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In this age of blogs, podcasts, TV shows, radio programs, magazine articles, and Dr. Google, it is amazing just how many people perform strength exercises which are at best doing little to enhance their strength and at worst, making them more injury-prone. So here are 10 principles that you can use to enhance your strengthening exercise program so that you can “Get Better, Stay Better and Live Better”.

Principle 1 – No Pain No Gain Is a Myth – Train But Not Into Pain
Understand that pain means danger and to change how you are doing something or you will cause injury. To train into pain is not only foolhardy but it doesn’t work. Why? Because your brain will inhibit and/or impede your muscles from contracting so that you don’t injure yourself. This is called “pain inhibition”. A great example of this is watching an arm wrestle. Often there will be a great struggle between opponents until one person’s arm suddenly gives way.

High-intensity strength (load) training should only be used by people who have been training for more than one year or with people who have trained up to this intensity during rehabilitation from injury (e.g. eccentric training for tendinopathies). It should never be used people in the acute stage of injury, beginners and / or with children (until well into adolescence).

Respecting pain is especially important when treating injuries. Use pain as your guide and remember if you always work short of pain, you will be unlikely to flare-up your injury. Having said that, there is no doubt that a progressive strengthening (loading) program is one of the key stimulants to tissue remodeling and maturation. This means that strengthening and placing tension on a repair becomes important towards the end of the proliferation phase of healing (about the 10 – 14-day mark) to align and strengthen healing fibers along lines of force.

Principle 2 – Stabilise First
“You can’t shoot a cannon from a canoe.” In other words, you can’t perform strong, dynamic movements of a flimsy and unstable base. And there are many reasons why supportive, stabilizing muscles stop working as well as they should.

Remember, these are the small muscles that attach closely around each joint to hold the joint surfaces in optimum contact so that they form a strong, stable platform. The more stable your platform, the more resistance or weight that you can lift and the stronger you will get.

Pain, swelling, inactivity, poor postures, repetitive movements can all reduce the activation of these muscles leading to joint instability and potentially injury. Research has shown that these muscles do not begin working again without specific training. They must be specifically targeted and activated.

To stabilize, “pre-tension” or contract all the muscles around your joints to what is maximally comfortable. Even better, position yourself correctly by having your knees slightly bent, feet apart and on a slight diagonal. Then, stabilize your whole body by drawing your stomach in, your pelvic floor up and slightly tuck in your chin.

Principle 3 – Isolate
As mentioned above, pain, swelling and general deconditioning, can all act to stop muscles from being effectively activated. And just because you perform a movement, doesn’t mean that these muscles start working again. They need to be “woken up”. Research has shown that not only do these muscles need to be trained specifically to begin working normally again but that if they’re not, people will begin to substitute other muscles and use incorrect strategies for movement which may eventually lead to injury.

To isolate a specific muscle for strengthening, you need to know what the muscles attachments are as well as the precise movement that the muscle performs. For example, to best strengthen your biceps, muscle on the front of your upper arm), you need to start with you hand turned with the palm facing backward and then turn to bring the palm forwards to the front of the shoulder as you bend your elbow only.

Almost all muscles have a rotation component as well as an angle and direction at which they are best activated. Know these and you will better target that muscle for strengthening.

Principle 4 – Activate
The more nervous impulses that enter a muscle and the more effectively and efficiently muscle fibers are activated, the faster your muscles will adapt and get stronger.

Here are a 5 of tips to engaging your muscles better.
1. “Tension” or contract your muscle first to what is maximally comfortable.

  1. Hold the muscle at this maximum tension throughout the movement and do not allow it to be turned on during shortening of the muscle and off during the lengthening of the muscle.
  2. Perform the movement slowly engaging the muscle with maximum tension and use holds at different parts of the movement.
  3. Understand patterning. In other words, position your body to better activate the muscle. For example, if you hold your hand open and backward whilst trying to perform a bicep curl, you will be less effective at activating the muscle than if you tension your fist and hold your wrist slightly forwards.
  4. Know how to use your breathing to assist with stabilizing your body but not so much as to increase the pressure within your body to dangerous levels. Some authors have suggested that better results from strengthening may be achieved by breathing in during bending or closing down movements and by breathing out during straightening or opening up movements.

