Feeling the flex
Research focuses on curbing musculoskeletal disorders
Dr. David Behm and Katie Wadden.
By Jeff Green
An adequate degree of flexibility is the key to decreased injury, impairment and musculoskeletal disorders not only for elite athletes but also a growing number of sedentary individuals, said a leading researcher from the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation.
Dr. David Behm is heading up an international study that’s examining how massage and other reflex inhibition techniques can increase a person’s range of motion around a joint.
That increase in flexibility could in turn help reduce musculoskeletal disorders that affect the body’s muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments.
Typically those disorders affect the back, neck, shoulders and upper limbs. Health problems vary but can include aches, pains and discomfort.
Dr. Behm is currently conducting research in collaboration with Argentina-based Professor Mario Di Santo, a researcher at the Institute for Physical Education Teacher Training in Cordoba, Argentina.
“Low back pain is a pervasive problem that can be related to flexibility and imbalance issues among many,” Dr. Behm said during a recent interview with the Gazette in the school’s physiology lab.
“It’s reported to affect 60 to 85 per cent of the population at some point in their lifetime.”
Research has shown that insufficient range of motion caused by poor muscle flexibility may be a cause of muscle strain and increased risk of injury as well as musculoskeletal problems in both healthy and elderly people.
In fact, Dr. Behm noted the estimated total cost of musculoskeletal disorders on this country’s health care system in 1994 was $25.6 billion. That number has likely skyrocketed, he added.
To enhance range of motion, it’s necessary for people to do systematic stretching over a period of time.
“New techniques that can alleviate pain and dysfunction in individuals or provide more effective training techniques must be validated,” said Dr. Behm, who received Memorial’s President’s Award for Outstanding Research in 2007.
“If proven to be as effective as reported by some clinical users, then these novel techniques would provide positive advantages to individuals and society at large.”
Those techniques include massaging some of the body’s core muscles – everything from your quads and hamstrings to your lower back and neck – prior to and during static stretching.
Other techniques include the electrical stimulation of muscles, and the contraction of antagonist or opposite muscles.
“You can also contract the opposite leg or arm and it will help to relax the target muscle and help to increase flexibility,” Dr. Behm said, adding that this research could prove to have beneficial results for healthy and athletic people, as well as elderly and inactive pockets of the population.
“There are a number of activities that can be used by athletes or office workers to help promote blood flow and improve flexibility,” he noted. “Many sedentary office workers suffer from low back pain due to a lack of flexibility and these techniques could help.”
This current study builds Dr. Behm’s extensive research on muscle activation in athletic performance, the effects of muscle stretching on subsequent physical performance, and research on muscle fatigue.
Since coming to Memorial 15 years ago, he has quickly gained an international reputation for this work.
He’s now in the midst of applying for new grants to further his current study, and is prepping articles on the matter for submission to peer-reviewed journals.
“The outcome of this research is far-reaching,” Dr. Behm added. “Everybody from healthy people who want to prevent further or future musculoskeletal problems to people with low back pain and perhaps certain clinical populations would benefit from our work.”