Recovery from injury: Just as much about the brain as the body
If our body is the machine that performs all the amazingly skillful movements and tasks that we do every day, our brain is the supercomputer that drives these movements. Injury and the pain associated with injury however can dramatically alter our brain’s ability to drive these tasks, and then in turn, impair our recovery and return to the things we love to do.
Some great research has been done by Sarah Wallwork and her colleagues at the University of South Australia that describes the specific way this happens.
To perform the complex skills required in sport, our brain uses large clusters of brain cells that need to act together, a bit like musicians in an orchestra. If they work together, the task is performed with skill, but if some of these cells don’t fire, the movement may not happen or may be performed inaccurately. In a sporting context, the perfect execution of the skill can make all the difference, success or failure, injury or not.
Our response to injury, both physical and emotional, conscious or subconscious, has a profound effect on how these brain cells act, and in turn, our ability to perform skilled movements. In general, injury reduces our ability to activate the parts of our brains we require to perform skilled tasks. Furthermore, the longer we don’t perform these tasks the harder it is to perform them in the future and the more work we need to re-learn them.
With this in mind, early functional rehabilitation is crucial in the recovery process from injury. Knowing what you can do to accelerate your recovery can prevent changes in your brain and in turn, reduce the chance of you injuring yourself again.
Recovery from injury is not just training the body, it’s also training the brain.