Furthermore, if you hold your breath just to a catch point (most difficult point of the contraction) the increased abdominal pressure will assist in stabilizing your spine. However, to prevent possible adverse effects of this pressure, you must breathe out just after this point to release this pressure.

Principle 5 – Use Feedback
Mirrors are not just there to show you how good you look! Visual feedback along with the voice and touch actually play a crucial role in ensuring the correct technique, maximum activation and optimal performance that is needed for the best results.

This feedback can be gained from mirrors, a coach or partner and even your own fingers placed on the muscles that you want to contract. It is especially vital early on when learning the activity, as generally the more the better feedback, the better and faster you will learn.

It has been said that to learn a new skill requires about 300 to 500 repetitions and can take about a month. However, to correct a poorly performed skill with a better technique can take about 3,000 to 5,000 repetitions. Learn how to perform exercises and activities correctly the first time. It can save you weeks and months of poor results as well as the possibility of injury.

Principle 6 – Integrate
For better transfer of strengthening over to everyday life, isolated strengthening exercises must be followed strengthening exercises that use these muscles in functional activities. Muscles must work in coordination to perform an activity to achieve a result and the only way to improve at these functional activities is to practice and progress them.

There are seven types of movements that are the basis for most of the activities that we do. They are bending, twisting, pulling, pushing, squatting, lunging and ambulation (walking / jogging / sprinting). I call them Primary Movements as they are the movement patterns that you need to be able to live and function optimally.

To get better results, follow an isolated strengthening exercise with the functional strengthening of the muscle in a related everyday activity in which it is used. This will enable you not just to look better but to live better as you will have greater strength and coordination in the activities that you do every day. Examples of this might be to follow a knee extension strengthening exercise with a double or single leg squat.

Principle 7 – Automate
You can’t live by thinking about activating every single muscle during every single movement. To live effectively, correct muscle activation and movement have to occur automatically and without thinking. This means that you must train your brain as much you train your muscles through performing these exercises with varying speeds, directions, amplitudes and on varying surfaces, progressing from very stable to unstable.

You must keep your brain guessing by progressively reducing feedback to the point that your brain is literally anticipating and automating muscle co-ordination and movement without the need to think about contracting muscles consciously.

Break the seven Primary Movements into their component parts and then combine them again and progress them with ever-increasing levels of co-ordination, speed and agility demands. Activities such as learning to balance standing on one leg. Then progress this by standing on your toes, then squatting, hopping first up and down and then at different angles and speeds whilst catching a ball. You are only limited by your imagination.

Principle 8 – Think Anti-Gravity
There’s one thing for sure as you get older and that is that it will get more difficult for you to be up straight. Take note of the posture of our senior citizens and you will get an idea of where you are heading.

There are many reasons why people might be bent forward; genetics, habits, occupations, poor balance, may all play a role. And sometimes inadvertently you can make things worse through your strengthening program. As you only see and focus on the front of your body (chest, abdominals), this means that you are more likely to strengthen the muscles that by actually pull your body further downward and inward.

It then doesn’t become too difficult to know what muscles you need to strengthen; the front of your neck, your upper and lower back, your buttocks, quads, and calves. If you biased your strengthening towards these areas, you will enhance your ability to be up straight as well as perform anti-gravity activities such as standing from sitting, walking upstairs and climbing.

Principle 9 – Measure, Adjust and Progress Strength Your Training

There is an old saying, You can only manage what you measure. Unless you take initial and ongoing measurements, you won’t have any criteria to know if what you are doing is helping or not.  You won’t really have any idea as to what is working and what isn’t and therefore you won’t have any guidelines as to how to refine your strength training to give you the best results. 

And yet, only if the effect of your strength training is monitored and measured, can it be appropriately adjusted and progressed.   

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  And yet, this is exactly what people do.  It doesn’t make sense to waste your time and money on doing the same thing over and over again for no change.  

If you have a strength and/or health outcome that you want to achieve, you must first define what the result that you want to achieve is, set a path for achieving your goal (Recovery Action Plan), test frequently to ensure that you are on track and make training adjustments as circumstances change to ensure that your training is maximally effective.

