What is the difference between an Injury and a dysfunction? Are they the same thing? Have I had both? We have all been injured in our life and chances are will probably be injured at some point in the future as well. Whether it be playing with your kids and you sprain your ankle, training at the gym an you “twist” your back, or even walking up the stairs carrying groceries into the house and you twist your knee. The definition of an injury is “damage or harm done to or suffered by a person or thing” ; “A particular form of hurt, damage, or loss”. The definition of a dysfunction is “abnormality or impairment in the function of a specified bodily organ or system”. So as you can see, they are similar in their meanings and there is a lot of cross referencing that can happen when describing both of them. There are so many dysfunctions out there we could talk about, but for the sake of this article, I am going to focus more on Muscular Dysfunction. I will be referring to dysfunction as more of “impairment in the function of a specific bodily organ whether it be muscle, joint, or nerve. We all have different motives as to why we are working out. Whether you want to lose fat, you want to increase muscle strength, or you are competing in a specific event it all seems to lead back to putting some training time in at the gym or home. It is safe to say a “Weight Training Dysfunctions” is an abnormality in a structure or system that causes an alteration in how your body performs during weight training. You can develop these dysfunctions from poor lifting techniques, lifting beyond your ability, training to often, insufficient rest and recovery, or even a past injury that has not healed properly. One way to make sure you are preventing these dysfunctions are to focus on good form when performing exercises. Remember it is not always about the amount of weight you are lifting, but more on using proper form even if you have to lift a lesser weight. In the long run this will help to prevent injuries as well. Second is to make sure the exercises you are performing are not contraindicated for biomechanics reasons. This would include extreme movements that cause extension or flexion of a joint beyond its normal ROM (Range of Motion) or movements that involve excessive or rapid twisting of your joints. Finally you need to make sure your muscles, joints and nerves are all working properly. If you have a joint that is limited in it’s range of motion, you are unable to perform certain exercises correctly which will eventually lead to a increased dysfunctions.
There are four types of Weight Training Dysfunctions:
- Muscle Dysfunction. Occurs when the muscle has been damaged and scar tissue is present, muscle imbalance, muscle is shortened, or the muscle is deconditioned.
- Joint Dysfunction. Occurs when your don’t have normal joint range of motion, your joint is compressed, or your joint is separated.
- Nerve Dysfunction. Occurs when there has been damage to your nerve and has altered the action potential, resulting inhibiting the muscles at a joint.
- Biochemical Dysfunction. Occurs when your overtraining and your body is deficient in nutrients to help your body recover.
[I am going to go talk about Muscle Dysfunction last, as there is a lot of information to discuss and we all can really relate to it.]
Joint Dysfunction have two classifications, Compression and Tearing. Compression Joint Dysfunctions occur within the joint capsule with little to no tearing of tissues. This type of dysfunction can happen when you are squatting with a heavy load, your vertebra discs are compressed due the load place on them. Your muscles surrounding the joint will be weakened and there will most likely be damage to the receptors within and surrounding that joint. Tearing Dysfunctions occur more frequently, as these result in twisting or strained injuring muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage of the joint. Getting back to the example I used a the beginning, spraining your ankle while playing with your kids. When this occurs you will notice inflammation and your muscles involved will be weak. Your body has a natural defense to protect further damage, certain receptors in ligaments, when overloaded, cause a reflex contracture of the muscle, thus shortening and causing potential muscles weakness. Depending on how bad you injured yourself and the amount of time before treating it, may open the door up muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalance will occur when your body is “adapting” to your joint dysfunction. Let’s say you injure your elbow on monday during arm day. Tuesday is back day, so you head to the gym and try to perform cable pull downs while “favoring” your elbow. Your muscles are compensating for the injured elbow and will cause a muscle imbalance. If the imbalance is severe enough or last long enough, it can cause stress in other joints and weakness in other muscles unrelated to the original injury. This will ultimately affect how you train and may even cause you to stop all together from training.
