“Prehab” Before You Have to Rehab

A recent article in the Star Tribune entitled “The Best ‘Cure’ is the Cancer that Doesn’t Occur” grabbed my attention. The article ended with the quote: “In short, prevention is where the money is not.” While my article isn’t about cancer, it is about “prehab:” preventative measures and lifestyle behaviors you can take to avoid pain and the potential for injury.  

Prehab isn’t perceived as all that fun or sexy.  The next “it” thing, or fad, or diet often captures our attention.  But I would argue that this is where the gold is. Dr. Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favors the prepared.”  Edna Mode from The Incredibles paraphrased it as “Luck Favors the Prepared.” I love that quote so much, we have it on our T shirts at the studio!  It is our tagline.

If we are truly interested in reaching our body’s athletic potential, our focus should be inoculating ourselves for life’s unexpected events, illnesses, and changes that naturally occur.  Our health, athletic performance, and ability to perform day-to-day tasks, just plain old living life, requires attention to detail.  And details can be perceived as boring, but in actuality, it’s like mining for gold.

Good communication between our joints, muscles and the brain is necessary for optimal movement. Our joints send information to the brain about pressure, tension, force and position.  This is called proprioception and it’s often more important than mere strength.  In fact, without good proprioception, our movement quality is greatly diminished and pain often follows.  

Movement is controlled by:

  • input (the signals our brain gets from our limbs, eyes, and balance)
  • interpretation (how our brain is reading the information) and,
  • output (the quality of our movement which is dictated by how well we read all that information).  

Our brain needs to trust us.  Better input combined with better interpretation means better output, which also means decreased pain and enhanced performance. More precision in movement means our brain gets a better picture of what is actually going on.  As with anything, when we know what to expect, our anxiety can be substantially reduced. Our brain is the same way.

Proprioception is the way we sense movement.  In other words, proprioception enables us to know where our limbs are in space.  Our sense of proprioception can be disturbed because of injury or repetitive movement.  If our brain can’t sense where things are, it gets a sensory mismatch.  A common one that I see is knee pain caused by ankle injury: if the ankle had several injuries, the knee over mobilizes because of the lack of quality movement at the ankle. Our brain needs to be able to accurately read what and how our body is moving. If it doesn’t, we often have injury and pain. Working on our proprioceptive system (good movement skills), our visual system (eye drills), and our vestibular system (balance drills) helps our brain to get more and better information than it might have otherwise.

One interesting way to test the three systems is to take one away.  Do a very simple drill with your eyes closed or blind folded.  (The drill should be safe, i.e. not falling over).  Notice how the other two systems navigate while that one system is no longer there to take in information.  Is the movement quality decreased?  What is your sensory perception with the one gone?

Playing with our skill set is almost taking us back to our childhood; a time when we just played and didn’t worry about building strength, a strong core, or flexibility.  It was just play but we worked on things we didn’t even know we needed.  We spun, hung, and balanced.  Keep in mind that things don’t always have to be hard or boring.  Prehabbing can be playful and interesting!  

Another quote from Edna Mode: “I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.” So instead of looking back on injuries you need to rehab, make your “now” prehab and avoid them in the first place!