Principle 10 – Have Fun

Whilst exercise takes effort and energy, it doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be boring. Find activities that you love to do and add some resistance and holds to them. Get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. Rock climbing, stair/ramp climbing (1,000 steps) and walking / jogging with strength interval stations can all be great fun. Mix it up. Explore different locations and different surfaces. Ever tried to walk or jog in soft sand? Go trail walking or running. Find a friend to share your training with and you might just double the fun. Not only is variety optimally beneficial for your body, but it is also healthy for your mind as well.

If there is one thing that we are all short on these days its time. Don’t waste your time by doing ineffective, inefficient strengthening exercises. Use these techniques and strategies to enhance your program and you will enjoy the benefits of looking younger, feeling stronger and performing better in all areas of life.

If you want to overcome injury, if you want to eliminate pain, if you want to get your health and your life so that you can begin enjoying your life more, call Bodywise Health on 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994) for a complimentary*, no-obligation assessment and Recovery Action Plan from one of our expert physiotherapists.

We look forward to helping you get your life back.

Until next time, Stay Bodywise,

Michael Hall
Physiotherapist, Director
Bodywise Health

Please note:

* Rebates are available through your private insurance extras cover;

* For complex or chronic conditions, you may qualify for the CDM (Chronic Disease Management) allowing you to receive 5 allied health services each calendar year with a referral from your GP. For more information, please call Bodywise Health now on 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994).


How to turn back your body clock
become pain-free and
regain your strength and agility
in as little as 6 weeks
Does This Sound Like You?

You’ve had a nagging pain in your back, neck, shoulder, knee or some other part of your body for at least a couple of weeks if not months. You either can’t remember how it came on or it came on with the most minor of movements like getting out of the car, gardening or reaching forward to pick up something.  It’s not getting better.  You check out Dr. Google.  There seems like it could a lot of possibilities. Perhaps its this problem or that. You don’t what to get it wrong or do the wrong thing.

You go and see your doctor who doesn’t even look at where you hurt but says to take these medications and that your pain will get better in time.  You take the medications.  They help take away your pain for a short time. But in the process, they bind you up and make you feel awful.
You go back to see your doctor who sends you for an x-ray, ultrasound, CT or MRI scan.  The scan costs a couple of hundred dollars but at least you will find out what the cause of your pain is right. Wrong! The scan findings are grim. You have arthritis, degeneration, a bulging disc, a torn tendon or bone on bone. Then you find out that often at least 40% of people who have no pain have these same findings.

What’s going on?

You return to your doctor who wants to send you to an orthopedic surgeon.  Hang on. Who said anything about surgery?  You don’t want surgery.  It involves going to the hospital, being put under a general anesthetic, pain, medications and weeks if not months of recovery,  all with the high possibility of staph infections and complications.
You ask your doctor is there something else you can do.  Your doctor tells you that you could try cortisone or PRP injection. What you’re not told is that there is little or no evidence for these injections and that at best they offer short term relief and at worse can make your condition worse as, without your pain, you continue to re-injure your problem. It seems like a quick and easy fix, do you think that you will give it a go. You rock up and have the injection perhaps under the guidance of ultrasound. It’s painful, but not as painful as the thousand or so dollars that it costs. Thank goodness, after a few days you finally begin to feel some relief.  Pity, it lasts just a few weeks, before your pain returns.
You begin to feel a pang of desperation. Time is marching on. Perhaps you won’t get better.  You’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, seen a number of doctors and medical specialists and still no result.  In fact, your pain is the same and / or worsening.

You speak to your partner or friends and they tell you that they know a chiropractor, osteo, physio or massage therapist who can help you.  But you’re not sure about chiropractors.  You’ve heard stories about getting cracked and people getting hurt. Then someone else says to go and see their osteo and another says to go a see their physio. What’s the difference?  Who do you trust? You’re worried that you might end up on some never-ending cycle of treatment and you don’t have the time or money for that.  You just want to get better and get back to normal without having to take medication or see a therapist for the rest of your life.  It all seems so confusing, so hopeless.

Why You Haven’t Got Better and What You Need To Do About It!

