Improve Your Movement with Physiotherapy and Exercise
One of the most important characteristics of life is movement. From the movement of the beating heart to the pulsations generated by the blood vessels to the rhythmic contractions of the gastrointestinal tract, everything moves. That is why if something doesn’t move at all, we always presume that it’s already dead. Technically, it would really be impossible to think of life without movement.
The things that you do every day such as eat, walk, drive, bathe, and work, among others, all involve movement of some sort. Unfortunately, over time and with exposure to a variety of factors our level of movement significantly diminishes. Thankfully, we now have science on our side to help explain this phenomenon and help us find new meaning in the word ‘mobility’. Physiotherapy and exercise can help improve your movement so you’ll be able to enjoy more of your life.
Understanding the Physiology of Movement
Before we take a look at how physiotherapy and exercise help improve body movement let us first try to have a basic understanding of how the body moves. This is important since your understanding of basic human kinesiology will pave the way for better appreciation of the role physiotherapy and exercise has on movement. This way you will already have an idea of the various treatments they provide at a physiotherapy clinic or any other physical therapy clinic for that matter.
It all starts with a stimulus whether it originates from sensory organs outside the central nervous system or from within the brain itself. Examples of these will include the sensation of pain or even heat. Or, it can also be the conscious thought of wanting, desiring, or needing to move. These stimuli are integrated in the brain, processed, and then sent to the motor cortex. From here, motor impulses are generated and sent down the spinal cord and towards the target muscles. Once the electrical signal reaches the junction of the neuron and the muscle tissue, it crosses this junction to polarize the muscle. This initiates the contraction of that particular muscle tissue. This is what initiates the movement we all know.
Since the muscles are connected to the bone by tendons, any contraction of the muscles will also move the bones by virtue of this connection between muscle and bone. Similarly, electrical signals are also sent to ligaments which connect a bone to another bone. This is movement.
While we are moving, various receptors found on the bones, muscles, and the skin generate a feedback loop to the brain, informing it of our current force, speed, and direction of movement. This allows the brain to know if we are moving at a normal pace or not. If not, corrective action is sent to the target muscles.
Of course, this is merely an oversimplification of a rather complicated process. We all know that there are a lot of things going on in the whole stimulus-response mechanism. The point is that it always starts with a stimulus, processed by the brain, and put into effect by a target muscle which is then connected to other tissues that make the magic of movement possible.
How Physiotherapy Can Help with Movement
In a nutshell, physiotherapy is a discipline that is committed to the management of certain disorders of the structures involved in movement. The following are some of the ways in which physiotherapy can help with movement.
· Works in conjunction with medical therapies
Physical therapists are members of the healthcare team who often work in tandem with members of the medical community in helping people get better especially when it comes to improving their mobility that was somehow undermined or reduced by a particular disease entity. For example, a patient who is diagnosed with stroke or cerebrovascular accident will typically be placed under the care of a medical doctor. However, since majority of the presenting signs and symptoms of the condition are related to movement, the expertise of a physiotherapist can be called in.
· Addresses factors that limit mobility in everyday life
Physiotherapy is not only effective in the management of disease-related physical limitations on individuals. It can also help individuals who do not have an active organic disease yet, in the course of their profession or every day routine, have somehow developed a physical limitation that can be characterized by pain, stiffness, inflammation, and loss of function. These can be brought about by a lot of factors including environmental and normal course of aging.
Pain limits movement. Even if the reason for the pain is not related to the muscles, bones, and joints, it still can negatively impact mobility. Depending on the type of pain, however, physiotherapy can provide relief by reducing pressure off muscles and other tissues that are within their scope of professional responsibility.
· Optimizes muscle and joint performance in sports and physically demanding activities
A classic example of a non-disease application of physiotherapy is sports. Athletes do not need to be injured so they can avail of the benefits of the discipline. They can still take full advantage of the health promotion aspect of physiotherapy where individuals are taught on various techniques and strategies they need to perform or observe to promote optimum physical movement.
This typically includes a variety of exercises intended to warm up the muscles before any major activity. As we have already noted above, the muscles are an important component of physical mobility. Without the muscles receiving signals from the brain, making them contract and pulling on associated structures, movement will not be possible at all. It is this critical role of muscles in movement that physiotherapy can help optimize physical mobility.
