They spin four or five times in mid-air, at mid-jump and land on their feet! They can endure hours of skiing at top speed and still find a way to speed up at the end to overcome their opponent! Olympic athletes… What makes these people so AMAZING? How do they do it?! Is it Wheaties? Are they going to become useless if in the presence of Kryptonite? What is the magic key? Are they superhuman, or is there a scientific explanation?
The answer… They are NOT Superhuman. Yes, there are years of physical training involved, but that answer is too easy.
Let’s take a step back. There are certain parts of our brain that tell us how our body is doing. It is always getting reports from stations from around the body. Those stations, for example, can be in the muscles of the legs. They report to the captain that they are still “good to go” and can continue forward. There are lines of communication established that help to keep the muscles churning along if the captain (the brain) says to do so.
We could take those daily pains and help “dull” them to the point where our function may improve despite the problem. Have you ever noticed that sometimes the smell of something can bring back sensations of pain or even sensations of enjoyment from the past? Guess where that comes from? You guessed it! Your brain. If something so simple as a smell can trigger such a REAL response, why can’t we use that to our advantage? I have you thinking now, don’t I?
Now let’s take the elite athlete and have them go cross country skiing for a couple of hours. You can bet that the muscles, even though highly trained, are telling the captain that they are maxed out and they are in so much pain that they MUST stop. They CANNOT go any further. Yet, they do! Why is this? How does this happen?
It is because the elite athlete has so much control from a higher level that their brain is not phased by this information and demands that the muscles continue forward. The elite athlete’s brain has been proven to block the “pain” signals from even getting to the captain! If the captain has no idea how bad things are, he continues to march valiantly into battle to win!
Now you might ask, “well, if they can do this, why can’t I?” The answer is… YOU CAN! You can be an elite athlete! Well, maybe that’s a stretch. However, I will say we all have the capability to utilize this same “power” that an elite athlete uses.
What in the world is this magical power and where do I get it, you ask? It’s currently present in your human brain! We have the capability to “squash” the pain signals you have coming from the depths below… below your brain that is. It’s not adrenaline. It’s not pain medication. It’s mind over matter. I know this sounds cliché, but it is scientifically proven to be true that things in the brain can be modified by the brain to allow the body to continue through a normally dreadful situation.
Your brain can tell you to finish that painful marathon. You can tell yourself that even though you hurt every time you get out of bed in the morning, you will still do it and do so with less and less pain simply because your brain wills it to happen.
Is it really THAT easy? Yes! It is that simple to understand, BUT training the brain to decide to ignore information from the body is something that comes with time and consistent training. What kind of training? Relatively pain-free exercise like walking or riding a stationary bike is one example. Another example is mental imagery! Yes, meditation and relaxation are actual treatments for improving overall performance levels in everyday life!
What does this mean moving forward? It means you have the gift to become the next elite athlete at the Olympics, of course... Well, maybe that’s a slight stretch. What does it really mean? It means we are all built to understand that some pains, even though they are perceived to be real by the brain, are maybe just that… in our brain!
If you are now thinking that you are super human, congratulations! You have received my message! Kryptonite can do nothing to you! If you are unsure, please stop by sometime and let’s chat. Your brain is a super power to be reckoned with, and your friendly physical therapist will be happy to help you tap into that power!
Contributing author, Mike Moravec, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and is the supervising physical therapist at Monument Physical Therapy located on the Scottsbluff-Gering highway located conveniently in the heart of the valley. Stop by or call Mike and his team of Physical Therapists with any questions you might have regarding your strength, or possibly lack thereof to avoid future injury! 308-633-5361