5 minutes reading time (955 words)

Why Therapists Should Understand Strength

As a chiropractor that specializes in manual therapy and rehab protocols, I see patients dealing with a variety of problems. Now while the conditions can vary greatly, the common denominator that all my patients share is that they are either in pain or unable to perform a specific activity at a level they desire. Being able to provide a service to help people was exactly why I got into chiropractic and it is why I work to continually develop my craft and treatment philosophy. My treatment philosophy has helped to develop my system for how I go about evaluating and treating each patient that comes to me for help. As valuable as my education and residency has been to developing my treatment philosophy, the insight and knowledge I have gained on strength and conditioning as an athlete and coach has been equally valuable.

A great mentor of mine told me that with his background as a strength coach, he uses that background and mindset everyday with his patients. Some years later, I continually have a renewed appreciation for what he communicated in that statement because looking at my patients through the "lens of strength" can provide me with a refreshing perspective.

Why?

Simply put, strength matters. Strength has the ability to cover up dysfunction. Strength will directly impact movement quality. Strength will improve mobility or flexibility issues. Strength has tremendous ability to minimize or reduce overuse injuries. Strength becomes a focus in my treatment plans and the advice I provide my patients.

In my opinion, a major player in the outcomes of patient care is the quality of advice they receive. Much of the advice I provide is directed at my patient's current exercise routine. And, at times, the advice is very blunt. The type of advice that is often tough to swallow on their part because it means big changes

What does that advice look like?

Say you are dealing with low back pain that is worsened from repetitive flexion. You can’t tolerate bending forward to tie your shoes or get nervous just thinking about picking up something from the floor, yet you love your group exercise class that has you running through dozens of crunches, sit-ups, air squats, and wall-balls. Your back is not going to respond to any form of therapy until you remove the irritating factor (your group exercise class) and follow the advice of substituting in more appropriate exercises that promote a healthy back.

Say you can’t properly lift your arms overhead with ideal form and posture through the shoulders, spine, and hips. Now you want to participate in an exercise routine that includes Olympic lifts such as the snatch and overhead pressing. What you must understand is that you lack the prerequisites to perform loaded overhead exercises. This is why your shoulders or low back hurt after overhead pressing or performing a full snatch and you need to be advised accordingly.

Advice should be constructive, providing a solution. However, there is some advice that is simply unacceptable. The classic example of this is the runner who develops knee pain, decides to see a doctor and is told, "Stop running."

Unacceptable.

The solution is rarely that simple. Maybe that runner lacks movement control in joints in such as the ankles, hips, pelvis, and spine because they lack adequate strength in surrounding musculature. Maybe that should be addressed while their current running program is restructured according to their tolerances.

There are solutions and often those solutions involve strength development.

As a therapist, odds are in your favor that you are going to find a strength deficit that is playing into that runner's knee pain. Odds are in your favor that you are going to find that lack of strength is correlated with any number of common conditions.

Lack of strength is never solved by inactivity and prescribing rest. Strength requires the opposite. Strength requires focus, guided effort. Strength is a difficult pursuit and it requires that one knows what they are doing if you are going to coach the process.

On my end as a therapist, what becomes even more difficult to navigate is managing a patient who has his or her own personal trainer or strength coach. I always ask them what they are doing for "training," and most times my response is inwardly shaking my head. I don’t say anything, unless I’m asked. If I’m asked, then it is time to be brutally honest.

It is important to note that you shouldn’t just take exercises away, but substitute better ones. My job is to find the best exercise for the job. This is why developing a large exercise pool to draw from is invaluable as a strength coach and as a rehab specialist. Having a huge exercise pool will allow you to make progressions, regressions, and substitutions based on movement patterns, training goals, mechanical sensitivities, or movement limitations.

At GP, we have taken time to develop our exercise pools for lower body pushes/pulls, upper body pushes/pulls, hybrids, developmental stabilization, etc. This allows seamless transition between phases of rehabilitative care for my patients and continual development from a strength and performance perspective for my athletes because we have developed our plan for progressive development. This understanding of strength also allows me to provide the most appropriate advice when it comes to exercise selection.

As William Penn said, “Right is right even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong even if everyone is for it.” People are there for your expertise and knowledge as much as your skills. Remember to provide the care and treatment you would want to receive and provide them with the advice and direction you would want to understand.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/interview-with-mike-odonnell-dc-ccsp-cscs/

https://gallagherperformance.com/the-best-exercise/

https://gallagherperformance.com/before-you-go-to-a-chiropractor-read-this-first/
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