our movement.   Why do we need to do mobility?.  Simply put, the result of the hard miles has left us with restrictive tissues that hinder our ability to move properly.  The skill of human movement is a complex biological phenomenon.  It takes time and practice to develop skill.  The key to learning is repetition, and practice makes permanent.  According to the research, it takes somewhere between 3,000-10,000 repetitions to reprogram movement, depending on which study you read.  In either case, that’s a ton of repetition. This is why we need to use the foam roll, lacrosse ball, and band assisted stretches DAILY.   In the simplest sense, rolling is step one in the preparatory process.  You CANNOT simply stretch a tight tissue.  You need to work the fascia, muscle and other soft tissues to increase their extensibility.  Then we need to move these tissues through a full range of motion.   Our daily goal and pre-exercise warm up is to prepare the tissue for the stresses about to be applied.  Proper tissue preparation allows an athlete to perform a workout without injury.   The most salient point is this:  YOU NEED SOME DAILY MAINTENANCE TO OPTIMIZE YOUR BIOMECHANICS. We need to prioritize the movement.  We need to give the body a better movement pattern.   If we can correct the movement first, we can then ameliorate or attenuate these bad stresses on our body frame.  Make sure you are doing at least ten minutes a day of maintenance mobility work to improve how you move.  Whatever your chosen sport or recreation, get out there and move…and move properly. As an athlete, you will be able to go harder and faster, lift more, feel better and be able to do so longer and safer. There is always a price to pay.  You can pay now with the discipline and time devoted to mobility and correcting your issues or you can pay later with PAIN, decreased function, injured reserve time away from your sport or recreational activity or worse….surgery.

Humans are born soft and supple;

Dead, they are stiff and hard.


Plants are born tender and pliant;

Dead, they are brittle and dry.


Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible

Is a discipline of death;


Whoever is soft and yielding

 Is a discipline of life.


The hard and stiff will be broken,

The soft and supple will prevail.

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