It’s not a strength issue is it?

My client, Nancy came in the other day and was concerned about her left arm and left hand. She'd been doing bicep curls with her trainer sitting at a machine, using  a 15 pound bar and she experienced pain and lack of strength in her left arm/hand.

She has a history of an ulnar nerve injury in that arm and experiences flare ups now and then.

Her personality type is one that pushes herself hard, a high achiever and sets very high standards for herself.

I just completed my Movement Specialist Certification and there were some really handy tools in there including a  Movement Threat Screen Assessment.

I asked Nancy to visualize doing the exercise the same way she had just done it with her trainer and asked her if that caused her any worry, fear, or pain.  She reported that it did and was amazed that a visualization could produce the same experience.

But as we all know, the brain really doesn't know the difference between past, present, or future. It's always in the now.

We then we did four rounds  of deep breathing to relax the nervous system. She then tried the visualization again and it still produced anxiety, worry and some pain.

So what did that tell me?

Well, it could mean different things, but my first go-to was to grab a two pound weight from my box of weights, and I asked her to visualize doing the same movement with a two pound weight.

She reported there was no pain, no worry, no anxiety. I suggested she try the exercise in real time with a two pound weight. And we replicated the conditions as best as we could.

She was able to do the movement just fine except for starting at the extreme end range of extension. So I explained the concept of graded exposure and I said, “Your nervous system is reporting to you what feels safe to it in this moment in time. “

I suggested that she start the bicep curl with the elbow in about 30 degrees of flexion.

The look on her face was one of relief as she realized that she did not have to push through the exercise. That in fact, pushing through the exercise would just bring more fear, pain and anxiety.

She had a light bulb moment and said to me “It’s not a strength issue is it?” I reassured her it wasn’t a strength issue but more of a nervous system (flight/fight) issue.

A sense of calmness came over her and she smiled. I could see and perceive that she felt safe now she had a clear understanding of the situation and a plan.

I then continued with the actual body work session. The great thing about starting with a process like this is that the body work that I subsequently did is much more effective because the nervous system has been calmed and the brain has been reassured that it does not have to push through. She is respecting the boundaries of what feels safe to her nervous system, and  she has permission to progress slowly.

 Keep in mind: "Muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia are puppets of the nervous system and the brain is pulling the strings!" (Brian Clark, Ph.D neuroanatomist Ohio State University)



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