Let’s face it, we all want a quick fix.  There is nothing better than the miracle cure where you get up off the bed and say Im better! And it does happen – occasionally.  It takes no work, it takes no effort, it is great value for money and its quick.  But as opposed to what modern medicine might have you believe, it is the exception rather than the rule. Why?  Because it takes time for body tissues to heal, for treatment /training effects to occur and for new correct physical habits to become ingrained.  In other words, it takes work, discipline, and perseverance.  But on the plus side, the benefits can include a lifetime of being pain-free, stronger, more agile and with an increased capacity to perform everyday tasks.

Worth it don’t you think?  So why don’t people get better?  The mistakes include:
Not reducing bleeding not many people recognize this, but bleeding is the first phase of healing. Following bleeding, a number of substances are left which later become the platform for the adhesion of cells.  The problem with bleeding is that if left unchecked, it can reduce blood flow and prevent oxygen, nutrient exchange as well as limit waste removal.
Also, the more blood that seeps into the tissue, the more blood that has to be broken down by the immune system (more on this next) and therefore the longer that this takes, thus slowing down the whole process.

Not controlling inflammation (Demolition Company) Inflammation, it gets so much bad press. Anyone would think that it was evil and that we should get rid of it.  And yet, inflammation is an immune response that is essential for healing.  You see, your immune system has two purposes.

The first purpose is to defend the body against infection or anything that may do damage.  The white blood cells do this by eating and ingesting the substance.
The second purpose is to act as a demolition company. When the tissues of the body have been injured and damaged, the white blood cells use this same process to remove the damaged cells. It is a breaking down process where the white blood cells of your body ingest the damaged cells.  Ask anyone. Is it easier to build a new house on a cleared block of land, than it is to renovate a broken down house and they will always say that it is easier to build on cleared land?  Its the same for your body.  It is much easier to lay down new tissue with all the debris removed than to try a build on top of fragmented remains.  As such, inflammation is critical for healing to take place.
So why do we take anti-inflammatory medication?  Because inflammation is a process which is prone to overshoot and in so doing begin to break down healing and healthy tissue.   It, therefore, needs to be controlled, otherwise, it can delay and even prevent healing.

Not creating a healing environment (Construction Company)Repairing and regenerating your body is akin to building a house.  You need the right conditions, the right workers and the right materials.  Trying to building on shifting sand, during a cyclone, with unskilled people and without concrete, wood, and steel is prone to failure.
Similarly, expecting the body to heal when you have raging inflammation (breaking down cells), a flood of swelling, re-injury occurring, poor nutrition (inadequate protein, vitamin C and continuing to take anti-inflammatory medication), and while you are feeling stressed, depressed (cortisol), tired (not sleeping) and sick, is just not realistic.
To heal optimally, your body needs the right environment.  This means controlling inflammation, minimizing swelling, reducing tissue tension, preventing re-injury, optimizing load, priming blood flow, enriching nutrition and enhancing your stress levels is critical. And these processes must be continually monitored and adjusted for so that your healing environment remains optimal for facilitating the best, fastest repair possible.
Continuing to re-injure your injury (Picking the scab)Think about it.  Your body’s natural default is to heal.  Cut yourself and it heals.  So why is your back, neck, shoulder, hip, knee injury or any other injury any different? If you continue to pick a scab, does a wound heal?  No.  Then why do we expect an injury to heal if we keep hurting it?  It doesn’t make sense and yet this is exactly what often happens every day.

In fact, we aid and abet re-injury by taking pain medication and removing this one indicator that alerts us that we are re-injuring our bodies.  Pain is good (at least initially) in that it tells us to change our behavior so that we stop hurting ourselves.  Without it, we would injure our bodies and not even know it (this is what happens with leprosy).
We don’t want to experience pain because it is doesn’t feel good.  But this is exactly the point.  It is doesn’t feel good so that we change what we are doing.  However, instead of altering our behavior (which takes work and maybe inconvenient), we stop listening to what our brain is telling us, try to ignore it and in the process continue to hurt ourselves.
Getting only passive treatment by passive treatment, I mean treatment where you don’t have to do anything.  It is a treatment which is done to you.   Whether you get just hands-on treatment from a physio, chiro, osteo, remedial massage therapist, will likely achieve just temporary improvement (days).  Likewise, medication, injections, dry needling, acupuncture, and even surgery may achieve short term results (days to weeks).  Why?  Because you haven’t dealt with the cause of your pain.

