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There is a fair amount known about muscular and postural adaptation. Any posture or movement is based on patterns of muscle activation and deactivation. Muscular and postural adaptation occurs in response to many different factors. The sensory and vestibular (balance) systems receive continual feedback through the various senses of both internal postures and the external environment. Various systems of the brain put all of this data together to elicit the patterns of muscle activity necessary for movement.
Adaptation to stress and trauma changes patterns of muscle activation. Many things, both obvious and conscious and subtle and unconscious, go into the equation that creates posture and movement. All past and present experience using the muscles related to an intended action will feed into the equation. Any kind of pain or injury, past or present immediate and remembered perception about the environment, and the general state of energy and emotion will all change patterns of muscle activity. After an injury for example, the brain will adapt by changing or substituting certain muscles for others that had been doing the job.
As with any area of function adaptation becomes maladaptation when it persists beyond the time that it is needed. There is a certain tolerance that is individual for the amount of muscle substitution that can occur before symptoms may be consciously noticed. In fact, eliminating a long-standing maladaptation will often create noticeable relaxation in an individual that had not noticed the tension before. When asked to relax their shoulders, most individuals will find that in fact they have been tense for no apparent reason. This is an example of an ongoing adaptive posture.
Athletes in particular will often have the feeling that something is not working quite right. Athletes are often very aware, for instance, when one hamstring does not stretch as much as the other or that twisting to one side is more difficult. Athletes often notice immediately when maladaptation is addressed and feel more freedom and ease of movement.
While past pain and injury are probably the major cause of maladaptation, emotional ‘stances’ also create postural changes, switching off certain muscle groups and increasing tension in others. Figures of speech like ‘shouldering the burden’ or 'chest swelled with pride', denote the connection between emotional state and the body. If you let yourself sit slumped with your head down as if to weak to resist the force of gravity, you might begin to feel a little down. A person who is depressed but does not want to show it may have a competing posture, with the head pulled back and the chest out, but this is only superimposed upon the previous posture.
To the extent that they remain in place, the sum total of a lifetime of adaptation becomes the cause of much of the musculoskeletal pain from which we suffer.
Postural/muscular function and maladaptation
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