Co-contractions – what are they and why do we need them?

One of the fundamental components of the rehab programmes at Agility Physiotherapy is the co-contraction. This is a term used to refer to the muscles of either the upper or lower limb working together (or synergistically), in order to allow forces to travel effectively through the limb and be dispersed throughout the rest of the body.
If these co-contractions are not in place, that is to say, a particular muscle group is not doing its job properly, the resulting increased load trasmitted elsewehere means the brain percieves a threat and that, in turn, can result in an experience of pain. This could be ankle, knee or hip pain for the lower limb and wrist, elbow and shoulder pain for the upper limb. The joint affected is largely down to the muscle groups that are now having to pick up the additional slack.
It also must be considered that this force transmission issue can lead to problems further up the chain such as back or neck pain.

The lack of co-contraction could be born out of a previous injury, no matter how long ago. Injuries on the same side as previous ones could mean that there is some residual protective tone that was never cleared up at the time. Old injuries on the opposite side could indicate that the current injury is one of compensation.

A paper by Minoru Shinohara from the School of Applied Physiology at Georgia Institute of Technology (2009) states that “adaptations in motor performance such as controlling force and posture throughout physical activity can be attributed to alterations in muscle activation strategies”
Of course, there are many factors which can influence these strategies – which I will try to cover in a series of upcoming articles – but restoring muscle imbalances and ensuring co-contractions are present allows us to adopt normal movement patterns that could be the key to unlocking that persistant, niggling injury that is preventing you from becoming pain free.

ProSport Refresher

This weekend has proved to be incredibly productive after I completed a 2 day refresher course, following on from a 3 month mentorship programme with the Prosport Physio team in Huddersfield.

The ProSport Academy is run primarily by Dave O’Sullivan – the current head physiotherapist for the England Rugby League team. Dave’s teachings form the fundamental principles for the way any patient will be treated when they come to see me at Agility Physiotherapy. This is the exact same system produces the kind of results expected at elite level sport.

I had the privilege of meeting some of the other therapists that have completed the mentorship course and we were all able to bounce ideas off each other, share our experiences, as well as having the opportunity to hone our skills under the guidance of some of the best therapists in the business.
The systematic approach that we adopt moves away from traditional methods of physiotherapy and allows us to differentiate ourselves from other physios in the area. Pain is a very real thing for many patients and it is very easy for us to focus directly on an affected area and resolve symptoms. Discovering the underlying reasons behind why the pain or injury is being caused and addressing these issues is essential, if prevention of injury reccurance and repeated visits to clinic are to be avoided. If these standard methods of treatment have not produced the kind of results you have expected in the past then why not let a fresh set of eyes address your problem.

I’m very much looking forward to the next event that the ProSport Academy hold – i’ll be sure to be there for it, as the learning process never stops.