What is Bioplasticity?
Bioplasticity, when broken down to its roots, literally translates to bio as meaning “life” and plasticity as meaning “changing.” Life Changing. And bioplasticity truly lives up to this name.
Bioplasticity is the idea that all the systems in our body, from the muscles to the skin to the immune system, have the ability to adapt to the demands placed upon it. Every system is plastic, meaning that, like any plastic material, it can be melted and recycled into many different shapes. This shows us the unique ability of the body to adapt, recover, and grow based on the different demands placed upon it over and over again.
Why is this relevant? This ability to adapt means change. What are some examples of bioplasticity within the body? Change due to the bioplastic potential of the body is seen over time after lifting weights. Muscles grow, bones get stronger, and the mind becomes more confident as the movements become more fluid. Immune bioplasticity is seen in the immune system when the body eliminates a pathogen upon second contact. A person who has had a stroke and slowly gains back motor function on the injured side is exhibiting neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity, specifically referring to the brain’s ability to grow and reorganize connections in response to learning or change, is very important in the field of physical therapy.
Professors Moseley and Butler of Noi group have popularized the idea of bioplasticity. Bioplasticity encompasses every system in the body, not just the brain like neuroplasticity does. In the above weightlifting example, neuroplasticity would refer to the changes in the brain (confidence and actual learning of the movement patterns) while bioplasticity refers to all the changes happening as a result of the weightlifting (increased cardiac function, muscle growth, and bone strength).
There is good and bad news regarding the bioplastic potential of the body, specifically in regards to persistent or chronic pain. Many times, pain can be the result of bioplasticity. The body can go into overprotective mode in response to some change, creating hyperactive pain pathways. This is known as bioplastic pain.
For example, someone comes to Made2Move because they’re experiencing low back pain, and our therapists conclude it is a result of weakness in the area. Pain is a normal human sensation but as Painless Health Institute of Australia notes, “tissue is not always the issue.” This means that bioplastic pain is not a reliable indicator for actual tissue damage. The low back can be healed or strengthened and a person may still report pain because, with the help of the bioplastic and neuroplastic abilities we possess, the body has learned to repeatedly produce the painful signal.
The good news, stated brilliantly by pain science expert Lorimer Mosely is: “bioplasticity got you into this situation and bioplasticity can get you out again.” What this means is that you can retrain the brain (and body) to get out of pain. This is the power of bioplasticity!
How does bioplasticity apply to fitness and physical therapy?
People come to physical therapy at Made2Move for a variety of reasons: acute injury, overuse injury, surgery, or unexplained pain that they can’t figure out the root of. Our job at Made2Move is to not only get to the root of a patient’s pain, but teach patients about the complexities of pain and that it doesn’t always indicate that there is damage in that tissue. Referred to by Dr. Aaron Kubal as “poking the bear,” we oftentimes allow, and even encourage a tolerable amount of pain in order to break the pathway of the pain signals. As counterproductive as it seems, allowing a tolerable amount of pain tells the body that “this movement is safe,” so you are able to eventually get back to that movement pain-free. This is an example of the bioplastic ability of the brain and body: a movement that once caused pain no longer causes pain because the body adapted.
Many common responses by doctors in response to patients with chronic pain is ‘stop doing __’ - the blank being whatever activity is causing the pain. For example, a runner comes to the doctor with knee pain and the first thing the doctor says is to “stop running.” The second thing the doctor will do is X-ray or MRI, in which they will report to the patient that there is wear and tear, arthritis, or some other scary “issue” in the painful area. This can actually increase the pain felt because there is now fear and stress associated with the pain which causes the body to 1: further reinforces the pain pathways and 2: discourages the body from using its bioplastic abilities for healing.
At all of our Made2Move locations, we are constantly researching modern pain science so that we can better understand the complexities of pain and give our patients the best chance of recovery. We strive to educate our patients on the science behind their pain and injuries, as well as the treatment modalities we utilize in sessions. Whether you’re at Made2Move Summerville or Made2Move Charleston, our therapists don’t believe that the solution to pain is to just stop doing the thing that is causing pain. While it may be necessary to temporarily cease the painful activity or the intensity of it, the goal is to get our patients back to doing the activities they love, pain free. Are you experiencing pain and been told you can no longer do the activity you love? Are you curious about the bioplastic ability of your body as a way to get out of pain? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org today to set up an initial consultation.