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A Guide to Better Movement by Todd Hargrove


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  • 5 weeks later...

After hearing about this book from Craig's post here, I picked up the kindle version for some on-the-aeroplane reading for my most recent trip.

I thought the book was great. A lot of focus on the brain and nervous system's involvement with movement, and some interesting stuff on pain and the perception of it. A lot of the stuff I've heard from other people, or read from other books (e.g. "The Body Has a Mind of Its Own" for a lot of the brain stuff), but it was nevertheless a great collection of this information - and I guess fairly concise distillation of the most relevant parts - into this book.

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I haven't read the book yet, but I read a bunch of stuff on Hargrove's site after hearing about him during Kit's interview at the Well-Rounded Athlete. He seems to be mostly on point, but as a neuroscientist, I would caution against putting too much faith in what he says about how the nervous system works. At least in many of the articles on his site, I sense that he may really know what he is talking about but is just oversimplifying so much that his words are misleading.

The example that bugs me the most is the "pain is an output of the brain, not an input from the body" idea. This is so simplified that it is essentially wrong as written. There are nerves and molecules in the body whose whole reason for being is to send pain signals to the brain. They do nothing else. Just as there is a dedicated set of cells connected to your left pinky finger that tell the brain the finger has touched something, an entirely different set of dedicated cells connected to that finger exist to tell your brain when that finger will likely be damaged. The pain system is not just in the brain.

To be sure, I understand what he is driving at, he is technically correct, and he is attacking a simplistic and incorrect view of pain. But here he tries to replace one simplistic notion with another simplistic notion, and that's never a good idea. His wording and explanation on this topic are so dumbed down that he gives the impression that pain is just in your head. I fear that the "no pain, no gain" crowd will be particularly susceptible to that impression. It may be a fine shorthand for his chronic pain clients, but it's a pretty bad shorthand for the dude who is trying to understand what to do about the pain in his knee from the new movement he just tried.

Hargrove is, of course, correct in that pain is a perception and perceptions are generated by the brain. But stopping there is like talking about visual perception without mentioning that you have eyes. It's true that there are fascinating ways in which the brain constructs what you "see". But that perception is supported by a famously intricate sensory apparatus that is specially designed to deliver useful information about light. I think it is fair to say that you don't understand vision if you ignore that first-order apparatus. Vision is a sensory system that is both in the eyes *and* in the brain (and elsewhere too).

In the same way, pain is in the periphery *and* in the brain. It is an integrated system. I think Hargrove understands this and he may elaborate in the book, but I think the way he elides the complexity on his blog will harm more than it will help.

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Ok, I've since bought and read this book, and Hargrove's treatment of the nervous system is pretty excellent there. He goes into detail about the variety of ways that pain can manifest and is very accurate and careful. Bravo! It's a very solid layman's account. I found myself nodding along a lot.

You should read his book (it's surprisingly cheap in Kindle form!) in preference to his blog posts (especially this misleading one: http://www.bettermovement.org/2010/seven-things-you-should-know-about-pain-science/), at least on the topic of pain.


I do quibble with the terms "neuromatrix" and "neurotag" which I realize he didn't create, but he does use them. This is just a faddish and vague way of saying that pain works in exactly the same way that any sensory/perceptual system works, and I'm not sure it adds any helpful concepts. I work in a lab that works on pain sensory neurons. I've never heard of these terms in the neuroscience community.

Also, I can't go with Hargrove that modeling adults on how a baby learns to move is an especially great way to think about moving better. Even if we grant his premise that babies move gracefully and well, we know that the way that children learn things is very different because they are operating in a window where the nervous system is especially good at learning--a critical period. Once the critical period is closed, it is likely that the optimal learning strategies will be somewhat different.

That said, I'm betting his movement principles will work for people nonetheless.

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