We know that the cause of 97% of back pain is mechanical.  This means that it is due to excessive or abnormal physical forces acting on your back which are beyond your bodys capacity to adapt in a healthy way.  This leads to cellular irritation, inflammation, tissue break down, swelling, stiffness, and pain.
If your back pain is caused by the fact you have a stiff ankle, knee or hip and that you twist awkwardly every time you get out of the car, using passive treatment is not going to fix the cause.  Passive treatment will alter your internal body forces (and biomechanics) for a short time only before you aggravate your back again as you get out of the car.
The same goes for any time where one part of your body is not moving optimally.  In these instances, another part of your body has to move differently from which it was designed to do to compensate for the not ideal movement elsewhere.  This will always lead to excessive or abnormal forces on your body.  It then becomes not a question of if you will develop a pain syndrome, but when you will develop a pain syndrome.  The variables of the intensity, volume (number of times) and duration of the abnormal or excessive forces as well as the adequacy of recovery your own personal characteristics (age, health, nutritional status, weight, etc.), will simply determine how quickly you begin to feel pain.   But you will feel pain.  It is guaranteed.

There are times, however, when you may have a structural and an anatomical problem like having one leg longer than the other, excessively flat or arched feet or a disc herniation which is pressing on a nerve.  These do require structural as well as behavioral solutions like orthotics, surgery and behavior modification.
Don’t get me wrong.  Passive treatment is important for helping to create a healing environment. It helps to reduce swelling, control inflammation, unstiffen stiff joints, loosen tight tissues and relax you both locally (where the injury is) and more holistically.  And when you think about it, you tend to feel best and healthiest when you feel relaxed.  Passive treatment lays the foundations.  You still, however, need to build your framework.
Only doing exercises none of us doubt the benefits of exercise.  It has been stated, that if exercise were a drug, it would be the greatest drug ever developed, with more far-reaching, positive effects on the body that any other medication ever developed.

However, exercise can also be damaging.  Performing the wrong exercise, in the wrong way, at the wrong intensity and at the wrong time, can worsen an injury.  Getting back to the cut analogy, a sprain is simply a tear of a ligament or joint capsule (tissue holding a joint together), whilst a sprain is a tear of muscle or tendon.  If you have a cut or tear, what would happen if you pulled it apart?  It would re-tear again, wouldn’t it?  So why do we stretch muscle strains?  Yes, following stretching you do feel good for a short time, as the lengthened tissue has reduced tissue tension.  However, if you follow the long term history of people who just stretch, you will find that they never tend to get better.
Stretching lengthens tissue and any lengthened tissue has a tendency to be weak and to lead to poor dynamic control (alignment) of joint surfaces and instability, thereby setting you up for more problems.

Similarly, attempting to over-ride your brain and strengthen inhibited muscles (muscles which the brain is trying to shut down to protect you) and go too hard, too early can also aggravate an injury.

Additionally, strengthening the wrong muscles such as prime mover muscles (big, powerful muscles which attach a long way away from the joints that they move) as what Keiser training tends to do without first developing the platform upon which these muscles pull, is like shooting a cannon of a canoe”.  The movement produced will be weak, ineffective and potentially injurious.

Finally, strengthening the wrong muscles can lead to further muscle imbalances and worsen faulty postures and movement patterns, thus perpetuating the causes of an injury or creating other problems.

Yet, the evidence indicates that exercise is an essential part of recovery.  As passive treatment is likely to lead to short term improvement, exercise is likely to medium-term improvement (weeks to months). And so, if exercise is to be optimally employed as a treatment modality, there must be some strategy or guideline behind what, how and when it is employed.  Doing exercise for exercise sake is not going to give you permanent results.  Sustained results will only be achieved when exercise is fused with function to correct what are often the causes of posture/movement based problems in the first place and what is the faulty postures/movements themselves.

Only doing movement/posture training the cause of most physical pain syndromes are excessive or abnormal forces due to faulty postures or movement patterns, then it makes sense that if you concentrate on correcting your posture and movement patterns then you will fix the cause of the problem.  And truly that is the end goal.

