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Active vs Passive Restraints

Written on March 3, 2008 at 5:25 pm, by Eric Cressey

I’m of the belief that all stress on our systems is shared by the active restraints and passive restraints. Active restraints include muscles and tendons – the dynamic models of our bodies.

Passive restraints include labrums, menisci, ligaments, and bone; some of them can get a bit stronger (particularly bone), but on the whole, they aren’t as dynamic as muscles and tendons.

Now, if the stress is shared between active and passive restraints, wouldn’t it make sense that strong active restraints with good tissue quality and length would protect ligaments, menisci, and labrums (and do so through a full ROM)?

The conventional medical model – whether it’s because of watered-down physical therapy due to stingy insurance companies or just a desire to do more surgeries – fixes the passive restraints first. In some cases, this is good. For instance, if you have an acromioclavicular joint separation with serious ligament laxity, you’ll likely need surgery to tighten those ligaments up, as the AC joint is an articulation without much help from active restraints.

In other cases, it does a disservice to the dynamic ability of the body to protect itself with adaptation. Consider the lateral release surgery at the knee, where surgeons cut the lateral retinaculum on the outside of the knee, allowing the patella to track more medially. I’ve seen a lot of people avoid the surgeries (and, in turn, the numerous possible complications) with even just 2-3 weeks of very good physical therapy focusing on the active restraints. I’m not saying all these surgeries are contraindicated – just that we need to exhaust other options first.

So, the next time you’ve got an ache or pain, consider whether it’s an active or passive restraint giving you problems – and if it’s the latter, work backward to find out which active restraint you need to bring up to par.

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