Category Archives: Health

Linked Article: Before Reaching War Zones, Troops Risk Concussions

Considering that concussion risks are compounded by repeated injuries, and that the risks of concussions can include slower reactions, impaired cognition, and even changes in mood this should be something that concerns non-military self defense athletes as well.

A new military study suggests that some soldiers suffer mild traumatic brain injuries even before they go to war. These concussions, as they’re also called, can come from taking “combatives” classes that teach hand-to-hand fighting during the soldiers’ training…

The study looks, in part, at soldiers at sprawling Fort Hood, Texas, one of the Army’s main centers for basic training. The preliminary findings, which NPR and ProPublica have obtained, suggest that a soldier got a concussion in those classes every other day, on average, over nine months.

“The more hits your brain takes, the less likely it will be that you will have a full recovery,” said Dr. Alex Dromerick, director of neuroscience research at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C. Dromerick, who has studied brain injuries with the military, didn’t work on this new study on concussions. But he says that based on our description of the findings, they raise a troubling scenario.

Click here to read the article.

Shoulder Stabilziation for Striking: are you Focusing on the Right Muscles?

When considering upper body striking, martial artists tend to focus on the pectoral, triceps and deltoid muscle groups, and the glenohumeral (GH) joint, which is the most obvious shoulder joint. The GH joint consists of the humerus and the glenoid fossa of the scapula (the “socket” of the shoulder blade). Since this joint is essentially like a ball resting on a shallow dish, and not a deep socket like the hip joint, ligaments and the attached muscles provide most of the stability. There are also three other joints in the shoulder complex that play important roles in maintaining stability for the GH joint, with the scapulothoracic being most prone to abuse in combative training. This joint is formed by the fibrous connection of the scapula to the posterior torso wall, which allows the scapula to glide and rotate as the GH joint requires.

The serratus  anterior and the trapezius provide the ability to adduct (pull close to the ribcage), retract, depress, and upwardly or downwardly rotate the scapulae.  They maintain alignment of the glenoid fossa  with the head of the humerus.  A strong, reasonably flexible rotator cuff group is important, but the trapezius needs to be able to provide rotation and stabilization so that the GH joint stays centered and the rotator cuff isn’t impinged. The trapezius and serratus need to work synergistically with the GH joint movers. Striking in general requires the same coupling of scapular and humeral actions that has been reported for other overhand actions  (Kibler, et. al., 2007) such as the tennis serve.

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Basic Thoracic Spine Injury Prevention for Fighting Arts & Combat Sports

The actions of fighting arts (including combatives and self-defense systems) and combat sports place regular high stresses on the spinal column. I’ve previously mentioned the anterior-posterior compressive and shear forces that affect the lumbar spine, but not the transverse rotational (torsional) and lateral compressive forces that actions like punching, kicking, throwing and falling places on the thoracic spine. Basic fighting postures, such as a standing guard or striking can encourage thoracic kyphosis and lateral asymmetry.  Left unchecked, torso actions can become plagued by dominant muscular patterns of imbalance to one side or the other, as a result of a favored limb or ingrained movement compensations due to faulty stabilization or movement system activity. Over time these muscular imbalances  can lead to vertebral facet degradation and arthritis, disk herniations and ruptures, nerve entrapment and bone spurs (typically in the direction of excessive muscular tension), all of which translate to reduced performance.

Curvature of a healthy spinal column. Note the lateral symmetry.

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A Brief Discussion on the Relativity of Skills

Ed. Note: while the examples used in the piece below relate to punching and recreational/athletic MA training, the concepts can easily be applied to all other fighting skills and situations in which they might be used.

How many ways are there to skin a cat? Or in this case, throw a punch? Among both novice and experts (and “experts”), it can seem as if there is a “right” way to perform a fighting skill, yet variations are to be found from style to style,  from individual to individual, and even from moment to moment within the same encounter. The Q & A below came out of a discussion with martial artist and CSCS Daniel Ramos (fellow ATSU Human Movement Science alum).

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Using the Overhead Squat Assessment to Identify Reductions in Punching Quality

The overhead squat assessment promoted by NASM (Clark & Lucett, 2011) provides a useful evaluation of the functional status of the latissimus dorsi during a common movement (video example here). The OHS requires that both trunk extension and shoulder flexion occur simultaneously, either or both of which may be altered if the muscle has become chronically shortened and tight. When the lats are hypertonic, shoulder range or motion (ROM) is altered due to excessive internal rotation and depression of the humerus, which further affects the actions of the scapula. This can be seen when an individual’s arms habitually fall forward past the line of the torso during the eccentric phase of the squat in an OHS evaluation, which is an indication of the arthrokinematic (joint movement) compensations needed to accommodate functional ROM as the muscle attempts to maintain a shorter distance between origin and insertion (for an excellent visual of how this occurs, take a look here).

Rear view of the latissimus dorsi. Note the broad connection to the pelvis, and the insertion on the humerus. An overactive (hypertonic) lat will cause alterations in shoulder and hip function, impairing good technique by reducing strength and mobility, while increasing the chances of an avoidable chronic injury.

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Random Training Notes 18

Regarding historical or traditional training practices:

Within physical culture, old practices or concepts aren’t necessarily good or better than modern ones just because they’ve been around awhile. There is belief in martial arts circles, especially in “traditional” groups, that something which has been passed down for decades is unquestionably valuable, or even superior to modern evidence-based understandings. A common defense is “do you think technique x would still be around it if it wasn’t battle tested?” Another is “look at practitioner x- if it worked for him, and he had no fancy research.”

The plain and unglamorous truth is that sometimes techniques or training practices got passed down simply because no one knew any better, or it fulfilled a cultural function (particularly in Confucian-influenced societies)  or because they maintained a certain personal prestige or power structure within a group. A technique may have never actually been used in a fight;  a conditioning activity may routinely cause joint damage that actually weakens a student over time, but the status of the originator serves to enshrine it. Old can be good; old is not automatically good.

Recommended Video: Toe Home Physical Therapy Exercises

The feet of fight athletes take an incredible amount of abuse. The training associated with most traditional karates seems almost perfectly designed to result in foot and ankle impairments. The sweeps, and falls of judo practice, and the leg checks that kick boxers endure also take a toll.

Watch this video and try incorporating the exercises into your weekly physical training routine to try and offset some of the potential damage.

Toe Home Physical Therapy Exercises