However, if you don’t have the passive treatment first to facilitate healing and restore joint mobility and then do exercise work to re-establish muscle control, strength, and endurance, then no amount of wanting to correct your posture and movement will work because:

1. Your injury is unlikely to have healed optimally

2. You won’t have the joint mobility or muscle control to adopt new correct postures and movement patterns

3. You won’t have the muscle strength and endurance to maintain new correct, postures and movement patterns

4. You won’t have something preventing you from adopting faulty habits and reminding you to perform them correctly.

And if don’t perform the correct postures and movements for at least 3,000 to 5,000 times or at least for 3 to 6 weeks, they won’t become engrained enough to become habits that you do without thinking.  Over time, you are likely to revert back to your old incorrect habits and thereby causing your problem to re-occur.

Not sleeping you are anyone who is in chronic pain if they sleep, their answer is generally no or poorly. Sleep is critical for the body to heal, renew and refresh.  Without it, all functions of the body begin to be adversely affected. The nervous system becomes more hypersensitive. You don’t digest food as well. Your immune system becomes activated causing inflammation. A Fight or Flight response is triggered. All these reactions are the opposite of what should be happening when you are asleep and that is growth and repair.  In this environment, healing becomes almost impossible.

Over stressedClosely related to not sleeping is being over stressed.  Stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol.  Cortisol and adrenalin both activate to stimulate the body to be ready for action in the Fight or Flight response.  Blood is shunted away from the digestive system to the muscles.  You breathe quicker. Your pulse races. You become more alert.  You may perspire.  Again, all these responses are the opposite of what is needed (at least initially) for growth and repair.

Not eating correctly this is one of the most overlooked aspects of healing, despite eating and food being a national past time.  And yet, ensuring that you are having the correct nutrients may have had a profound effect on the rate and quality of your healing. The opposite is also true.  Eating foods that increase inflammation or which provide no building blocks for tissue repair, may prevent, slow or at least impair healing.

Taking advice from too many people Its a common problem.  If you are injured or in pain then it seems everyone you come into contact with will offer you advice whether you have asked for it or not.  Comments such as, Oh, I have had your problem and this is what worked for me; or, I know this therapist and they are a guru; or, I read recently that this is the best way to treat your condition.

If you go to 5 different health professionals and it is likely that you will get 5 different diagnoses and treatment plans.  And if all else fails and you are not completely confused, you’ve always got Dr. Google.

So how do you know who and what to believe?  First and foremost, you need to understand that you are unique and therefore you need to have you and your unique circumstances are taken into account.  Dr. Google can never do this!  It can only be adequately accomplished by having a comprehensive professional assessment and examination.

Forget all the do-gooders. Whilst their intentions may admirable, their advice may do you more harm than good.  In the end, they don’t have the experience nor the knowledge to adequately advise you.  Seek advice from someone who has is qualified, has stood the test of time and has a proven track record in getting results.

Getting the wrong investigations at the wrong time-rays, ultrasound, CT and MRI scans are important, but they must be taken in context or they can be more confusing than helpful.
With lower back pain, it is well established that most imaging findings, particularly degenerative changes, correlate poorly with clinical presentation.
For example, MRI studies of healthy adults with no history of upper or low back pain found that 47% had disc degeneration, 53% had disc bulges and 58% had disc tears in their thoracic spine.
For shoulder pain, MRI studies of adults who have no shoulder pain show that 20% have a partial rotator cuff tear and 15% have a full-thickness tear.  In those 60 and older with no shoulder pain or injury, studies have shown that 50% (half) of people have a rotator cuff tears on their MRIs that they didn’t know about. With hip scans, it has been established that there is only a weak association between joint space narrowing as seen on x-rays and actual symptoms.

It is a similar story for knees, with studies showing that up to 85% of adults with no actual knee pain have x-rays that show knee arthritis.  Another study showed that 48% of professional basketballers without knee pain had meniscal (cartilage) damage on their knee MRIs.

There are times, however, when it is critical to have further investigations. These times include:

1. If there has been a history of trauma or external force causing an injury, investigations are needed to shed light on the full extent of the injury

2. If your assessment points to a more sinister cause of your problem (e.g. cancer; inflammatory diseases; visceral issues; frank pressure on a nerve)

3. If you are not getting better or there has been no improvement in your condition within 3 weeks of treatment.

These research findings indicate that x-rays and scans must be taken in context and be interpreted in the light of your circumstances, your history, and your physical examination.
Only then can x-rays, scans, and further investigations bring the full truth on the source and cause of your problem as well as a potential treatment solution.

