MelMel Davis, Sports Chiropractor at Back 2 Balance describes ADAPTABILITY and how this affects the performance and function of your back.

Ever wonder why when some people bend forward to pick up a pencil….their back ‘goes’? Or their neck spasms whilst drying their hair? Yet a rugby player can charge across a playing field being knocked left right and centre without sustaining much injury? Why did Michael Owen suffer injury after injury in his footballing career yet other players can enjoy full football seasons with only minor set backs?

This is down to the body’s ability to stabilize itself against the ever changing forces that bear down on the body when we move from one position to another. In this blog I will be talking about ‘adaptive range’ or in other words…… ‘tolerance/robustness/functional capacity or strength’.

Adaptation in the biomechanical context is essentially our structures and systems coping with pressure demand or in other words how our bodies deal with load or how our bodies are able to keep upright and stable against the effects of pressure and gravity.

The body is continually adjusting to external forces and changes in the environment. Whether you’re gardening, playing tennis, picking up a child or stopping yourself from falling. Fast adaptation helps to protect you from injury and the speed of the adaptation is dependent on the nervous system. Nerve signals can travel speeds of up to 120 metres per second (now that is fast) which to you and me is almost instantaneous… and is without our conscious control (otherwise that would slow it down). Therefor having good nervous system control and adaptability aids in injury prevention.

Generally speaking an active person will have a wider adaptive range than a couch potato. So if, say a tennis player decided to do some gardening for the first time on a sunny afternoon he/she will likely to be able to do so without risk of injury. However, a couch potato…because their body will have a smaller adaptive range is likely to feel sore after an afternoon’s gardening. They may ‘pull’ a shoulder or give themselves a back spasm. Their body could not adapt well enough to the differing forces going through their body.

This is an example of adaptive failure.

Regardless of what tissue we injure – we injure because of the external force was too big or too fast for our body to adapt and react efficiently. Now this can of course be appropriate. If a person with no training wanted to lift a very heavy weight there is no way their untrained body could adapt to that. They are therefor likely to injure and quite understandably to. However…. sometimes this can be inappropriate. In fact a lot of the time. This is where trivial; or routine external forces cause injury. For example…using the vacuum cleaner, or sustaining a sports injury where no direct trauma has been involved.

Which tissues protect us by providing fast and immediate response to change?….Muscles. This is to enable a runner to run over uneven ground…pot holes, rabbit holes etc without getting injury because their intricate muscles are switched on to stabilize a joint.

So…why do muscles fail to protect us under trivial load? like when hoovering? Is it due to loss of strength? or loss of flexibility?. It’s actually due to loss of control. If the nerve supply to the muscle is less than optimal then the switching on/of that muscle will be slower and weaker. Leaving the individual prone to injury as that area is not stabilized at the critical moment. Leaving a runner prone to spraining an ankle.

Adaptive range depends on neurological control of the muscles. Most of our movement actually happens with no conscious control. We have millions of reflexes criss-crossing our bodies at every second. I’m not talking about the simplistic knee jerk reflex…I’m talking about very complex reflexes which mean we can run away fast, chase something over uneven ground, climb, jump or throw without even thinking about which muscle groups to contract in which order. Our bodies just, well, do it. No questions asked. This means we can drive a car and have a conversation at the same time.

Our adaptability to changing environments therefore, depends ultimately on proper nervous system control of our muscles. Chiropractic is largely about optimising your nervous system in the way of enhancing spinal control. The knock-on effect is that nerve function can be improved therefor increasing the speed/strength at which your muscles are switched on and therefor increase your adaptive range to changing environments. Also if your extremity joints aren’t moving properly this can cause problems with nervous system output. Scars and scar tissue can also affect this.

Chiropractic is actually at it’s best as a preventative measure. Chiropractic is more about injury prediction and prevention. As well as treating injuries if and when they occur.

Here are a couple of links to articles about the world renowned chiropractor Jean-Pierre Meersseman. He uses a series of diagnostic tests (including muscle testing) to determine nervous system dysfunction to predict potential risk of injury. This results in the football clubs getting more bang for their buck when it comes to their players producing winning results.

We also have a book ‘The reality check’ in our lending library by Dr Heidi Haavik who is a research Chiropractor and award winning neuroscientist. She discusses the association with nervous system function and adaptability amongst other exceedingly interesting topics in her book. Why not borrow it out, and learn more about your nervous system and how amazing it is!