We’ve heard this story many times. It happened to Sean Lee twice, once at Penn State and also at Dallas. It also happened to Rachid Abrahim, a backup running back at PITT. It isn’t specific to a single position of the game, and it doesn’t even happen in games solely. Non-contact injuries are some of the most frustrating to players. Running on the practice field, on a sunny Thursday afternoon, a simple cut that an athlete has done 1,000 times goes wrong, and can leave them in agony, staring up at the sun wondering what just happened to them. It isn’t just a matter of strength, it isn’t even just a matter of superior conditioning. I could rehash much of what has been written about so far on this subject, which includes over-force production and improper positioning. Instead I would like to propose two new mechanisms, and how it can affect the entire extremity of an athlete. A structural shift, which often starts at the foundational segment of the spine, atlas, can dramatically affect the resting muscle tone of extremities.
How can this be? It all starts with the small connections (called the dentate ligaments) that attach the top of the spinal cord to atlas. The purpose of these dentate ligaments is to anchor the spinal cord in place so that it does not move so much as to hit the bones that make up the neural canal. When atlas is structurally aligned, there is no stress placed upon the base of the brainstem and top of the spinal cord. When it is shifted, however, it causes disturbances in the lateral tracts of the spinal cord (which are what directly set the resting muscle tone of the pelvic muscles) as well as the brainstem, which functions to control our sense of balance. This structural shift at atlas results in an imbalance between the left and right side of the hip muscles, with the most obvious sign being a raised hip on one side, and produces extra tension down one of the extremities as well. So if we have increased tension down the hamstring muscle group, as well as the quadriceps, is it reasonable to come to the conclusion that this would place greater resting strain on the ligature of the leg (namely the ACL, MCL, LCL, Achilles tendons). In fact, I also think that it is reasonable to assume that most athletes, or people who engage in moderate to high intensity workouts, expose themselves to forces which could produce a structural shift at atlas. So if an athlete has a shift at atlas, and the end result is that it has placed a much greater load on the ligature of the athlete's leg (by increasing the muscular tension), could it be the cause for their non-contact injury?
There is also a second cause that I believe could be the culprit in non-contact injuries. This second cause is a misalignment of the actual joints within the extremities. Let’s look at the knee specifically. When a knee is structurally shifted and is stuck in a state of internal rotation, it fatigues out the muscle that is responsible for holding the knee in external rotation (the popliteus muscle). Over time, small adhesions form, that hold the knee in slight (5-15 degrees) internal rotation. The popliteus muscle is put under greater load to try to rotate the knee externally, and it begins to fatigue and lose its strength, placing a greater and greater load on the ligament that is responsible for preventing internal/forward motion in the knee, the ACL. An athlete then cuts, for their 1,001st time, the popliteus is fatigued and gives out, places extra force on the ACL, and the ACL tears, all without any contact.
If you feel like you may be structurally shifted, contact us to see how restoring your foundation may help safeguard your joints.