It was probably 15 years ago when I first heard of corrective exercises. It definitely did not sound overly exciting but I was curious and wanted to find out more. The CHEK institute was the leader in promoting the concept at the time.
The idea was simple… and still is. The goal is to correct faulty movements by moving. It sounded just about right.
Can we dispute the notion that TEACHING someone how to move correctly is wrong? Why would we think it doesn’t work?
Truth is… it kind of works. But just kind of. Here is why.
You may think you are in control of how you move. Neurophysiology would say you are only partially right. To move, essentially, your muscles receive commands from various parts of your central nervous system. Some of those parts provide you with voluntary, conscious control, others not.
As you can see here, there are quite a few pathways that allow you to move (descending tracts).
2 of them are voluntary and they are called pyramidal. They are identified as:
– Lateral cortico-spinal tract;
– Ventral cortico-spinal tract.
These tracts originate in the cerebral motor cortex and end up in the spinal cord.
4 of them are involuntary. These originate from different components of your central nervous system and deeply just how you choose to move.
They are the:
– Rubro-spinal tract;
– Reticulo-spinal tract;
– Tecto-spinal tract;
– Vestibulo-spinal tract.
For example, the tecto-spinal tract coordinates head and eye movements. The general function of this system is to direct the body in space in relation to visual input.
The origin of the pathway is the superior colliculus. It receives input from the eyes and projects that information to eye muscles to create an aligned gaze on the horizon as well to other muscles to maintain upright posture.
So tell me this: what if your eye tracking to level yourself with the horizon is deficient?
Is it possible that, at rest and in movement, your head will tilt to accommodate?
If that’s the case, can it affect how you perform the corrective exercise you were suggested?
How corrective is that exercise if you do it in a compensated state?
That’s exactly my point!
The example illustrated above referred to compensation mechanisms originating from the central nervous system. The peripheral nervous system can also be at the source of these dysfunctions.
Think of a reflex: your mom has told you NOT to put your finger on the hot element of the stove. You obviously do… you get burnt. Before you realize it, your finger comes off and you are not consciously responsible for that. That is an example of a spinal reflex.
Now, you will tell me that you don’t burn yourself when you train. So how does this example relate? Here is how:
Let’s say you were operated for appendicitis 15 years ago. The mechanoreceptors in the skin are stretched beyond normal limits. This creates a neural discharge to your spinal cord, and, in this case, the muscles of the same dermatome tighten up. 15 years later, you still have the scar… the muscles that compensated are still compensating.
In this context, you learn to do a dead lift. You are taught to do a dead lift. You try to keep your feet aligned. As you fatigue, the right foot turns out. You are told to keep that right foot aligned. You try. You try some more… that right foot, no matter the amount of cuing and self-awareness, the right foot turns out.
The surgical scar creates the muscle tension that tilted the pelvis to the right and forces your hip to externally rotate, which rotates your foot out. That is one reason for why corrective exercises or exercises in general cannot correct faulty patterns.
In conclusion, there are central and peripheral reasons why corrective exercise simply does not work. It is 80-85% of the population that presents with a postural disorder of some kind. It’s the same percentage that shows a discrepancy with eye tracking.
Correcting on the premise of a system that is compensating before it even executes the movement is the sole reason why exercises deemed to be corrective are nothing more than an illusion.