· Optimizes the functionality of related structures
Physiotherapy doesn’t only help individuals optimize the function of their muscles; it also helps improve the function of other structures related to movement as well. For instance, physical therapy can also focus on the joints where tendons and ligaments intertwine to facilitate the movement of opposing bones and the muscles connected to these bones. This can be especially useful for those who are suffering from joint problems.
How Exercise Can Improve Mobility
Everyone knows that exercise can bring a lot of benefits to the human body. One of its most obvious benefits is an improvement of mobility since exercise works by improving the following parameters.
· Tissue oxygenation
All cells require oxygen. Exercise helps improve the delivery of oxygen to the various tissues that are needed for movement, allowing them to run more efficiently. Of course, there are also some forms of exercises that do not really rely on oxygen. In general, however, the overall effect of exercise is a more efficient delivery of oxygen to the tissues.
· Delivery of nutrients
Aside from oxygen, tissues need nutrients, too. In muscle contraction, certain electrolytes play an important role. A deficiency in any of these electrolytes can lead to significant changes in the ability of muscles to contract, hence affecting their capability to move. Improving the delivery of nutrients is made possible by improving the efficiency at which blood flows through the network of vessels throughout the body. This can be further improved by exercise.
· Muscle tone
Muscle tone is best described as the continuous state of partial contraction of muscles. You see, this allows muscles to move in an instant, requiring only a small amount of stimulation coming from the brain. If the muscles were in a completely relaxed state – loss of muscle tone – they will require sufficiently large amounts of electrical stimulation for them to contract. It is like being in deep sleep and in light sleep. In an emergency, it is rather very challenging to wake up every part of you if you’ll be coming from a state of deep sleep. On the other hand, if you woke up from light sleep, you can easily go straightaway. The same is true with muscles. Muscles need to be in a partially contracted state all the time so they can react almost instantaneously. Exercise can help improve muscle tone by supplying enough stimulation to various muscle groups that keep them in a partially contracted state.
Can you imagine walking or running or moving at all with very flaccid muscles? You will be moving more like a jellyfish if that were the case. But even jellyfishes have a way of propelling themselves in water. So, this can be considered as their muscles, too. The best representation of muscle in flaccid state are those individuals who are in the ICU setting and who have not been moving for many months to several years. If they do wake up, it will still be quite difficult for them to move since their muscles are not in a partially contracted state. It will take a while before they can move some of their muscles.
· Muscle strength
For many, muscle tone is equivalent to muscle strength. Not necessarily, although both can be natural benefits of exercise. While muscle tone is more on the state of partial contraction of muscles at any given time, muscle strength talks more about the force upon which muscles can produce in a single maximum effort. This is actually measured by the muscle’s degree of contraction and is affected by the size of the muscle fibers being contracted and the capacity of nerves to stimulate or activate these muscle fibers. Exercise has always been known to increase muscle strength primarily by increasing the size of the muscle fibers and helping them become more responsive to neural stimulation.
Muscle strength is a fundamental requirement for optimum mobility. The force exerted by the muscles is necessary to counter the effects of gravity pulling on the body towards the center of the earth. Muscles need to be strong enough to pull the various attached structures to maintain balance especially while moving. For many of us, we don’t usually give this serious thought since moving is as natural as breathing. We don’t think about it.
Combining Physiotherapy and Exercise for Optimum Mobility
Physiotherapy, being a discipline, helps improve mobility through the application of scientific principles in every aspect of movement. It also addresses problems associated with mobility such as discomfort, pain, swelling, and stiffness so that you will be able to move with relative ease. Physiotherapy also helps promote optimum mobility by encouraging correct posture and gait and optimizing the range of motion at the joints.
On the other hand, exercise increases muscle tone and muscle strength while aiding in the more efficient delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the various structures needed for movement. Exercise typically works in conjunction with a well-designed physiotherapy program. Come to think of it, exercise is one of the most fundamental therapeutic modalities employed by physiotherapists to address the various concerns of individuals.
It can thus be said that physiotherapy is an umbrella term for various therapeutic modalities designed to help individuals improve their movement. Exercise is just one of these therapeutic modalities. Overall, both physiotherapy and exercise can help improve one’s movement by adhering to scientific principles that govern the physiology of movement. This helps improve overall mobility and allows you to enjoy many of life’s wonderful blessings.
About the author:
Melanie graduated with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy from the University of Melbourne. During her degree she obtained clinical experience throughout the public and private systems. Melanie has completed all levels of Mat clinical Pilates from APPI (Australian Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute). She can assess the best therapy and exercise that fits for your body.