Muscles – Your Shock Absorbers

21 May 2021

It is hard to imagine muscles acting as shock absorbers for your body but that’s one reason why you are more prone to injury when the muscles are tight or unhealthy. When we think shock absorbers, we usually imagine things that cushion or push back. But muscles don’t cushion or push back, they contract.

How Do Muscles Absorb Shock?

So how do they absorb shock? Muscles absorb shock because they usually work in pairs to move our joints. By contracting, they can slow down a joint moving in the opposite direction.

Imagine catching a basketball thrown hard at your chest. Your palms face outwards to catch the ball. From the point the ball touches your palms, your triceps contract to absorb the impact and slows down the ball. Normally, when your triceps contracts, they extend your arms. In this case, they are slowing down the forced bending (flexion).

Your body is smart enough to accurately judge the speed and force of the contraction to slow the ball down just enough. Too fast or too hard, your arms won’t bend enough to absorb the shock, as if you were trying to catch the ball with your arms extended and locked at the elbows.

When muscles are tight, weak or poorly coordinated, their shock absorbing properties are limited.

Tight muscles have limited contracting range because they are already tense and short. Going back to the basketball example, it is like trying to gracefully slow the ball down from the point of impact over 1-2 inches towards the chest instead of 5-6 inches. Less momentum is bled off, leaving more for the rest of the body to absorb.

Also when muscles are weak or poorly coordinated, they can’t pull enough to slow things down enough or start pulling too late by a few milliseconds. Milliseconds may sound like a very short period of time. If the force is large or occurs repeatedly, this small difference can contributed to cumulative stress overtime.

To keep the muscles healthy, exercise and stretch regularly. If the muscles are tight, release them with deep tissue massages.

Image: flickr kcjc009