The ‘First Law of NeuroKinetics’

Have you ever had the experience of releasing tight muscles one day, only to be right back there within a day or two with the same level of tightness in the same place? I certainly have, and have now learned the ‘First Law of NeuroKinetics’! (This is my labelling, rather than a formal academic name!) But it is very useful indeed as a framework for daily bodycare!

What’s the solution?

The challenge of releases – whether a sports massage, stretching or releases is that usually the results are transient. The muscle patterns are leading to overload on that muscle group are not changed by releasing the muscle. So for all that it feels good, it does not change the cause of the tightness and hence it comes back very quickly. So rather than recovering, it can feel like painting the Forth bridge – constantly going back over the same areas.

So I have learned ‘the first law of NeuroKinetics’, ie that releases must always be accompanied with focused activation and strengthening of the opposing muscle in the pair. And then into additional activation that recruits the synergists correctly – probably involving bigger movement patterns than the more focused agonist/antagonist activation exercises. [I have to admit that there are some parts of the body where the interactions are more complex and one muscle may be inhibiting two, three or four others! Still the same principle, but a much more complex unit.]

Looking back I can see that this was in some of the programmes that I have been given. But having it front and centre of my mind is very useful indeed.

Working through a case study

As a ‘for instance’ – if the adductors are tight it suggests that they are doing a lot more stabilising of the hip region than they should be. The simplest opposing movement is abduction, which involves the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and tensor faciae latae (TFL). And the synergist to adduction is the inside edge of the quads, whilst the synergists to abduction are more spread across the lumbopelvic area – involving the psoas, piriformis, quadratus lumborum and rectus femoris.

Releasing

The first job is to release the adductors – and there are a lot of them. Some people talk of the ‘long’ adductors (which give you the feeling down the inside of the leg between the groin and the inside knee) and the ‘short’ adductors (which you can feel in vertical lines as you move out from the groin across more towards the hip and before you reach the rectus femoris).

There are five adductors and one of the mnemonics to remember them starting from nearest the hip and moving through the groin and into the inside leg is ‘Please Baby, Love My Groin!’ – ie Pectineus and Brevis (the ‘short’ adductors), Longus, Magnus, Gracilis (the ‘long’ adductors).

The reason that it is useful to understand this is in the stretching and releases. The long adductors are normally stretched with the legs more than shoulder width and dropping the weight vertically over a bent knee on one side. However, there are three different foot positions for the straight leg and these stretch the three different adductors. The short adductors are usually stretched with the ‘frog’ stretch, but it will take some hip movements side-to-side and the weight forward and back to stretch both of the adductors involved.

Likewise, using the edge of a foam roller or a ball to get into the areas for release will require different locations to find which ones need the most release and then getting into them to release them.

For completeness, I need to mention that good breathing methods and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) can really make a difference to the quality of the releases and stretches.

Activating

Then we need in the exact same session to get into the activation exercises. There is no need to fear that they will tighten up the area that you have just released. In fact, it is the exact opposite! The more the agonist contracts successfully, the better the antagonist switches off and relaxes. 

The reason that you do the exercises is two-fold:

  1. Neuromuscular repatterning. You are programming the nervous system to send the right messages and the muscles to respond to them. It is likely that the body has got out of the habit – and this is why perfect form is so important (you need to teach the body correctly) and why usually it is sets of 15, 3 times with a recovery interval of around 1 minute between the sets (to ensure that the body ‘hears’ the message).
  2. Muscular strengthening. You will also be putting the demand on a muscle that may not have been working for a little while. So the load over a period of a couple of weeks will ensure that new fibres are made and the muscle strengthens.

So back to the example, side-leg raises are a great starting point and then we can include some abduction movements (opening the hip) either on machines or via the ‘opening the gate movement’. More complex movements can include side plank (or side half-plank if it needs regressing) with moving the top leg up and down, forward and back and then in half-moon movements starting from close to the floor in front of the lower leg and finishing close to the floor behind the lower leg.

Then we can move into some more overall movements to get the synergists moving – for instance a front or back lunge, probably breaking it into stages of movement to make sure that each part of the movement is balanced and strong, whilst moving smoothly between the positions.

If it still remains tight

If after two weeks of a daily programme on both the releasing and the activating is not making any difference to the tightness, then it does not mean that the law is wrong! It just means that with the complexity of the body’s movements and interactions we did not choose the correct opposing movement and therefore probably have the wrong muscle pairing. So we need to go back to the analysis stage and look at what other interactions are going on and simply go again with another pairing. Patience and focus does pay dividends.

Best of luck!

PS – for any Urban Dictionary readers, this is all IRL!

What I learned from going to see a nutritional therapist

I had to go back into hospital for some manipulation under anaesthetic due to the limitations on my movement from the scar tissue after my hip surgery. I had been dutifully massaging the scar tissue on the outside but came to realise just how much scar tissue there was on the inside that was reducing my range of movement and potentially one of the causes of pain. This led me into a journey to look at what I could do with nutrition to try to help my recovery.

