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When Usain Bolt suddenly collapsed onto the track in his last ever appearance for his country, I think we all empathically felt his emotional pain. In what was supposed to be his swan song he barely limped across the finish line. But aside from the emotions, how many of you actually cringed and pulled up your legs into a little ball when he went down in obvious agony? Particularly if you have pulled a muscle like this yourself, you know what it feels like and so you felt it along with Usain.

It’s not surprising that elite athletes like Usain Bolt who push their bodies to the very limits of human tolerance can have injuries like this, but what about us mere mortals who play sports primarily for the enjoyment of it? When we pull a muscle why does that happen?

What Happens to Us Mere Mortals?

If you look at the traditional approach to treating a torn muscle, the focus is on the injured area. Different techniques are used to promote healing and circulation, and then when the muscle is deemed healed enough strengthening begins. This approach suggests that the problem lies within the torn muscle itself. While of course the damaged muscle needs to heal, the question begs – why did it tear in the first place?

If the emphasis during rehab is put on strengthening, then that would suggest that the muscle tore because it was weak. If this was true then why would we see people who repeatedly injure the same muscle despite strengthening it each time? I see this often in my practice. People injure a muscle, go through rehab aimed at healing and strengthening, and then do it again, and again, and again. When they question why this happens, the answer is usually something along the lines of being told that they just have a weak muscle.

Personally I don’t buy it. Not to mention the fact that if the therapist directing the strengthening is saying this, then they are not giving a very good testimonial to their own methods if the muscle is still weak after all that work. So what is really happening? Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, pure and simple.

Don’t Blame the Hard-Working One

If a muscle tears, particularly repeatedly, it is because that specific muscle is working too hard, not because it is weak. The muscle is overworking because another muscle somewhere else in the body is not pulling its weight. When you think about it this makes sense. Muscles don’t overwork to the point of self-destruction just to make your life miserable. They do so to try to compensate for lack of activity elsewhere.

In order to address the problem and prevent recurrence you have to step back and look at the big picture. The key is to find the culprit who is slacking and address that area. It is only then that you will relieve the excess burden on the injured area and allow the person to return to activity without risk of re-injury.

Treating body parts is just not effective. You have to be able to see the forest and the trees in order to address the true underlying cause of the problem. If this treatment philosophy makes sense to you, then come in and see us. Don’t suffer needlessly or give up on the activities you love.

We see the forest and the trees.

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