Neuromuscular Function and Dysfunction: Natural vs. New Normal
Updated: May 10, 2019
The origin of the neuromuscular dysfunction may be a response to trauma; it may be the result of accommodating low level stressors over a long period of time; or it may be a part of innumerable other systemic interactions that compromise nerve function. Whatever the origin, we often do not notice that our body has changed because adapting to change is a gradual, subtle process.
If we develop an awareness of how our nerves and muscles work, we have taken the necessary first step in improving functionality. Unlike nerves that have a clean break and are difficult to repair, nerves that are compromised can be nurtured back to a more healthy, functional state. Unlike nerves in the brain or spinal cord, peripheral nerves can regenerate. It takes time, effort, and concentration, but applying the tools of body awareness is a means of restoring or improving neuromuscular function. The chances of restoring or improving function are quite good. At a minimum, further deterioration can be slowed.
When a muscle becomes less responsive for any reason, without noticing it, we recruit other muscles to assist with the movement. The compromised, less responsive muscle needs help. Whether the less responsive muscle was a primary mover or contributed in some other way to the movement, the muscle is no longer doing what it did before. Because the movement cannot be done as it had been, we find a new pattern that compensates for the dysfunction. In this way, a close approximation of the original movement can be completed. Even after the original cause of the dysfunction has resolved, it is not unusual for inertia to carry the new pattern forward.
We get used to the new pattern. It becomes the new normal. We get comfortable with what we have grown to perceive as normal; we forget that the adaptation is not the original, natural way our bodies made that movement. We can’t remember how we did the movement before dysfunction intruded. Sometimes, we cannot even imagine how the muscle could possibly work as others tell us it is supposed to.
Using a new pattern to work around dysfunction comes with a cost. Because such patterns are not our natural way to move, they cannot be sustained without producing an effect elsewhere in the chain of the movement that we have adopted. The differences between the original movement and the adopted, compensatory movement may not have immediate consequences, but over time the “new normal” movement changes things. Eventually, long held, unnatural patterns lead to bowed limbs; or torqued spines; or painful, chronically inflamed joints; or the unrelentingly painful bone-on-bone arthritis; or many other aches and pains.
Whether the new movement is a recent development or a long-followed habit, it can be difficult to find our way back to the natural, unaltered, original movement. In addition to the difficulty caused by not having a clear recollection of the original movement, there is no authoritative source to tell us what “natural” is. Because bodies are unique, the natural way to move bodies is also unique. Compare the swings of Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth: they are completely different, but natural for each of them. Natural is an unaltered state, without need for adaptation. In a natural state the body is as healthy as it can be. We are the expert in our search for the naturally balanced state that is ours alone.
Body awareness can help us notice acquired patterns and begin to understand them. With this understanding we can work toward easing ourselves out of unnatural patterns, especially those causing harm. We can find what feels “natural” to us.