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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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Is your body a rusty bridge?
Is your body a rusty bridge? (Photo: shutterstock.com)

Location of pain isn't always the problem

Have you ever been treated for an injury only to find the pain returns? Have you ever considered if there was something you could do to decrease your risk of ACL tears, knee meniscus tears, rotator cuff injuries, headaches, low back pain, disc herniations, osteoarthritis, or any one of hundreds of other common conditions that to nag millions of Americans each year?

Obviously the first priority of any treatment is to eliminate pain, but there is a second step that often gets forgotten and is sometimes difficult to understand. Sometimes the cause of the pain is in a completely unrelated area and once the pain disappears it is often hard to motivate yourself to keep working through your therapy or treatment plan.

Let's use an analogy. Picture a suspension bridge in a canyon. The steel rods push out giving stability (bones) and the cables pull to give tension (muscles). At each intersection between the steel rods are rivets that allow a certain degree of motion (joints). When the wind blows, the bridge flexes and all forces are distributed perfectly - a beautiful site that speaks to its strength.

Now fast forward 80 years when the bridge has fallen into disrepair. Many of its joints are rusted and immobile. Its cables are now stiff and less flexible. When the wind blows the bridge still must flex. Although some of the rusted joints are fused together, those that are not compensate to make up for the lack of mobility. The same is true for the cables; those cables that still have flexibility can make up for those that do not, but at the cost of much greater strain.

On one particular day, a slightly stronger gust of wind strikes our bridge. As it tries to flex, it is unable to distribute the forces and the weakest link snaps. The entire balance is thrown off and our once sturdy bridge has become damaged and unstable.

This is the same as our bodies. Avoiding injury is largely about distributing forces properly. Every joint, muscle, ligament and bone in our body was designed with a specific purpose. If every piece does its part, there is no undue strain. If one area forces another to work harder or change its purpose, this is known as compensation and increases the likelihood of injury.

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