Nerve Dysfunction can either be caused by stretched or compressed nerves. When this happens, it will affect the muscle it innervates (supplies) usually causing weakness. I am not going to get to technical with this, but a simple way to think about this is the following. Think of when you are sleeping on your arm and wake up in the morning. Your arm has “fallen asleep” and you have very little to no muscle strength or control of that arm. Research reveals that only a small amount of compression or tension is needed to create this type of weakness. Compression of only 10 to 50 millimeters of mercury (the weight of a dime on the back of your hand) can potentially cause damage and decrease the action potentials by up to 40 %. So as you can see, it doesn’t take much to damage a nerve and cause muscle weaknesses.
Biochemical Dysfunction is when your body is deficient in nutrients which causes decrease in strength and contribute to injures. Day to day stress can cause your body to decrease adrenal production, causing pain, weakness, and the inability to respond to stress of any kind. Sometimes this could take weeks or even months to recover for the effects of stress. If you are eating a strict diet of the same foods each day, your body could be lacking vitamins and minerals it needs. This could cause your adrenal glands to become overstressed by not having enough nutrients to handle the increase in strength training. Chronic stress or overtraining can create a condition called relative adrenal insufficiency, in which the adrenal glands fail to produce an adequate amount of secretions for the body to function optimally for the amount of stress experienced. Your body needs to have cofactors (vitamin C, vitamin B6, niacin, folic acid, and pantothenic acid in the body to help with the production of norepinerphrine (flight or fight situations). If these levels are low and body doesn’t produce enough norepinerphrine, the body will breakdown and greater result of injury will occur.
Muscle Dysfunction occurs when you have damaged a muscle and scar tissue is present, muscles imbalances (not working opposite muscles), or your muscle is deconditioned. Overtime, the body gets used to this situation and accepts it as “normal”, the sensation of pain diminishes and the healing process stops and leads to muscle dysfunction. The first stage in muscle dysfunction is muscle damage that causes pain and weakness. With muscle damage comes some inflammation. If mild enough, the inflammation will go away in a few days or weeks. If you have more extensive muscle damage, macro trauma occurs. The body’s response to this is to form adhesions or scar tissue within and around the sheath and fibers of the muscle. These adhesions and/or scar tissues limit the ROM (range of motion) of your muscles and joints, causing the muscle not to shorten and lengthen properly. They also restrict blood flow to and around your muscles, limiting oxygen and nutrients needed to keep your muscles healthy. When your joint is not working properly, this leads to further inflammation and long term damage can occur. If you have an exercise that you perform and it is painful in a certain area each time you perform that exercise…there is a good chance you have an adhesion/scar tissue preventing you from performing the exercise correctly and pain free. This adhesion will cause improper joint movement and pull on muscles, fascias, tendons, and bursa. Taking time off will decrease the inflammation, but will not get rid of the adhesion/scar tissue. As soon as you start training again, the adhesion will prevent proper movement and you are back to where you started from. Lets look at it as the following, if your bike’s tire is bent your ride will be bumpy and uncomfortable, you can put it in the shed, but when you bring it out in a week….the tire is still bent and your in for a bumpy ride again. Think of your body as the bike and the bent tire is your injury/muscle dysfunction causing you to “ride” improperly. You have to fix the bent rim of the tire, to have a smooth ride. Similar with an injury, you have to identify all the adhesions in the muscle causing you issues and perform soft-tissue therapy to break those adhesions up. This could include massage therapy, using a foam roller, or even using a tennis ball to apply pressure to the specific trigger point area. Once you locate and break these up, there will be increased circulation and your muscles and joints will be able to work the way they are suppose to and you will be able to enjoy training again…..pain free!
Make sure you listen to your body and if you have an injury or something that just doesn’t feel right, try and fix it before it gets worse and sidelines you for weeks maybe even months…..as opposed to just days!!
Rydevik, B. 1991. Effects of acute, graded compression on spinal nerve root function and structure. Spine 16 (5): 487-493
Kinakin, K. 2002. Fourth Annual International Weight Training Injury. Toronto: SWIS.
Johansson, H., and P. Sjolander. 1990. Neurophysiology of joints. In Mechanics of Human Joints, ed. E.L. Radin and V. Wright. New York
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