Effects of Adaptive Muscle Shortening &

Muscle Imbalance:  Case Examples

 Bodybuilders are often thought to gain muscle mass by sacrificing muscle flexibility.  While there is an increase risk of incurring adaptive muscle shortening, bodybuilders and power lifters who stretch on a regular basis can retain normal muscle and joint flexibility.  This is the best means for avoiding sports related injury.  Good flexibility is more important than "warming up". 
Muscle groups have different actions based upon their points of origin and insertion on the skeleton.  When stereotypical postures are used either occupationally or recreationally, the muscles develop a kind of "memory" and maladapt to these postures resulting in shortened musculature that tends to perpetuate postural imbalances that eventually lead to injury and disability.
Hundreds of years ago, Leonardo DaVinci correctly surmised that the body demonstrates a natural economy of design.  His extensive anatomical drawings were extremely insightful and provide a good analysis of the relationship between structure and function.
It is easy to envision the increased propensity for work related injury in those who have more physically demanding occupations, such as construction workers. 
However,  most fail to realize that stereotypical movements performed on the job result in progressive trauma to the muscles and joints due to the additive effects of adaptive muscle shortening.  This frequently leads to repetitive stress injury (RSI).
Repetitive leaning places increased force upon the lower lumbar vertebrae, strains the upper back musculature, resulting in fatigue, and increases the risk of disc injury.
Tasks that require repetitive high impact movements such as use of a hammer create shock waves throughout the body, which result in premature erosion of the articular cartilage within the nearby joints.  This process is accelerated in individuals who do not stretch on a regular basis, because adaptive muscle shortening results in increased joint compression even while at rest.
Small children are not immune from the effects of adaptive muscle shortening.  Because of their high activity level, they quickly experience AMS symptoms.  They are at double risk, because their bodies are growing, and usually the skeletal system grows faster than the muscular system, resulting in rapid shortening of the muscle tissues, resulting in "growing pain syndrome".
Aerobics classes place high impact stresses on joints that are usually already compressed due to adaptive muscle shortening.  Excessive movement of the hip can result in extraneous movement of the back region, resulting in back pain syndromes.  Stretching is vitally important especially for athletically inclined individuals.
Stretching on a daily basis helps to prevent sports related injuries.  Unfortunately, most programs are not comprehensive or fail to provide adequate guidelines regarding how long to hold each stretch position, etc.
Left untreated, the effects of adaptive muscle shortening accumulate over one's life span, and cause progressive debility and pain.  Osteoporosis accelerates spinal deformities in the senior population, but the primary culprit is AMS.  In worst cases, the rib cage folds downward to such an extent that cardiopulmonary function is severely impaired.  This leads to an increased incidence of falling, hip fractures, and death.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, which was recently brought back closer to its original center of gravity, progressively shifted off its vertical axis until extrinsic forces were applied through steel cables, allowing restoration of the integrity of the foundation.  The human body is supported by musculature.  Adaptive muscle shortening distorts skeletal alignment and gravity further deranges alignment, much in the same manner.
Nature tries to remedy itself, as depicted in the tree at left. Similarly, human beings develop postural compensations to offset AMS changes, and while that can provide temporary relief of pain, eventually these postural compensations lead to secondary musculo-skeletal pain syndromes.
The most effective program for attaining an optimally vital existence is to stretch on a daily basis.  AMS affects every human being, from young to old.  Vitamins, herbs, and diet are helpful, but unless you are working to retain the body's normal vertical line of gravity and protecting your joints through stretching, your body is going to experience premature aging.

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site last updated on February 11, 2010 by Paul J. Fransen, P.T.


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