A Neurological Approach to Injury Rehabilitation
by Garrett Salpeter, M.S.E., Founder of NeuFit
Whether you are recovering from an injury or looking to upgrade your athletic performance, one major key to success lies in the nervous system. The nervous system, including the brain, is a major influence on the function of the body. It directly controls cognitive and athletic performance, hormonal releases, energy levels, organ function, and the processes of healing and recovery.
One particularly interesting quality of the brain is that it spends a lot of energy limiting us. Instead of getting us to do more, it tries to get us to do less.
The Brain Imposes Limitations
Why is that? Because the brain’s number one priority is survival. Our brains don’t want us to stretch too far, move too fast, exert too much force, or otherwise do anything that increases our risk of injury -- because injury is a threat to survival. Our brains evolved at a time where getting injured meant that we were unable to fight back against, or run away from, predators like wolves or tigers. Injuries increased our risk of being eaten. In other words, our brains care much more about living to see tomorrow than about running fast, jumping high, throwing far, or lifting more weight.
Some protection, of course, is valuable. Even if it isn’t a threat to survival in today’s world, we don’t actually want to get injured. The problem happens when those limitations imposed by the brain are set too conservatively. We could actually run 5% faster or jump 5% higher without getting hurt, but the brain prevents us from expressing that extra 5%.
How do these overly-conservative limitations get imposed on the body in the first place? It’s typically either due to injury or bad habits developed over time. In this article, we’ll look specifically at injury and, even more importantly, the body’s response to injury.
The Neurological Response to Injury
In a typical injury, like a sprained ankle, low back spasms, AC strain of the shoulder, etc., the nervous system guards and protects in the area around the injury, forming a natural “brace.” This bracing includes shutting down (inhibiting) some muscles, and creating excessive tension in other muscles in order to restrict movement in the area. And, although this strategy is productive if that injured tissue is going to be physically attacked, it’s actually counter-productive for efficient movement and optimal healing.
Let’s look at healing, using the example of the powerlifter shown here who tore his pec muscle. The body rebuilds muscle every time we recover from training, and is very efficient at rebuilding and repairing muscle tissue. The body should be able to repair that torn muscle in no more than 2-3 weeks. But it normally takes 8+ weeks to heal an injury like this. Why is that? Because these guarding and bracing patterns block the repair process. The body stands in the way of its own healing!
The same protective contractions that restrict movement and cause the injured person to not be able to move their arm also create enough tension to block some of the blood flow to that area of the body. Diminished blood flow reduces the body’s ability to deliver the nutrients and raw materials that are needed for repair.
If this neurological pattern of protection is the reason why it takes so long to heal, then it makes sense that changing the neurological pattern is the key to unlocking an optimal healing process. This is where a neurological approach is useful and valuable.
Using Technology to Change the Neurological Response
Using NeuFit’s Direct Current (DC) technology, it is possible to quickly identify exactly where that guarding is happening and help the body work through it. By changing the neurological pattern or signal, the protective guarding gets “reset” and protective tension is reduced. And in this state the body can more effectively deliver the raw materials required for healing. Instead of 8 weeks, the healing process is now able to progress at its natural rate. In this example, that neuromuscular re-education and increased blood flow enabled this powerlifter to recover in just 10 days!
We have seen similar outcomes for hundreds of athletes recovering from different types of injuries and surgeries, where this neurological approach enhances and accelerates the overall recovery process. Though there is more research to be done and more to learn, there are many compelling case studies that show the types of results people can achieve with this approach.
More on the Technology Itself
Why, you may be thinking, is this type of electrical stimulation any different than the TENS, Russian Stim, NMES, Interferential, or other e-stim that you’ve tried before? That’s a great question.
The difference lies in the contrast between AC (Alternating Current) and DC (Direct Current). Most devices out there that you’ve tried are AC. And although they can have some benefits at lower levels, there is actually a significant limitation on what you can accomplish with AC devices because of their effect on the nervous system.
When turned up to a high enough level to challenge the neuromuscular system, AC devices cause muscles to co-contract and fight against each other. This signal stiffens the body and creates excessive tension, reinforcing the same protective, guarding, and bracing patterns that slow down the healing process in the first place. It’s as if you were trying to drive a car while hitting the throttle and brake pedals at the same time. Very inefficient.
In addition to wasting energy, it’s even possible that causing the muscles to stiffen and shorten may increase the risk of injury. We want to be pliable. We want to be able to bend but not break. This pliability requires suppleness in the muscles - yet AC devices may create the exact opposite effect.
Thankfully, the DC signal of the NeuFit device (The NEUBIE, for “Neuro-Bio-Electric Stimulator”) has a more positive effect on muscle tone. Rather than causing muscles to shorten and stiffen, it can actually cause them to relax and become more supple and pliable. It does this through a new type of neuromuscular re-education, which focuses on providing sensory (or afferent) stimulation so that the brain can choose to reduce muscle tone in the area of the stimulation. And because this approach stimulates the brain and nervous system to change its own patterns, the changes will often last a lot longer than traditional interventions and treatments.
Conclusions and Next Steps
Sometimes, these protective, guarding, and bracing patterns can remain in the body even after the injury has healed. In that case, with insufficient rehabilitation there can be movement dysfunctions that linger for months or even years after an injury has “healed.” Since many athletes have these types of lingering dysfunctions, you may be thinking ahead and seeing how this type of neuromuscular re-education may also have benefits for athletic performance. If so, you are right on track with the topic that we’ll cover in the next article.
For now, one of the biggest points to remember when dealing with injury and trauma is this: even though the injury itself is important, how we respond to the injury is even more important. Because the response is neurological, effective management of that response requires neurologically-based interventions. And with the NeuFit System and NEUBIE device, we have a way to effectively manage the body’s response to injury to optimize the healing process.
Garrett Salpeter is the CEO and Founder of NeuFit.
He is a former college hockey player as well as an engineer and neuroscientist.
As the Founder of NeuFit, Garrett started off helping thousands of clients recover faster from injury and dramatically accelerate their progress in fitness. Now he trains practitioners around the world to treat and train their own clients using leading edge, neurologically-based approaches.