In this article, we’re going to talk about ligaments and creep. That’s not as in a creepy chiropractor, but as in “creep – the tendency of a solid material to move slowly or deform permanently under the influence of mechanical stresses.”
Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that hold your joints together. They are found throughout the body and are an incredibly important factor in terms of injuries and pain.
Ligaments have little ability to stretch or to tighten, so you can think of them as safety harnesses that really come into their own when a joint is moved too far. If you have ever rolled your ankle, it was your ligaments that stopped your ankle joint from becoming dislocated.
But they also have a really important postural function. As well as stopping you from dislocating your joints all of the time, ligaments are packed full of nerves that communicate with your muscles, via your spinal cord.
When a ligament is pulled taut, those nerves fire off and cause muscles around the joint to activate in an attempt to change the position of the loaded joint. This is an extremely helpful mechanism in protecting against injury.
Think about how many times you have sat in one position, started to feel an ache developing in your back and either stayed in that posture or moved momentarily and then returned to that posture immediately.
Creep happens when a tissue is loaded for a long period of time. In the case of ligaments, a long time is 20 minutes. If a ligament is loaded for longer than 20 minutes it begins to lengthen.
This lengthening of a ligament due to creep takes a very long time to reverse, and practically speaking it can be said that return to normal length is very unlikely.
And this is where the problem comes in. A long ligament does not get pulled taut as quickly as a short ligament, and so it does not restrain your joints from excessive or damaging movement. It also does not communicate with your muscles as effectively, meaning that they have less feedback about your joints and cannot protect them as well.
These things lead to over active, or tight, muscles, and to joint injury, commonly described as wear and tear.
There is a very simple lesson we can take from understanding this property of joint biomechanics, and that is that you must change your posture every twenty minutes. Whether you are sat, stood or lay, shifting your posture inside this time frame will help protect against wear and tear, tight muscles and joint pain.