Mechanotransduction is the basis behind why your physio keeps emphasizing that you need to do you exercises. And they are right, doing your exercises is so important – mechanotransduction is how the cells and structures in our body respond the exercises that we do to ensure that our injuries heal strong. In this post, I hope to convince a few more of you exactly why you should do your exercises…
Mechanotransduction can cause injuries and it can cure injuries – it is the all-powerful process through which our body is always changing and adapting to our environment. Here is how it works:
Mechanotransduction works in three stages:
Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine
1. The trigger
The trigger is when your cells get deformed, this can happen through for example when you are running, when pushing off your toes you contract your calf. This causing a large pull and stretch on your achilles tendon which in turn squeezes and tugs and pulls on the cells within the tendon as you can see in the picture to the left.
2. Tissue communication
In order for the entire muscle to know what is going on and adapt as a whole, the cells need to talk to each other. So after the cells are triggered through deformation, they release signalling proteins which spread the word from cells to cell. This is a very important steps as it means that stimulus at one location, results in a distant cell getting the new signal as well within a very short space of time.
This is where it all happens. This is when your tissues respond to this signal by increasing the production of protein and other building blocks for tissue healing and remodeling. This is where all that time and effort we put in at the gym or out on the training field pays off with our body adapting to the forces we out through it by saying “hey, you’re pushing yourself hard, it looks like we need to get stronger to handle this” and in turn making your tissues stronger.
The human body truly is an amazing thing and this is just one example of that. Machanotransduction is an ongoing physiological process in our bodies just like breathing and can really make or break us.
But also mechanotransduction isn’t the be all and end all – it can lead to injury as well. Here is a couple of ways in which in can be behind injury:
1. Through lack of use, there is less and less signals for your body to adapt and get stronger and your tissues can actually get weaker and de-conditioned (use it or lose it). If you then suddenly go and do something that you haven’t done in a while such as climb a mountain or go skiing – this can easily lead to injury because your body simply isn’t used to it and had adapted to that.
2. Actually through overload you can also cause injury – this is also often called “training error”. This is where you train very often or too hard without giving your body a chance to adapt and get stronger. Your tissues then end up continually trying to adapt and fix up all the little micro-tears that you made – this layers up and can lead to overuse injury. This is why it is so important to have relative rest days and break up repetitive activities.
So, it pays not to shock you body!
Conclusion: Mechanotransduction is the amazing process by which our tissues adapt to the forces we put through it by making more protein and adding more tissue where needed (larger muscle fibers, stronger bone etc)1. So when your physio asks you to do a specific exercise or gradually increase your activity by a certain amount – it is a for a reason, and a very good reason at that. Mechanotransduction is also the reason why rehab exercises and actually any training needs to be gradually increased (no huge jumps from running 5km to 20km!) – our body needs time to adapt and adjust, little by little.