Snake Bite or Stick: How Pain Alters Movement Patterns

One of the most important considerations when working with an injured athlete is not just establishing an appropriate return-to-play protocol, but being mindful of how the injury may still be affecting movement patterns.

Pain is one of the most powerful motivators of movement.

When the body is in pain, the brain alters movement patterns to protect itself from further injury.

What's more, is that the original pattern doesn’t return when the pain subsides.

Dr. Rose explains the concept of guarding, and shares an analogy from Dr. Lorimer Moseley, a neuroscientist who studies pain in humans, explaining why the brain needs to learn to distinguish between a 'snake bite' or a 'stick.'

As Dr. Rose mentions in the video above, when a player has suffered a snake bite, the brain will seek to protect the body.  It guards against further painful movement.  That makes sense when there's another snake, but what if it's just a stick?  What if there is no danger?

In our advanced Fitness and Medical tracks, we discuss strategies to help train athletes to re-access range of motion or movement patterns once pain has subsided.  Whether it’s by loading the pattern or regressing the posture, we need to address the neurological inhibitors that are guarding from pain.  

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Here’s an example from a live seminar that Dr. Rose shared in a Fitness Level 2 live Q&A.

By implementing principles from the 4x4 Matrix (taught in our advanced Medical and Fitness courses) to regress the posture, he was able to convince the brain that the pattern was safe and the patient was able to access a greater range of motion.  His tissue or joint didn’t become more mobile, his brain just realized that "it wasn’t a snake."

If an athlete is experiencing pain, we can predict that they will likely move differently.  Unfortunately, we can’t predict HOW they will move differently. 

The acute response to protect the body (a good thing!) may result in movement dysfunction, even after they recover from the injury (usually not a good thing!).  Because of this, we always note when pain is present during an assessment. 

Here’s a clip from the SFMA Level 1 Certification course (included in our Medical Level 2 online course):

A good practitioner not only treats acute pain, but, most importantly, evaluates potential long-terms affects that pain may have had on movement patterns.  When is it a snake and when is it just a stick?

For more information on our advanced Medical or Fitness tracks, visit the course overview page on our site.

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