Do you know why injuries happen?
How about why some people get injured doing a specific activity, but someone else doing the same exact thing walks away without a scratch?
By the end of this article, you will understand why injuries happen, how to recover from them, and how to prepare yourself to avoid them in the future.
We will use this graph to illustrate a concept called “Load vs. Capacity.”
This dotted line represents your capacity or what your body can handle.
If you were to walk outside and step in front of a bus to see if your body could handle the impact, the force transmitted by that bus would probably exceed your body’s capacity to handle it. If we stay below this threshold, we have a low potential for pain or injury. When we cross that dotted line, we exponentially increase our potential for pain or injury.
The reason we say the potential for pain, rather than declaring this an absolute is: if someone has a hundred pounds of overhead pressing capacity and loads a hundred pounds on the bar, the weight will go up. If they load a hundred and five pounds on the bar, it won’t move. They’ve exceeded their capacity, but it’s not painful.
On the flip side, a shoulder joint that has exceeded its capacity due to excessive high-speed movements, too much work overall, or being forced into compromising positions will definitely be at higher risk for injury.
In that scenario, we want to avoid crossing the line of capacity.
Unfortunately, it’s more than just exercise that causes us to exceed our capacity and get injured.
We have three categories that we wake up with every day that move our bodies closer to crossing the line of capacity.
Anatomical dysfunction- These are things you can’t change about your body without surgery—the shape of your hip socket, a torn meniscus, a bulged disc, etc.
Recovery- Your body has to recharge and repair itself every day. It can only do that if you give it the opportunity to do so, and that’s through sleep, diet, and stress. The more you have those things dialed in, the smaller this box will be, which means you have more capacity to work with.
Functional diagnosis- These are the things about your body that you can change—flexibility, mobility, strength, coordination, etc.
Now we have to account for everything else in your life.
Now we have home life, work life, and a couple of movements in your workout piled on top, and as you can see, we’re bumping up against the line of capacity.
Let’s say you’re in this scenario, and your back was talking to you a bit earlier in the day; you don’t feel great but not bad either, and you had planned on doing kettlebell swings.
Kettlebell swings put you over the limit. This is where you would be in pain, and there’s, and there’s something important you need to recognize about that.
It wasn’t the last kettlebell swing that “caused the injury.”
You can see the kettlebell swings were “the straw that broke the camel’s back” they weren’t the root cause; they were the cherry on top of everything else that piled up throughout the day.
Now if you want to get out of pain and stay out of it, you have to get back below the dotted line.
Let’s look at two different scenarios for how to do that
In scenario 2, we see a very different stack of blocks; they’re all smaller except for the “anatomical dysfunction” box because we can’t change that one, remember?
Everything else can be adjusted. If you budget the time and attention necessary, you can improve your recovery. You can address strength, flexibility, and coordination problems. You can even improve your stress management at home and at work.
You can keep exercising or doing whatever meaningful activity you choose without pain.
What if you want to do more?
The good news is you’re not stuck with the same level of capacity forever. If you spend time working near the margin of your capacity, your body will adapt.
This means you’ll be able to handle more, and your capacity will increase.
The great news is that you can and should do both, especially if you’re currently in pain.
If you’re hurting, the last thing you want to do is go hard to increase your capacity, so getting your other boxes as small as possible is your first order of business that will get you below the line and out of pain as quickly as possible.
Once your symptoms are under control, you can start working your way back up to increase your overall capacity, which is the path to greater resiliency and physical freedom.