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How to Prevent Athletic Injury by Training Your Brain

Article by Skye Donovan | Found on US News

When you kick a soccer ball into a goal, reach to catch a baseball or lengthen your gait while running to avoid a puddle, your brain sends signals to your muscles and joints to produce the desired movement. But did you realize those pathways go the other way, too?

Indeed, the brain is constantly receiving signals from our bodies and environments that can dramatically impact movement. In the case of the soccer ball, for example, your pattern of movement changes depending on how far you need to kick the ball and where you need to aim it. This two-way body-brain communication is, essentially, what exercise scientists call motor control and motor learning.

While strong motor control paired with a fierce competitive nature can distinguish top athletes, poor motor control may also be an underlying reason for faulty movement and injury. But training the input and output to the brain can improve movement in all of us. Here are four ways you can enhance your motor control – whether you want to qualify for a competitive race or simply feel more comfortable in your daily life:

1. Assess.

Ironically, one of the most important contributors to how we move is how we don’t move. Our culture of promotes habitual postures like sitting at computers, driving in cars and looking at screens. Sustaining those stationary positions most of the day affects your ability to move when you do. For example, if you sit all day, you shut off important muscles necessary for movement like your glutes. If you look down at a screen all day and develop “tech neck,” you affect the muscles in your neck, which has a direct effect on shoulder and lower back function, and ultimately alters the way you move. Maintaining positions for long periods of time also predisposes muscles to be overused or underused; or over-lengthened or over-shortened, which can lead to pain and dysfunction.

One of the most effective ways to overcome this issue is to pay attention to how you move. Assess how you do everyday tasks like sitting, bending and reaching. Are any of them painful? Are you able to achieve full range of motion? Is your form off-kilter? If you cannot perform simple movements like bending over, performing high-intensity activities like running or sports will likely be even more challenging.

2. Be mindful.

When you’re exercising, don’t just go through the motions; think about what muscles are working and how. For example, create an image in your mind of how your joints are aligned, then picture how your body would respond when you lift a specific weight. This type of mental imagery can help you target the correct muscles and shut down muscles you might be overusing. Too often, we are distracted while we are moving, which makes us develop bad habits. Being mindful and focusing on how you perform movements will not only improve your workouts, but also make you more efficient throughout the day.

3. Reflect.

You might not realize you’re not moving properly if you don’t use a mirror for visual feedback while you exercise. Look at your posture and how your body moves. If you haven’t used certain muscles throughout the day, you may notice that your body has tried to compensate by activating others that aren’t necessary, which can put you at risk for injury. For example, if your shoulders raise up when you lift your arms overhead, focus on keeping your shoulder blades relaxed. Keeping a watchful eye on your form will help you tap into the correct muscles that should control the motions.

4. Practice.

The more you practice good form, the easier it will be to maintain. Working with an exercise specialist like a physical therapist, certified personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach can help by teaching you how to activate specific muscles and break up faulty movement patterns. Movement is a learned skill, and sometimes we need expert instruction to improve.

New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.