In my practice, during my intake, I ask every client ‘what was the very first injury in your life?’ After getting a quizzical look I get a range of answers from ‘oh I remember falling off my bike and hitting my forehead. You can still see the scar’ to ‘I can’t remember. It was probably in my early 20s maybe?’
For many reasons our first injuries are either an event we can readily recount, like a family legend, or our memories have somehow erased them from our awareness.
It is both of these responses that intrigue me.
But regardless of whether or not the injury was memorable, your body still remembers. And if you see a practitioner skilled at reading the subtle signs the body is saying we can see them loud and clear.
As an Anatomy in Motion practitioner, I am trained to see what many other practitioners are not trained to see. The fingerprint of every experience in your life on your body. Injuries, surgeries, emotional experiences, anxiety, daily habits, and even tattoos and piercings. They all present as changes to how we manage our mass and deal with gravity.
Anything that disrupts or acts on your muscles, joints, and fascia by asking your nervous system to find a work-around for pain or emotion you’re experiencing will result in an alteration in how you move and manage your mass. The tricky thing is your body will incorporate that new work-around and master it so that when pain or emotion subsides your strategy remains.
So you’re probably asking, how does my first injury affect me even today? Imagine spraining your ankle as a child. Mom and dad probably took you to a medical professional. You were told to wrap it up, ice it, stay off your injured ankle until it felt better.
And so you did.
Your body signaled to you whenever you put weight on it ‘DANGER DANGER AVOID AT ALL COSTS’. And so you did. You favored the other leg. That caused a cascading chain of events throughout your body and many tens of thousands of steps later you have a new way of moving. The good news is your ankle healed. The bad news for the ‘future you’ is the pattern remained.
Decades later, your knee or hip or back or shoulder hurts and you can’t figure out why. It turns out that your childhood ankle injury and the compensations your clever body came up with at the time to work around it are still there! Even if you have no memory of the injury.
Unless you have worked to retrain yourself to bear weight on that sprained ankle and restore the harmony of all the working parts above and below that joint, the compensation will remain. There’s no reason it needs to go back to the way it was before. You’re still getting around just fine.
Until you’re not.
What I find in my practice is the very first injury someone gets as a child sets up their posture and movement patterns for the rest of their life. A bop on the head as a toddler moved the skull and neck slightly out of alignment as a protective response to that blow to the head. Then everything below it has to counterbalance to both keep you upright and keep your eyes level to the horizon. I can still see the effect of the bop on your head in your posture decades later.
Just like that sprained ankle, the body compensates and has no reason to restore itself to factory settings once things are good to go.
You may be asking how these compensations are influencing the injuries you’re getting today. Well, the body is meant to move at its peak efficiency. You move each part with the least amount of effort required and the nervous system sorts out how to make that movement given all the options of moving each joint in all the range of motion it has access to.
When we restrict the range of motion we’re willing to access because part of that range is painful then we’ve taken away some options. Those next-best options may work great for the time being. You get on with moving about.
But that particular next-best option might ask a certain muscle or muscle group to do more work than it was meant to do. Or the joint that has to move more now (or less) is creating more wear and tear in part of the joint. Now years or decades later the next-best option means that parts have been overworking and parts have been underworking. That overwork and wear and tear are starting to run out of patience and your body starts complaining. It will also leave you vulnerable to new injuries as instabilities in your joints and the firing of your muscles means you’re susceptible to new injuries.
So what can we do? Prevention and restoration. When we are injured we usually see a medical professional who gets us to the point of healing but doesn’t restore our movement to our factory settings. The compensations remain. My hope for the healing industry is that we start to embrace the importance of restoring movement in the often overlooked post-rehab stage of healing. If we focused on completing the healing process by restoring movement then a great number of future aches and pains and injuries could be prevented.
About The Author:
Holly Middleton is a movement coach based in Vancouver and owner of Flow Movement Therapy. She specializes in Anatomy in Motion which assesses and restores lost joint range of motion. A life-long dancer with a Ph.D. in biology, Holly has over 3 decades worth of experience in movement, training, competition, injury prevention, and self-improvement.