Our nervous systems control every function within our bodies. At NeuClear, we operate on the principle that the muscles are the outward expression of your nervous system. This means that your muscles function because your brain and your nerves tell them to through an elaborate signaling processes.
Through injuries, poor habits, or just age, this process can become less effective or obstructed. As a result, most injuries occur due to poor neuro-muscular control.
Pain is a very misunderstood topic, and contrary to popular belief, just because you don’t have pain, doesn’t mean that you don’t have a problem. Long before you actually reach “PAIN”, other things happen. As inflammation increases in the body, it begins to send a signal to your brain, that you’re under threat. This is why, people who are inflamed actually have a decreased motivation and desire to exercise.
Athletes who participate in sport experience the risk of pain and injury. In today’s sports culture, playing with pain and injury has been normalized, which can leave athletes with severe chronic injury, incessant pain, and potential irreversible damage. This is because, by the time you feel pain, there is already very serious disruption to the flow of the nervous system.
Pain is a neurological response to a perceived threat. By the time you feel pain, the brain is sensing that a part of the body is about to sustain serious injury. The body starts to protect that area by shortening muscles to stabilize weak joints. The nerves in the affected area sense increased tension and send signals telling the brain to limit performance in order to avoid injury. To put this in different terms, low levels of inflammation in the body, actually signal to the brain, not to move. “Pushing through the pain” can be detrimental and life-altering.
Neural Plasticity is the idea that the brain can and does change. Our brains adapt, which means that someone who sits for 8 hours a day will get really stiff in non-sitting positions. Similarly, when the body becomes accustomed to pain, as is the case with chronic conditions, it will activate those “pain pathways” in response to stress. A great example of this is: “I carry my stress in my shoulders.”
THE NERVOUS SYSTEM DOES 3 THINGS
Receive Input → Interpretation/Decision → Create Output
Inputs can be exteroceptive (external), proprioceptive (positional), and/or interoceptive (internal). If you want to either maintain or improve your brain’s current ability to interpret inputs, you could start by making sure you’ve got a healthy balance of all three. Exteroception–awareness of our external environment–tends to get the most attention, though I think we collectively ignore how much we struggle with this. Daily stressors wreak havoc on our nervous system, promoting an acidic, inflammatory, stress-response. Proprioception–knowing where we are in space–is a major emphasis in Gymnastics, but not often elsewhere. Interception–awareness of internal bodily sensations–seems to be a focus of some meditation and yoga cultures, but again, gets often overlooked by the general public.
This framework of input → interpretation/decision → output will apply to everything we do, but especially one popular topic.
We often talk about pain as an input–”My knee hurts, so I can’t run, and I have to take opioids.” At NeuClear Health & Fitness, we look at pain as an output that our brain creates. So a more intellectual line of thinking might be, “my brain is struggling to predict what my ankle, knee, and hip will do when I run 5 miles after work, so it creates a pain sensation and protective response to inspire a behavioral change.” Each time you experience pain, try to think of it as an output, and understand that it is your body’s way to warn you of a problem.
Dr. Cobb teaches on this subject with the concept of “The Threat Bucket.” “We are constantly perceiving threats, and the physiological response from our nervous systems is similar to being chased by a tiger. Stress at work, heavy squats, relationship drama, etc. When I’m walking around tired, struggling to see things in my periphery, perceive relative depth, etc., these, too, are threats.
We have a bucket that can only fit so many of these inputs, but at a certain point it will overflow. When we get overwhelmed, our brain will send outputs that lead to behavioral change, like the knee pain mentioned above. Two fundamental aspects of the nervous system are that it prioritizes survival and it is highly predictive.
If visual struggles are making it hard for me to predict my next move, it won’t matter how much my trainer wants me to squat or my partner wants me to be attentive…when my threat bucket is full, my nervous system has more immediate tasks to deal with. The result is an alarm going off in my brain.
At NeuClear, we don’t just help people move freely without pain. We teach your body how to function properly under stress, and we look at strength as a matter of balance and control as opposed to sheer mass and brute force.
There is no other method as effective at reducing pain and increasing performance.