We all know that when traveling anywhere, a detailed map is a great companion to have. The same can be said of your body. The more detailed your body map is, the better your body will understand how to move.
Within your brain you have two maps of the body that are important for movement. One of these maps processes what is happening in the different body regions, and the other map is designed to generate movement. Both maps contain all of the various body parts with larger areas dedicated to those more complex parts such as the hands and feet. The more well defined these maps are, the easier it is for your body to move well.
One of the unfortunate consequences of chronic pain is that it affects your body map. Your body map becomes less defined. This is often compounded by reductions in activity level that can accompany chronic pain. However there is some good news. Research has shown that a specific type of exercises called isometric exercises are powerful at both restoring our body map and also in reducing pain.
Isometric exercises involve the muscle tensing without moving and are one of the easiest exercises to do. Here is an example. Place your palms together in front of your chest area and try to push your hands together as hard as you can (without pain). Keep pressing without moving your arms for 10 seconds before resting. No fancy equipment required and best of all you are in direct control of the intensity.
The power of isometric exercises lies in two main factors.
- Time under tension. With a dynamic exercise such as a chair squat, the muscles are only briefly stressed and then rested. Isometric exercises force the muscles to work for longer periods of time. The more a muscle is active, the more aware the body becomes and the sharper the map becomes in the brain.
- Muscle involvement. In an isometric exercise you get a much larger number of muscle fibers involved in the movement. This means more activation of the nervous system which is needed to rebuild the maps.
Isometric exercises are an easy yet beneficial addition to your exercise routine. We would love to hear what your favourite isometric exercise is. Please let us know in the comments below.