Getting treatment from too many different health professionalsLike getting advice from too many people, getting treatment from too many health professionals can waste your time and money as one treatment might against another treatment.

This is particularly the case when these health professionals are from similar backgrounds. For example, let’s say you are seeing a physiotherapist who is providing you with stabilization exercises because they believe that it is an uncontrolled movement which is causing your problem.  Improvement is slow, so you begin to see a chiropractor who believes that your back is out and so begins to perform spinal adjustments. These two treatment techniques provide outcomes which are the direct opposite of each other; stabilization exercises provide stability and adjustments to promote mobility. So whos, right?  You will never know because the effects of one treatment might cancel out the effects of the other treatment, therefore, providing you with no result.  What’s more, you won’t be able to determine what’s working and what isn’t.

The one time that it might be better to get treatment from more than one health professional is if the health professionals involved are working together as a team and with a treatment strategy to deliver you complementary techniques so that you achieve a faster result. 

For example, a physiotherapist might deliver a physical strategy, a dietician a nutritional strategy and a psychologist a mental strategy.  Together, they may be to deliver you a better, faster result than if they worked alone.

Generally, though, it is better to follow through treatment with one health professional before switching to another.  How long should you wait before you switch?  Ask the health professional. Only then can you hold them to account and know if you are wasting your time and your money.  For me, I generally tell my patients that I expect to experience significant improvement within three weeks for moderate conditions and six weeks for severe conditions.  If they haven’t, I refer them to someone else who I believe might be able to assist them further.

Having no strategic treatment plan for achieving the results that you wanted was Winston Churchill who said that He who fails to plan, is planning to fail.

But let me ask you this question?  When was the last time that you were provided with a written treatment plan detailing the source and cause of your problem and a road map to getting better complete with milestones, a timeline, and an achievement date?  My guess is never or rarely.  And yet, if you don’t have any strategic plan to get better, treatment may then become a hotchpotch of treatment techniques, delivered with a scattergun approach.

If there is no written strategic treatment plan, there is no forethought about how to achieve both short term (this session) and long term (completely better) goals in the best, fastest way.  With no written plan, how can any consideration be given to what treatment techniques, in what combination and with what timing that may be applied synergistically to magnify the individual effects of each technique to achieve a better result in two thirds or perhaps half the time?  How can you understand and know the big picture of how you can help with your own recovery if you are not sure where you are going?  The simple answer is you cant.

The more common scenario is for a treatment technique to be applied in the hope that it helps and if it doesn’t, something else will be tried.  And this approach is repeated until hopefully, something works.  There are so many specialists all dealing with the own area of specialty but oblivious to the possibility that other parts of the body may be causing pain or dysfunction in their specialized area.

Is it no wonder that often problem returns after a short time?

The body is made up of many systems all working together to produce a result, that is enabling you to live, survive and thrive in a changing and unpredictable world.  Treating the body as separate compartments at best will provide you with short term improvement and at worst no improvement at all. To achieve the best outcome possible, you need a written strategic treatment this question plan, period.

Not measuring the effect of your treatment program another reason why people don’t get better, is they have no idea what is working and what isn’t.  There is another old saying, You can only manage what you measure. Unless initial and ongoing measurements are taken, you won’t have any criteria to know if intervention is helping or not.  You won’t really have any idea as to what is working and what isn’t and therefore you won’t have any guidelines as to how to refine your treatment to give the best results. You may have a vague idea that something might be helping, but you won’t be able to identify accurately what it is.  You may be in fact wasting your time focusing on treatment techniques that have little or no positive benefit and you won’t know it.

Not adjusting and progressing your treatment program following closely behind not measuring your treatment program is not adjusting or progressing your treatment program.  And yet, only if the effect of treatment is monitored and measured, can it be appropriately adjusted and progressed.

Worse still, many people attend for the same treatment over what can sometimes be many years for little or result.  If you have a health outcome that you want to achieve, you must first define what the result that you want to achieve is, then set a path for achieving your goal (Recovery Action Plan), measure frequently to ensure that you are on target and make treatment adjustments as circumstances change.

As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  And yet, this is exactly what people do.  It doesn’t make sense to waste your time and money on doing the same thing over and over again for no change.