The Core Essentials to Physical Well Being #3

Core essential number 3 – Move your Muscles:


The number one cause of long term disability in the modern world – more than cancer, more than heart attacks, more than strokes, are musculo-skeletal problems.

It is a common assumption that as we age, we will experience a gradual loss of muscle function, arthritis, and pain. However, neither reduced muscle strength nor the subsequent loss of function is inevitable with aging or injury. These losses can be minimized or even reversed with training. Better yet you can prevent them by being active, now!

If you are injured, your Danger Alarm System is hardwired to react to injury/pain in a fairly specific pattern. The general pattern of reaction is fairly consistent in everyone, such as the fetal position we go into when your back hurts. This occurs at a subconscious level, in other words you have no direct control of it.

Also, when you are injured and unable to remain active, you will typically lose 1-3% of your muscle strength per day in the injured area. This means that in a 4-6 week time frame you can lose as much as 30 to 40% of your strength.

How this general patterning actually develops is a function your specific strengths and weaknesses, physical variables, previous sports and leisure activities, and other adaptations. The general pattern of reaction results in:

  • Changes in your joint mechanics.
  • Changes in the range of motion of your joints.
  • Changes in proprioception (your subconscious awareness of where your body is in space – garbage in).
  • Altered programming of movement patterns (garbage out).

As a result of these changes, over time you will develop significant muscular imbalances and poor postural habits.  Even if your pain or injury is resolved, this new way of functioning has become hard wired into your nervous system (New muscle memory), and so becomes, not only self-perpetuating, but becomes the problem itself.

Now, if you use your imagination a little bit, the posture that you assume when you are working at a computer or driving a car is very similar to that fetal position you go into when you are in pain. And, the changes in your muscles, joints, and movement patterns are exactly the same – it just takes a little longer to show up as pain in some part of your body.

If you have not read the first post in this series I will recap the basic concept:

In an old TV ad for Midas Brake and Muffler you here the announcer say, “You can pay me now … or you can pay me later.” In the middle of the sentence, you hear the screech of brakes followed by the sounds of a car crash.

Now what does this have to do with remaining pain free and functioning normally? It may help to think of your body as a finely tuned piece of machinery. It is a lot cheaper to keep your car in good working order by doing regular maintenance, than to fix it once it has been broken down (or crashed). The same is true of your body. (AND IT HURTS A LOT LESS TOO!!)

The regular maintenance exercises you need to perform to stay in good working order (weak link exercise routines) are the same as what you need to do to recover from an injury.

Principles of Strength Training 

  • Develop a conscious awareness of your posture, especially the neutral position of the injured body part, and how it moves. After any injury you lose your proprioceptive sense, and this deficit does not return automatically when the injury has healed. It must be re-trained.
  • Learn to isolate and retrain the weak and inhibited muscles. Focus on developing muscular endurance rather than muscle strength. As an example: perform the exercises 10 times and hold for 10 seconds, or perform 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions.
  • Make the skills transferable and build whole body strength and stability. As much as possible these should be functional activities i.e. they should mimic the activities that you perform on a regular basis, whether this is for home, work, or play.

If you have been injured then you will need to seek the assistance from a therapist that has an expertise in active rehabilitation. If you are injury free, and are looking at prevention, then find a personal fitness trainer or check out some of the exercise suggestions throughout this website.

Watch for other Core Essentials in future posts, so that you can truly live a healthful and active life.


To your pain-free health,


Bob Jacobsen

Bridge Physiotherapy


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