Gait, Arm Swing and Reorganizing the Brain

When we injure a body part there is a price to pay. The brain takes note of pain and usually uses its backup plan of neurologic inhibition or alteration of a motor pattern to protect that injured area and allow it to heal by moderating or altering the forces and demands upon said tissues.

This is a mechanism we need to have in place. But if we do not heed its warnings to dial things back and rest, recover and heal the brain will make alternative changes.

In this neurologically based article linked above in the title, the authors discuss several important things.

“Getting a cast or splint causes the brain to rapidly shift its resources to make righties function better as lefties, researchers found.
Right-handed individuals whose dominant arm had to be immobilized after an injury showed a drop in (brain) cortical thickness in the area that controls primary motor and sensory areas for the hand, Nicolas Langer, MSc, of the University of Zurich in Switzerland, and colleagues reported.
Over the same two-week period, white and gray matter increased in the areas that controlled the uninjured left hand, suggesting "skill transfer from the right to the left hand,” the group reported in the Jan. 17 issue of Neurology.
The findings highlight the plasticity of the brain in rapidly adapting to changing demands, but also hold implications for clinical practice, they noted.“

This article highlights the rapid changes in motor programs that occur. It does not take long for the body to begin to develop not only functional adaptations but neurologic changes at the brain level within days and certainly less than 2 weeks.

We tell our patients, if pain does not go away fairly quickly, that we need to get on top of the injury quickly. That is not to say you need to reach for the phone every time you  have pain but you need to heighten your awareness of the injury’s status and  you need to make sure you are not driving session after session of training into a festering injury. If you do not let something heal and recover, the brain will find a way around it.  And it will imprint that new motor pattern into hard wiring if you do not heed the warning signs.  This new wiring is a compensation pattern. And the longer it is there the more the neurologic pattern becomes embedded by layerings of myelin coating.  Which means that in the future, if you fatigue or injury another local tissue, this old compensation pattern is waiting in the shadows looking for an opening to rear its ugly head for old times sake. 

Shawn and Ivo …  Two plastic fellas, just like everyone else.