Skin deep? The role of skin in motor control and dysfunction.

Many people are aware that dysfunction can occur from many different areas. Scar tissue, joint and ligament/tendon receptors, muscle fibres and many more factors contribute to pain and movement issues. The role of skin in providing feedback is not so prevalent in literature or discussed as a source of a client’s motor control, pain or dysfunction issues.

Whilst muscle and joint receptors are well known as proprioceptors, the skin contains a large amount of feedback from exteroreceptors originally proposed by Sherrington. These include:

Meissner – vibrationskin copy

Pacinian- vibration

Ruffini – pressure response

Krause – pressure in mucosal tissues

Merkel – pressure/touch to skin

Free nerve endings – nociceptive/pain stimulation

The skin provides feedback from external stimulus, adjusting steps and movement. Damage to the skin can be one of the many areas that clients often forget and for that matter, surgeries such as appendectomies, c –sections and kidney removal are just a few of the ‘small’ procedures that have not been mentioned in an initial session.

Deep abrasions on young tissue, which heal and visually, present little to see on an adult body, are common. A recent finding with a client was a certain amount of dysfunction between a deep unseen scar from falling from a bike 20 years ago playing havoc with the scar tissue and stability of   the same knee from a later ACL reconstruction. Using techniques such as PDTR (proprioceptive deep tendon reflex) and NKT (neuro kinetic therapy) it is possible to assess the impact of scars, seen or unseen on stability and motor control of muscle and ligamentous tissue.

Another common issue is the role of deep coloured tattoos and their impact on surrounding muscle tissue via skin receptor dysfunction. Usually dysfunction between quick pin tracts (Neospinalthalmic tracts) and slower pain (Paleospinalthalamic tracts) are prevalent with tattoos but depending on depth and other factors, dysfunction can present via the receptors suggested above.

Tattoos can create dysfunction in underlying and other tissues

Tattoos can create dysfunction in underlying and other tissues

 

Addressing muscular dysfunction can be useful and effective as part of the treatment but in addition to assessment of joint, ligament, tendon and pain pathways; assessment of the skin and its associated receptors should be an integral part of the client’s treatment.

 

References:

Palomar, J. Proprioceptive Deep Tendon Reflex. Course manual.

Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al. Neuroscience 2nd edition.

Sinauer Associates 2001.

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