Have you had the experience of using a compression sleeve like Rehband and noticed an uptick in the sensations of stability? In going for a run or maybe in the weight room?
Proprioception is the underlying concept in this experience and we are now entering an age where we are understanding this mechanism.
It may be slow, but there’s a sweeping transition in the way we think about strength, stability and capacity of the knees. Terms like neuroplasticity are coming to the surface in connection with concepts like proprioception, dynamic balance and stabilization.
In the past, an athlete recovering from a knee injury might be advised to follow a daily prescription that includes ice, Advil and straight-leg leg lifts to rebuild the quads.
The focus was on the joint itself and the tissues surrounding it. Paying attention to the role of the brain and nervous system was ancillary (if at all) to this focus.
One of the resulting shifts is how we should think about regaining capacity in the rehab process of an injury. When trying to regain strength, mobility and the capacity to stabilize a knee—perhaps after surgery—what if we look at the wiring?
In other words, when we injure the knee, what happens to the intricate patterns of muscle recruitment, balance and how the stabilizing muscles are fired?
Researchers like Dustin Grooms are leading the charge to thinking about optimal function of the joints in new ways. As reported by Outside Magazine, Grooms was working on the training staff for the Bengals when NFL star quarterback Carson Palmer was trying to recover from major knee surgery:
In the off-season, Dustin Grooms, an intern trainer with the Bengals, watched as the team frantically tried to rehab Palmer’s shredded ligaments and cartilage. Grooms was baffled by their approach, which included ice, elevation, soft-tissue treatment, and strength work. They had millions of dollars at their disposal, yet the techniques they were using, says Grooms, “weren’t any different than what I’d seen done with college soccer players.” What’s more, the standard rehab protocol rarely seemed to restore complete stability to the knee. Reinjury was common. Palmer, for instance, despite his efforts, tore his ACL again in 2014.
Over the past few years, Grooms, now a 32-year-old professor of athletic training at Ohio University, has published a series of studies suggesting that for all joint injuries, standard physical therapy isn’t enough because it fails to address neuroplasticity, the process by which the brain rewires damaged neural connections.
Grooms was inspired to take on a PhD program that would help him understand the missing piece. Now a college professor himself, he routinely conducts studies in the realm of neuroplasticity with attention on how the brain rewires the neural connections to the motor units of a damaged joint.
Grooms is helping to pave a new future in how we restore an athlete after certain types of injury. Better and faster by making the focus how our brain and nervous system create support and muscle power in a joint.
One piece of technology that is directly being used with this brand of thinking is Rehband Compression Gear. Rehband supports are designed for three functions: compression, warmth and — in alignment with the neuroplasticity and proprioception model of thought — receptive input.
A Rehband knee sleeve is meant to provide an increased proprioception that “will help the body register and remember more correct movements.”
In effect, whether an athlete has an old knee injury or is simply performing an exercise that he or she wants to maximize and refine muscle recruitment and optimal movement patterns, one of the values of using a Rehband support is tuning in the brain and nervous system in an improved way.
For example, performing a one-rep max heavy squat, the intent of the band is less about delivering actual physical support to the joint from the material and more about driving awareness and brain/nerve response from the athlete to create stability under the weight of the load and during the movement.
This is one of the key reasons top Spartan racer Ryan Kent is a Rehband athlete who uses the supports for this reason.
“In training I use them for deadlifts, squats, power cleans, and box jumps,” Kent says. “Those are just a few exercises I use Rehband. They allow me to feel way more confident when attempting heavy lifts.”
Other applications come into play for Kent: When in recovery mode or especially when traveling, he uses the compression sleeves to boost circulation. The warmth aspect also comes into play, particularly during pre-workout or pre-race times. “They heat up the skin and muscles even if you’re not being all that active.”
The bonus for the Spartan racer is that the demands of certain obstacles can be demanding in the way a heavy lift can be, so reception input can be of value during a max racing effort.
Not to mention the most practical value of all.
“If you’re looking to avoid getting banged up from the Spartan course then I would definitely recommend using Rehaband 3mm knee and elbow sleeves, which are especially beneficial for obstacles like the Barbed Wire Crawl and Olympus.”
For a deep dive into the research led by Grooms, check out the following studies:
- Grooms DR, Myer GD. Upgraded hardware ─ What about the software? Brain updates for return to play following ACL reconstruction. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2016. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096658.
- Grooms DR, Onate, JA. Neuroscience Application to Noncontact Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Prevention. Sports Health. 2016; 8(2):149-152
- Grooms DR, Page S, Onate, J. Brain activation for knee movement measured days before anterior cruciate ligament second injury: neuroimaging in musculoskeletal medicine. Journal of Athletic Training. 2015; 50(10):1005-1010.
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