Bret Wilson

Muscle Memory and Back Pain

Muscle Memory and Back Pain

Muscle memory is the connection between the brain and the movement patterns, coordinated contraction and relaxation of the muscles, corresponding to an action or activity.  Our bodies learn through repetition and create a memory of how to move in a sequential manner to achieve the movement.  This is true when applied to riding a bike, playing the piano, exercise or the golf swing.   For many skills, such as riding a bike, once we have learned, the muscle memory allows us to quickly resume riding a bike, even if we have not been on one for a long time.    The golf swing is a skill that has more variables that effect success or failure, repetition alone is not enough for success.  The key is to practice correctly and frequently to hit the ball the way you want to.  The other side of the coin is that if you create a muscle memory that is incorrect or dysfunctional, then practice itself will not make perfect, instead you may ingrain an imperfection with faulty practice.  The best practice is the use of quality practice in the proper method to get the best result consistently.

Muscle memory is often a component of back pain.  Patients who seek care at my office often state that the pain began of no specific event or reason.  They report that onset occurred while performing normal daily tasks.  The problem is often the accumulated wear and tear of a movement pattern that has adapted for a joint or muscle that has stopped functioning properly.  The body then adapts the movement pattern (muscle memory) to accommodate the restriction or weakness.  This allows for continued activity but over time and repetition the abnormal movement, and posture adaptation leads to pain.  Pain motivates additional changes in movement and activity.  This negative adaptation continues until the patient seeks care.

For the sake of an isolated body part, the person has modified movement.  The unintended consequence is that the condition worsens and other body parts adapt negatively to maintain activity. The person who intends to fix the problem by “walking it off”, reasoning that if my leg hurts when I walk, then if I walk long enough it will get better.  In this case, the will to move forward causes abnormal adaptation by most of the rest of the body, causing other problems in addition to the original injury, while slowing the healing of the original injury.

Chiropractic consultation and evaluation is directed towards finding the cause of the pain and begin correction of the postural or joint dysfunction.  By relieving the pain and reducing the inflammation, the body can begin the return path to normal movement and postures.  Part of the is process is the modification of the current muscle memory and through treatment and exercise restoring more efficient balanced patterns of movement through adaptation of muscle memory.  The key is treatment, support and rest for the injury, movement to tolerance in a controlled way, and maintaining as much normal activity for the rest of the body.  This approach can help stimulate the healing process while not causing de-conditioning and negative adaptive movement patterns to the rest of the body.

Your body and your brain are in constant communication.  The subconscious creates a data base of movement patterns and postures as you go about your daily activities.  There is constant adaptation of the movements you use, retrieval from the archives when you return to a previous activity and developed with a new activity.  Factors that influence the function or dysfunction of this muscle memory include quality of movement, repetition, condition of the muscles and joints involved and the quality of communication between the brain and the body.  Proper training, coaching, exercise and chiropractic can help recovery from injury, reduce pain, increase function and performance.  Put your mind to improving the muscle memory you need to perform at your best and maintain health.

Yours in Health,


Dr. Bret Wilson

Dr Bret Wilson wants you to move, play and live free from neck and back pain.  For more information about chiropractic, posture, exercise, and how to make better choices about your health visit our website  Find a chiropractor in your area to help you with safe and effective health care.

Related Blogs from Dr. Bret Wilson:

Exercise as Treatment

Back Pain

For more information:

How Muscle Memory Works and How it Affects Your Success

What is Muscle Memory?