Contribution originally published @ CrossFit Five Cities on September 8th, 2014.
CrossFit is a blessing and a curse. Social media trolling notwithstanding, CrossFit is one of those things that we love to hate because it giveth as quickly as it taketh away.
For those of us who have been athletes all of our lives, injury is something we can reconcile if not at least understand. CrossFit however is beautiful not because it attracts only elite athletes, but because it empowers ordinary folks who want to become extraordinary. This in and of itself is a blessing and a curse because injury, more specifically how one recovers from an injury, is what makes an athlete successful. Kelly Starrett’s mantra has been that every human being should know how to perform maintenance on him or herself and as much as this makes sense in principle, practice often gets glossed over.
What does “maintenance” mean? I mostly agree with what Kelly discusses and believe that his textbook Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury and Optimizing Athletic Performance should be required reading for every athlete of every discipline. I disagree however in his definition of maintenance. Let’s make this very clear: there is precisely zero benefit in maintaining something that is dysfunctional. If your goal is to become fit – whatever that means – we must be diligent in our efforts to assess and improve our health outcomes, ESPECIALLY as it pertains to our lifeline: the spine.
Spinal hygiene is a concept that has become en vogue in recent years because those of us who pay attention (i.e. chiropractors, orthopedists, physical therapists) have seen a huge upswing in the consequences associated with core instability, obesity, de-conditioning and poor posture. More than 90% of the patients I consult with in my office present with major posterior chain faults that had previously been ignored, contributing to what we in the spine world like to call “cross-syndromes,” vis-à-vis forward head carriage, rolled back pelvis, straightened cervical and lumbar curves, etc. These postural faults are remarkably common, but absolutely not okay because they are known chief contributors to spinal degeneration. Spinal alignment changes are your body’s initial adaptive response to trauma, both micro and macro, but left unchecked contribute to longstanding problems. Studies have been published which convincingly show that immobilized joints begin remodeling themselves after 14 days, creating bone spurs, disc space narrowing and intervertebral foramina encroachment. Progressive axial loading of a dysfunctional spine accelerates this process, which means that if you continually load your spine in the absence of proper segmental biomechanics, you will eventually pay the piper, short-term “results” notwithstanding. Certainly overtraining and fatiguing with poor spinal stability makes things much worse and the really difficult part of this equation is that often early phase degenerative change is asymptomatic, meaning you won’t know there’s something wrong until it is too late. We’ve also accumulated a largess of research showing that spinal degeneration contributes to a process termed “dysafferentation,” a serious degenerative process which contributes to rewiring of neurospinal pathways and changes the central integrative state of the brain. In English, this means that posterior chain instability, improper lifting and poor posture destroy your brain.
Your nervous system plasticizes through repetition. At the turn of the century, brain researchers were convinced that human brains couldn’t change after age 5, but we know now that the human neuraxis never stops adapting to environmental stimuli. If you consistently lift, sit or squat poorly, your brain will begin to habituate those movements as normal. Overtime, these adaptive changes to inappropriate stimuli WILL contribute to disease. Performing “maintenance” on a dysfunctional spine only maintains poor habits. This is why the only way to make lasting improvements to your stability is to make small, calculated changes and adhere to a plan with appreciable outcome assessment every day, in some cases for years. Surrounding yourself with master coaches, physical therapists, chiropractors and soft-tissue experts who are skilled and competent in changing these patterns is your primary means of accountability.
Remember, we’re here to help you fix problems, not gloss them over. If your “check-engine” light comes on in your car, you have two choices: cover up the light with a piece of electrical tape or find and fix the problem.
Dr Daniel Bronstein is the director of Beacon Chiropractic in Grover Beach CA and perpetual glutton for CrossFit punishment. He focuses the bulk of his practice on objective straight chiropractic care for pregnant women, infants, toddlers, children and families. For more information or to schedule a complimentary consultation, you may contact his office at 805.481.1566 or visit his website @ ChiroBeacon.com.