Do you struggle with pain during certain movements like walking down the stairs, overhead pressing a barbell, or even just bending your knee? Oftentimes there isn't an easily identifiable cause of your pain, and you might be told: “there’s nothing wrong with your knee”. What this statement fails to address is how important the brain is in allowing you to move. That's right, your brain allows you to move when the conditions are right. But, your brain can take away the movement when it doesn’t feel safe, stable, or secure.
One of the main functions of your brain is to keep your body safe and ensure that your muscles and joints will not become injured. If your brain senses danger, it will alter how you move to protect you. This can ultimately change your mobility and strength.
Now, I’m not talking about the fight or flight response to physical harm, rather, safety and stability. Here’s an example: if you have knee pain when you bend your knee, your brain will limit how much you bend your knee and how strong you are when bending your knee.
The Connection Between Strength and Mobility
How do you overcome pain and dysfunction if the brain senses danger? This can typically be achieved in two ways. 1) passive range of motion, and 2) load it.
Passive range of motion is simply having someone else or something else move your body. When I assess the range of motion of the knee, I am moving that individual's leg throughout their available range. Hopefully, they’re relaxed which means they aren't actually doing any of the work.
When you're relaxed it eliminates your brain's perception of danger and essentially chills out a bit. Therefore it doesn't feel the need to limit your mobility.
Adding resistance (or loading it) is a great way to create a safe environment that allows you to move actively (meaning you do the movement not someone/thing else). This active movement is a form of communication that tells your brain to relax so it’s less likely to hinder your strength.
Enter Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT)
The tricky part is trying to figure out how much resistance, how much range, where do you add the resistance and for how long?
This is one of the main concepts behind Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT). Normally RNT is used to correct technique flaws such as valgus knee collapse during squatting or an inefficient bar path during deadlifts. It’s a systematic way of adding resistance to better communicate with your brain, hence the neuromuscular part.
What happens when we apply this same principle, communicating with the brain, in order to allow more movement and strength to occur? Like I said above, danger can simply mean a lack of stability. So, adding resistance in specific ways can allow you to move pain-free, through more range of motion and even feel stronger!
How can RNT help you improve your strength and mobility?
Regardless of your injury, RNT can help you re-establish a pain-free range of motion and allow you to start regaining your strength. It does so by increasing the demand of your body to work harder. Think of it like this: adding resistance makes movement harder, your brain facilitates how much your muscles work and which muscles work, this makes you more stable. Stable = safety.
What if you’re not currently injured, or actively rehabilitating an injury? Fear of movement is a powerful thing. Being fearful, not necessarily consciously, can greatly hinder how your body moves. You see, your brain knows what positions and situations can lead to you injuring or re-injuring yourself. This is called fear avoidance.
If you’re previously injured your knee and you know that it hurts to move it to a certain point, then your brain will limit your strength and mobility to avoid that position! RNT is a way of communicating with your brain to help it understand that not all movement is bad and that you're not going to injure your knee every time you bend it.
If you’re curious how RNT can help you, reach out! Click here to book a session or click one of the social links below.