So, for the first time ever, I went to see someone for dietary advice – with the specific question of whether I should be taking supplements to help my healing, and if so, which ones.

Layering the different aspects

I had previously thought that nutrition was mostly common sense, but I learned a lot from the way that Saffron (the nutritional therapist) layered what I needed:

  • Starting from a well balanced diet – with 7-a-day vegetables and fruit, plus a good split at each meal of complete proteins, good fats, and wholemeal carbohydrates as well as maintaining good hydration. She also specifically asked about how often we eat fish, and especially oily fish – as apparently the British are standardly very short of the long-chain omega 3 fatty acids. The ideal is apparently at least two portions of fish per week, with at least one oily fish.
  • Then looking at my age and lifestyle to get a sense of the hormonal pressures and tensions, as well as the aging factors on all of my tissues.
  • Whether I have had any blood tests to give information on nutrient shortages. These are very useful for things like anaemia (shortage of iron) and vitamin D shortages (common in Northern Europe, especially in winter or for people who stay inside a lot).
  • Checking for any food allergies or intolerances, or specific dietary requirements. I am very lucky with the robustness of my digestive system, so it means that I can draw on most foodstuffs – I just need to be organised enough to plan the right meals, shopping, and preparation! (I am sorry – I realise that some of this advice is not going to be so helpful for vegetarians, but a nutritional therapist will work with everyone’s dietary requirements).
  • Building from there to the current medications that I am taking – and talking me through the receptors that these medications block and hence what dietary changes and vitamin supplements may be needed to reflect this. For instance, the need for extra fibre for the constipation from painkillers, sulphur if taking ibuprofen, and extra B-vitamins (B6 and B12) when taking muscle-relaxants and antidepressants.
  • Then looking at the injury and the surgeries to understand what tissues are trying to heal – in my case covering bone, joints, cartilage, muscles, ligaments, and fascia, as well as scar tissue.  She talked about the importance of protein and zinc to help the muscles and ligaments repair. So a quality protein with each meal, and a wide range of pulses, grains, seeds, and nuts for the zinc. Getting nutrients to the bone and joint is more challenging – so I will come back to this theme below.
  • From the symptoms that I am still experiencing what extra may be needed. For instance, Magnesium is the mineral involved in relaxing muscles (whilst Calcium is involved in muscle contractions), so extra Magnesium can help with the muscle spasms and cramps. Magnesium-rich foods include spinach, avocado, seeds, nuts, yoghurt, banana and best of all: dark chocolate!
  • Then we talked about inflammatory foods, vs anti-inflammatory foods. Whilst inflammation is an important process in the initial weeks after the injury and surgeries, now months down the line there is a chance that swelling and inflammation is getting in the way of healing. Hence foods can help as one of the factors that can reduce inflammation. Overall, processed foods with high fat and processed sugars are inflammatory, plus fizzy drinks and nitrates, and nitrites in processed meats like smoked bacon and ham (you can buy nitrite-free versions), and of course, mild toxins like caffeine-based drinks and alcohol. The anti-inflammatory foods include tomatoes, leafy greens, olive oil, nuts, fruits, and oily fish.

Reducing scar tissue

As I said, reducing the scar tissue internally is a big goal for me, as I think that it will improve my mobility and potentially reduce the pain.  Saffron recommended proteolytic enzymes which are supposed to help minimise and reduce scar tissue after the surgeries.  These need to be taken away from food for best impact (either 30 mins before a meal, or an hour after a meal). Natural enzymatic foods include pineapple and papaya (yum!)

Rebuilding the bone

Of all of the injury and surgical aspects, we spent a lot of time talking about how to get blood flow and nutrients to all of the damaged tissues. Obviously, the bones are one of the most difficult to reach and the only access in the joint is via the synovial fluid. This points to the importance of movement in healing, as this only happens with movement that increases both blood flow to carry the nutrients around the body, and synovial fluid movement and regeneration.

The nutritional advice is to bring bone broths into my diet – using them instead of stock.  She counselled that it might seem weird to begin with but that you can get bones from butchers – they just give them away (I think that they normally assume they’re for a dog…) https://wholefully.com/bone-broth/

Normally your body will synthesise the necessary building blocks itself for bone synthesis and (to a certain extent) repair but it does get more difficult as we get older and we have less of the ‘whole’ ingredients in our diet such as animal skin (like on chicken etc), marrow, offal etc.  So this is where a supplement may be easier. 

Dealing with continued inflammation

Turmeric has become one of the anti-inflammatory supplements of choice for athletes. There is a lot of discussion about the format, and whether it is needed to be activated with black pepper or not. There is not a clear answer. The focus is probably best on getting one with sufficient amounts of the curcuminoids that create the reduction in inflammation. It needs to be taken with omega-3s for impact, which given the frequency really means using a good quality supplement.

