In past articles, we discussed the importance of measuring the stress volume an athlete experiences in various parts of the body while performing. Repetition, or similar and frequent biomechanical patterns that occur while performing a task, have a huge impact on an athlete’s performance level. Most importantly, they create fatigue, which can lead to injury if the stress exceeds the athlete’s physical capabilities. In this article, we will address pattern overload and the leading indicators that should serve as warning signs for health care professionals working with their “industrial athletes.”
During a baseball game, coaches are continually looking for leading indicators of fatigue. Take a pitcher for example. In every game, the pitcher performs the same biomechanical movement over and over again. He throws the ball in an overhead manner hoping to whip it past the batter. As the innings mount up, the pitcher begins to tire. Both the pitcher and the coaching staff will note the first signs of fatigue—a decrease in the break on his curveball or the speed of his fastball. As fatigue mounts, the pitcher continues to lose effectiveness with his pitches. Eventually, the coach will pull him out of the game and bring in a relief pitcher. In much the same manner, health care professionals should be observing the employees under their care, looking for the leading indicators of declining quality or productivity. These “pattern overloads” occur not only on the pitcher’s mound, but also in the industrial workplace. They should be avoided at all costs.
“Pattern overload” is the term Ergo-ology’s Ergonomists use to describe a restricted movement in one or more planes of motion. This condition primarily results from an inability to properly load share, being isolated or restricted to a specific motion with loss of movement freedom in one or more planes, and overuse of any given pattern of movement, regardless of freedom of joint motion. During such events, the body will naturally sequence the recruitment of muscles to provide optimal load sharing across as many muscles and joints as possible in an attempt to protect and minimize unwanted injury.
When the body learns a pattern of movement, it becomes increasingly efficient at performing it. Consequently, the body will look for the most efficient pattern of movement as fatigue becomes more of a factor. Typically, the correct movement pattern will use much more energy than a poor, risky biomechanical movement. That’s why you can come across some athletes with poor biomechanical techniques even if they are fully aware of how to employ the correct biomechanics of moving their bodies while performing.
To obtain the best control of pattern overload, coaches generally turn professional athletes return to their focus areas of biomechanical & motor development training. Since baseball coaches have limited control over the athlete’s environment, they focus instead on the athlete—building muscular fatigue resistance through strength conditioning so the demands of the game do not induce a level of fatigue that prompts the athlete to employ a poor, but energy-efficient movement pattern.
However, an Ergonomist will focus on making the task less repetitive for the industrial athlete. This can happen through a physical change in the working environment, a job-rotation program, or by adding additional “athletes” to complete the same amount of work in the allotted amount of time.
In the next article in our series, we will look at the muscle-tendon unit and how a combination of biomechanical movement patterns and external loads (weights) affect its biological properties. Stay tuned.
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By: Katie Dwyer