Who’s your maintenance guy?

If I were to ask you that question you’d probably assume I was talking about your mechanic, air conditioning company or even the guy who keeps your pool clean. But your doctor?  You’d say “Nahhhh, I only see my doctor when I’m sick.”

From one athlete to another, if you have serious aspirations within your sport, you should reconsider that viewpoint.

Yes, go to your medical doctor with a sprain/strain and he’ll send you away with: muscle relaxants and naproxyn. Go to your medical doctor with a trigger point that is causing numbness and tingling down into your fingers and he’ll send you away with: muscle relaxants and a referral to an orthopedic surgeon. Go visit that orthopedic surgeon and you may get a cortisone injection or a recommendation for surgery.

If that seems a little extreme to you, thank you for listening.

It’s not that medical doctors, don’t like you or don’t care, but for the most; they haven’t got the time to deal with minor musculoskeletal injuries. They stick with their “safe” prescriptions and referrals because aches and pains just isn’t what they do.

Save your copay and visit your medical doctor when you have serious concerns. Stomach, heart, lungs, vision those are the types of things your medical doctors are best suited to address.

So then, where should you go to with everything else?

When you wake up and those first few steps out of bed are excruciating, or when your elbow hurts during bench press keeping you from locking out? How about that nagging shoulder pain that comes back every time you kip your pull-ups or the knee pain that keeps you from actually hitting parallel?

I suppose now might be a good time to mention that I am a chiropractor, so I am obviously a little biased. That said the go to choice of serious athletes are their chiropractors and/or physical therapists. Nowadays, what’s most important is finding a good one. There are chiropractors that only adjust and there are physical therapists that only use electrical stim and simple exercises; those are the types that are least helpful to athletes.

The athlete’s doctor of choice is one who:

-Understands the athlete’s sport and won’t jump to “you need to stop that.”

-Understands biomechanics, how the body fails and how to change that.

-Understands soft tissue and works directly on it.

-Understands the importance of muscular balance in preventing injury.

For some, that’s a lot to ask. For others, that’s only the tip of the iceberg for what they can offer you.

Regardless of what your specific athletic endeavor is, it’s generally safe to say that athletes need to be both strong and flexible, have endurance, move gracefully and efficiently and have the discipline to train their skillset until training is no longer training but rather only “doing.”

Now that is a straightforward and oversimplified blueprint to success as an athlete. We all know that the path has many detours and pitfalls along the way. Wear and tear comes with consistent training. Small injuries grow like Mogwai’s fed after dark and before you know it you’re flat on the floor, for the wrong reasons.

In my experience, the most important aspect for an athletic doctor to address is the soft tissue. Joints often become painful but they are easily remedied if they are surrounded by healthy soft tissue.

Why does soft tissue become irritated?

Our muscles are made of millions of micro systems called sarcomeres. Think of these sarcomeres as miniature pistons. Squeezing together facilitates muscular contraction and their expansion represents muscular relaxation.

Now for that function alone to remain efficient the muscles require an optimal biological environment. Electrolytes, hydration and adequate nutrition are the necessary buy in just to get this system to work the way it’s intended.

Have you ever slipped on water intake, nutrition or sweat too much without replacing your electrolytes?

Even more important than the immediate need for an ideal environment, your soft tissue is lazy. While you are digging deep to hammer out that last set, your muscles are burning and filled with lactic acid. Your muscular pistons are filled with waste products that the body hasn’t had time to clear yet. Because of that you’re left with only partial contraction of the muscular piston. So if an individual sarcomere/piston has a 100% potential contraction when fresh, a tired sarcomere filled with waste bi-products may only be able to contract to 85%.

This is fine, in the short term, to get through the workout and break a new threshold. So long as you cool down, stretch and flush out the waste products, it’s not a problem. However if you make a habit of skipping your cool down and recovery process, you end up being left with pistons that get dirtier each time you work out.

As if those reasons weren’t enough, have you ever heard of overtraining?

Overtraining pushes sarcomeres to their limits. Not only can they no longer contract to full capacity, often times they contract and remain stuck in that position. Unable to relax, that sarcomere now becomes an over-stimulated bundle of tissue that contributes absolutely nothing to muscular contraction. Now you have muscle, which still must be fed and maintained but doesn’t bring a bit of effort to the table when it comes to hitting your next PR.

Combine those factors and you are left with a perfect storm for muscular and soft tissue dysfunction, bringing me back to my original question; who is your maintenance guy?!?

There are a handful of good options available to you nowadays when it comes to maintaining and optimizing soft tissue function. Most have some level of merit but you’re safest bet is looking for an Active Release Practitioner (A.R.T.).

A.R.T. is a counterintuitive system that utilizes pressure to clear waste products, restore tone and encourage optimal tissue fiber orientation (further enhancing tissue function). The results most typically experience after only a few sessions, speaks for themselves. I’ve seen immediate results from A.R.T. affect event placing at CrossFit regionals. I’ve witnessed squat depth improve instantly and I’ve enabled the success of my athletes time and time again through it’s use.

Decreased pain, improved range of motion and flexibility and everyone’s favorite; fully harnessing all of the strength output your muscles have to offer.

Active release technique is quickly becoming a gold standard in manual therapy. Do yourself a favor and find out firsthand how this technique can change your game.