4 Phases of Dysfunction: Play Through the Pain Now? Or Use Corrective Exercise Techniques to Prevent Surgery Later?

The following is based on the old adage, “Little leopards become big leopards and big leopards kill.”

I am not talking about a pathological issue that requires surgical intervention. We are trying to prevent the leopard from getting out of it’s cage here…not trying to stuff it back it in.

1) Dysfunction with No Pain; You don’t know that it is there, kind of like a fire in small space where the smoke is contained and you can not hear the crackle of the fire, feel the heat from the fire, smell or see the smoke from the fire. There is damage being done, but you are probably not aware of it yet. Some effects are inhibition or weakening of muscles. This can impact coordination and how joints move. This may start to wear on cartilage, tendons or ligaments or strain other parts of the body other than where the dysfunction is. There is also an almost imperceptible drop in athletic performance (slower reaction times longer recovery times). This is often the result of a repetitive stress, old injuries that were never really cleaned up, poor posture or poor technique during sport or exercise. Some good old fashion corrective exercise and or manual therapy can do wonders here.

2) Dysfunction with Mild Pain; You can smell or see the smoke now. You know there is a problem, but often times people just try and work through it and hope it will go away. This might just be some tightness or soreness, maybe a twinge when you move a certain way. You may avoid certain exercises of shots in an attempt to stay away from the pain or discomfort. This might loosen up during your workout or match a bit, but it is there at the beginning of the workout or match and may even be present when you are not exercising or playing tennis or any other sport. This is a dangerous place to be. Athletes particularly can develop a high threshold to pain. Ignoring this or trying to work through or around it will lead to further dysfunction and problems in other parts of the body. an example of this is tightness in an ankle that can lead to shoulder pain in tennis players and throwing athletes. Remember, don’t just stretch generally or get a massage because it feels good, try and find out where the source of the problem is. Don’t treat just the symptom and expect the problem to simply go away.

3) Dysfunction with Moderate Pain; You can see and feel the fire. There is no ignoring it. You are at the point where you are missing workouts, practices, matches, games or races. If it’s the US Open, and you were Andrea Agassi making one last valiant effort, then push through the pain, give it your all and pick up the pieces when you are done. I am competitive, I understand drive and it can be used as a strength….I do not however, especially with young athletes early in their careers, recommend sacrificing more pain and dysfunction down the line for short term results. That is sure fire way to burn someone out and shorten their athletic career. Take some time off, get some help, find the problem (not the symptom), treat it with corrective exercise, manual therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy, osteopathic medicine, traditional medicine, whatever needs to be done. You will need to put a significant number of hours into your self care here to restore function and then keep up a portion of this work to maintain it over the years.

4) Dysfunction with Sever Pain; The fire has chased you from your house. The heat was too much, the smoke made it difficult to breathe, you had to leave. You have no choice in the matter. You are on the shelf, on the disabled list, you can not exercise, play or train. Unwanted time off, one of the athlete’s worst fears. It will take a while to clean up the symptoms and burrow down to the source and clean that up. Physical therapy, corrective exercise and more are warranted by now. Find a licensed health care practitioner and/or corrective exercise specialist who is licensed to perform manual therapy and dig it!

5) Surgery: Your house has burned down…surgery is performed, hopefully it is to address the source of the problem, not the symptom. I would be very selective about which orthopedic surgeon I let cut me open and would have multiple conversations with multiple physicians, physical therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths etc. to make sure I found the best match for me. You will be in the hands of licensed professional for a while as you complete your rehabilitation, corrective exercise and manual therapy. Make sure you are working with people who look at the body as a whole. Knee injuries are often caused by mobility issues at the ankle and stability issue at the hip and low back. A global approach should be taken, not just looking at the joint that was repaired. A long road awaits, but you can climb back to form in most cases. Your body will never be the same, but your performance can still reach new levels in many cases if the hard work and dedication is there.

Thanks for reading!

Eric Beard

Athletic Performance Enhancement Specialist

Corrective Exercise Specialist



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