More that we could have talked about

I have to admit that there was so much more that we could have talked about – and maybe I should go back in a few weeks once I see the impact of a few changes.

For instance, many people say that having had 7 general anaesthetics, rebuilding the gut fauna with a good probiotic is a priority to ensure good absorption of nutrients.

In summary

I came away with a much clearer view of what I should be doing in my base diet and the things that I should be eating more of and the things to avoid. I also finally answered the debate that I had been having with myself about supplements – and decided that the extra demands of this recovery phase meant that a few specific supplements would really help me.

But more than this, it was a real wake-up on the complexity of nutrition and how everything works together. It has been a great insight at this stage of injury, medication etc. But when life changes again, I think that there is a real value from getting expert insight on the body’s nutritional needs and how to meet them effectively. I really hope to be back to sport and when I start training would definitely go back again, plus at different physical lifestages as hormones change, or lifestyle changes. I had not previously realised the benefit that one can get and I would recommend it to others.

Love your feet!

I guess that I should have known how important feet are, but I will admit that I took mine for granted. And so when I lost all feeling in my right foot after my accident, I was still way too nonchalant. After all, the Paralympians run like the wind with blades – I was sure that I would learn.

The foot is so complex

Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints (20 of which are actively articulated) and more than a hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments. Wow! And feet can move in so many directions and with amazing levels of control. And these link all the way up the leg into the lower back.

This is all so important to us, as tiny differences in the pressure and our movement at the foot level are all multiplied up through the body as the distance from the feet increases – with compensating and balancing to ensure that we stay upright and are able to do what we want to do. Think of how crucial footwork is in any fast-moving sport like tennis, squash, football, rugby, hockey etc.

So what should we be doing?

Given the importance of our feet, we really need to invest the same level of body care as we would in the other major muscle and movement centres. I went to a seminar with a physiotherapist who was proposing that runners should really do a 15 minute footcare workout every day in order to protect themselves from injury!

The toes are very important – especially the big toes

I remember a friend having an accident when we were in our 20’s and after it being crushed on a building site, he had to have the first section of his big toe amputated. This meant that balance and running were always really difficult for him, and he almost always wore walking boots with ankle support to stabilise his foot.

But it does not need to be as severe as that for us to lose mobility – in our feet and all of the way up through our body. Here’s a quick test – can you do the ‘vulcan salute’ from Star Trek (splitting your fingers between the 2nd and 3rd fingers) with each hand? Can you similarly control each of your toes?

Toes are very trainable – you only need to type ‘painting with feet’ into YouTube to be inspired at dexterity that people can develop in their toes.

A couple of foot work exercises for the toes

When sat down, can you use your toes to pull a towel along the ground? (without lifting the sole off the ground).

When you are lying in bed – when your feet are pointing upwards can you move your big toe up and down without the rest of the toes moving? And then the other toes, without the big toe moving? And now when you move your foot to point your toes, can you do the same toe flex and curl?

Difficult? You can help your toe mobility by continuously challenging your toes. Do also massage under the foot – through the arch just below the pads in the forefoot, feeling each of the bone/muscle and ligament complexes that control each toe (go gently, as it is always tender in there!).  Then extend the massaging and movement to each of the toes – pushing against your hand in different directions and with your foot in different positions.

Also, do roll the arch on a tennis ball. Be amazed by the simple test of touching your toes and remembering how far your hands reach. After 30 secs of rolling the arch on a tennis ball, focusing on those gritty, grainy parts with smaller circles. Then touch your toes again and check your reach. Amazing! (Some people sneakily have a tennis ball under their desk to do this arch-rolling in the office during the day!)

The amazing ankle

For all that the ankle is a hinge joint, you can do so much more than just the dorsiflexion/ plantarflexion movement of pointing the toes. You can actually roll the ankle from side to side in the inversion/eversion movement where from the feet being parallel, you can then bring the soles of your feet together and then roll the soles outwards.

This movement is incredibly important and useful for stabilising in walking and all sports.

So exercising it is good. Sit on a chair and with our hands on our knees to stop them moving, roll the ankle from side to side, so that the weight is over the big toe and then over the small toe. This may seem difficult to at the start, but is very trainable.

The feet are controlled from the lower leg

A lot of what happens in the feet is influenced by the leg (and indeed all of the way up the body).

Releasing the muscles in the lower leg associated with the foot movement is also very useful. It needs a lacrosse ball and careful placement and flexing, but this is worth doing daily if possible.

More inspiration

If you are battling with this, I have found the following website and podcast interesting and useful. Best of luck with getting your feet supporting your movement in the best possible way – reducing pain and increasing performance. Best of luck!

https://corewalking.com/