Strengthening weak parts of the body
Step 3 in our ‘5 Steps to Healing’ program is Strengthening Weak Parts of the Body. We’ve looked at ‘Switching on the Nervous System’ and ‘Freeing Up Stuck Joints’ in the previous steps, and now it’s time to look at carefully working your way back to fitness.
The issue – losing fitness
When nerve supply has been impaired and the joints of the body are stuck and not moving through their normal range, that part of the body will not function to its potential – becoming de-conditioned and losing fitness and capacity at a cellular level.
Unfortunately, many people become so physically shut down that even walking and regular daily activities become too much. The repair process includes working through their body to switch it back on, then to get the stuck joints moving again, before we focus on strengthening the weak areas that have become de-conditioned.
I always let my clients know that following treatment, the body will not be ready to jump straight back into the same level of activity, even if they are no longer in pain and were previously very active. While the mind knows what to do, the weak and de-conditioned areas of the body need time to catch up. My solution is to recommend a specific ‘reconditioning’ program.
Common areas that de-condition are the hips and low back muscles – the hamstrings become tight and the spine becomes stiff. While the treatments people receive in the clinic are very powerful, the next step is to specifically strengthen the areas.
One of my favourite exercises to strengthen the lower back is called the “Founder” from Dr Eric Goodman. It’s been part of my own daily routine for several years now, and if I do nothing else physically that day, this one always gets done. Watch this VIDEO to learn it for yourself.
In practice – treating lower-back injury
A classic scenario is someone with a lower-back injury – the legs have become weak, and are usually now tight and stiff. The client stopped exercising (surfing, gym, running, cycling, bushwalking etc) because it made the pain and discomfort worse.
Eventually, they come into my practice and we start waking up the body and switching them back on, we get all their joints moving again, and teach them how to do the Founder exercise.
Once those fundamentals are taken care of, it’s time get them ready to return to the activities they were doing (which could have been months or years previously) with a re-conditioning program.
A typical progression over 2 months to get someone running again would look like:
- Start with walking 15-20 mins for 3-6 days a week
- When ready, add a hilly route to every second walk
- Then add stairs, building to free squats, then to lunges, on one day only per week
- When ready, jog part of the walk, then run one or two days a week
This will keep them busy doing something most days of the week, safely building up strength and endurance, so that after 4-8 weeks they will be ready to go back to their favourite activity with greater intensity.
The key to success is to only add more when the body has gotten used to the previous level. We need to include rest days or easy days and never push the body into the pain zone, as at this stage pain is our warning signal before the body switches off again. There will be plenty of time to push thresholds and increase loads significantly when the body has had time to reset.
Treating a shoulder injury
In another scenario, if the client had a chronic shoulder problem, the symptoms would be quite similar – the shoulder has become weak and is now tight and stiff. Exercise has either stopped or causes pain, to the point that they come and seek my help.
Again, once the body is switched back on and we get the joints moving, we set up a strengthening program that would typically look like this:
- Start with a Theraband and exercise the external rotators, daily
- When ready, transition to rowing type exercises on cable machines or with weights every second day
- When ready, add pull down exercises every 3rd day
- Then, add close grip push ups going to a wider grip after a few weeks every third day
- Finally, when enough strength has returned, pressing overhead can be added
This program also keeps the client busy doing something most days of the week, but allows for plenty of recovery and to safely building up strength and endurance.
Don’t rush the recovery
The re-strengthening process is all about loading the right parts of the body without overloading the system, giving it time to recover before challenging it again – just as you would tackle any strength or conditioning program. The key is to always be on the lookout for pain, as a warning sign that the body may be shutting down again and need some extra attention.
The reality is that many people have multiple injuries which can affect more areas than just where pain is experienced – and it is quite common to re-condition from the ‘ground up’, starting with ankles, knees, hips, the full spine, shoulders and arms.
For those of us who want to get our active/physical life back, Step 3 of our Healing Program requires just a little patience and dedication, but it can be exciting and rewarding – and importantly, it reduces the chances of injuries returning in the future.