Adaptation and Stress

A few weeks back Mike Reinold had a piece on his website titled Career Advice for Students and Young Professionals from Experts in the Field.  Leon Chaitow, who is a famed manual therapist, had a nice response.   I have posted it here. 

I recommend a thorough understanding of Hans Selye’s general and local adaptation syndrome concepts.  This suggests that whatever the actual health problem – and in fact the more complex the problem the more important this formula becomes – it is essential to appreciate that almost all health issues can be seen to represent failed/or failing, adaptation. Once this is understood it becomes important to consider which adaptive stressors can be identified – whether lifestyle, biomechanical, biochemical or psychosocial – and how these can be modified or eliminated. These adaptive stressors represent one facet of the therapeutic equation, which might involve postural, respiratory, nutritional, behavioral or functional factors. The other part of the equation that needs to be considered relates to way(s) in which functionality might be enhanced, so that the stress burden can be better managed. Aspects of this would entail improved strength, stability, flexibility and mobility – along with sleep, rest, exercise etc.

So the bottom line of this therapeutic formula boils down to – reduce the adaptive load, while improving function. The only other choice is to treat symptoms. Into this mix it is also critical that we tailor the therapeutic interventions to the ability of the individual to respond positively – so that treatment doesn’t become yet another stress burden.

I believe this statement has a lot of meaning to coaches in the field of sports performance.  There are two concepts that I take away from it.  The first is to the body’s ability to deal with adaptation, and stress.  The second is  treating the adaptation, or failed adaptation, and stress.

Everything has a stress on the body.  Buddy Morris, strength coach at the University of Pittsburgh, has stated that the stress of training is much more harmful to the body than the stress of a broken bone.  A broken bone is localized vs. the entire organism being affected by stresses of intense training. 

The body is always in a constant battle of adaptation.  Injuries, sickness, diseases, etc. all go through this battle in the human body.  Take an overuse injury such as patellar tendonitis.  It is the tendon failing to adapt to the implied stresses over time.  We walk a fine line between too much, and too little.  Too much / too often a stimulus and the body reacts in a negative way.  Too little and the body won’t rise to a higher level of performance.  I have always been a firm believer that I would rather undertrain an athlete than to overtrain them.  Training is the same process just on a larger scale.  If we fail to adapt to the stresses of training, our performance begins to decline.  Sickness, or injury will be right around the corner.   

I recently purchased a highly recommended book called Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers.  The book is about the human body’s reaction to stresses and how it can disrupt / cause a cascade of events in our body.  So far I’m about half way through.  It is an interesting read to say the least.  It’s not only a great book on stress but an awesome physiology book written in a way ties all the events that happen in your body together.  And the author does it all with a dose of comedy.  I’ll have more to come on this topic as I make my way through the book. 

My second take home point in the statement deals with improving function while correcting the failed adaptation.  The last paragraph is what commonly happens in the world of rehabilitation / physical therapy.  We treat symptoms and not the actual root of the issue.  Surgeons are some of the best examples of treating symptoms.  “Lets operate,” is all too often the answer when correcting movement patterns, or fixing soft tissue restrictions,  may actually cure the issue. 

One of the best analogies I have heard for correcting movement is this: 

When a car loses its alignment the area that usually receives the most notable damage is the tires.  So the average person sees the tires worn and goes out an buys new tires.  However, we haven’t fixed the actual problem which is the alignment.  So while new tires will look nice, they too soon will wear out quickly in the wrong place.  The underlying issue is the alignment.  Fix the alignment and you fix the problems with the tires wearing

The body is the exact same way.  Fix the underlying issues and you actually fix the problem even though they probably aren’t the same thing.  Rotational athletes who have restrictions in the hip and the ability to rotate pay for it in their lower backs.  So not looking at the underlying issues, people start working the lower back claiming it to be weak, or stiff, or whatever.  However, if we fix the hips we fix the back. 

Always look for compensations occurring in movement.  When those are found and corrected, injuries and failed adaptation begin to disappear.