The sink model helps us to understand why pain might persist, why recovery from an injury may take longer or why a flare-up of symptoms has occurred.
One thing is certain when pain or injury occur…you will have numerous thoughts about it. What is causing it? Why hasn’t it recovered? Why isn’t it recovering even though I am doing my rehab plan? My symptoms have increased, have I reinjured it? Why am I having some good days and some bad days? Do I need a scan/injection/therapy/surgery?
This can be a confusing time and sometimes things don’t appear to make sense.
For some individuals the cause is obvious and for others, there was no initial injury. When there has been no obvious injury, such as landing on someone’s foot and rolling your ankle, it can be hard to pinpoint why symptoms started. Sometimes, this is because we need to look further than an injury such as an impact, trip/fall or rolling an ankle. There might be a single cause or factor, whilst for others, it might be multiple combining factors.
The sink model can help answer all of the above. It can help you to understand which factors might be contributing and what approaches might help you recover. In addition, the model can be applied to help you understand why other health issues have started. It can also help you to understand why your function or performance on the court have been affected.
The Sink Model
Think of the body as being a sink. In that sink, there is always a bit of water. This bit of water represents neuromuscular tension, also known as stress. We actually need neuromuscular tension (stress) in order for our body to function…to stand up straight and move around.
The level of water is constantly changing but there will always be a certain amount of tension in the body somewhere. This is often outside of your awareness.
The sink has a tap and it adds more water to the sink to fill it up. Certain stressors to your body will turn the tap on and add more tension (or stress) to you and your body. Small stressors will turn the tap on a little, whilst big stressors will turn it on a lot.
Stressors to the body that could turn your tap on are:
- Increases in training load
- Poor conditioning/fitness
- Poor recovery time/strategies
- Activity cycles
- Poor nutrition
- Poor sleep
- No relaxation/ Me time
- Tobacco/ Alcohol use
- Other health conditions
- Low mood
- Anger/ Fear
- Feeling useless
- Daily Stressors
- Negative Life Events (Trauma)
- Negative thoughts/ mindset
Whilst these are the main factors, there could be more, the list is long.
Sinks can overflow
If the sink fills too much, the water starts to overflow and this is when pain and other symptoms may increase. This might be why you aren’t recovering from an injury or why your symptoms persist. It may help explain why other health issues have started also. This may also help with understanding why your function or performance on the court has been affected.
The problem with the overflow is, that it actually adds more stress and tension to the body and refills the sink even more. This can then be a vicious circle. Now the reason it is overflowing is different to the reason the tap started flowing in the first place.
Draining the sink
Sometimes we can turn the tap down a bit…some individuals will be able to get it down to a trickle. However, for some, the tap can’t be turned down at all.
Fortunately, the sink has a plughole too. There are also factors that can pull the plug out more and allow water to run out faster.
- Understanding the pain/injury
- Appropriate Rest and Relaxation
- Connection with others/social activity
- Planning, problem-solving and goal-setting
- Pleasurable physical activity
- Sense of meaning & purpose
- Good sleep
- Good Nutrition
- Reducing alcohol/Smoking and improving lifestyle
- Tailored condition/ Rehab programme/ Therapy
How the sink model can help you
Firstly, if you want to understand why the problem started. Reflect on what was going on when your pain/injury started. Or when your function/ performance started to decrease. However, if you can’t work out why don’t worry, it is not needed to improve. All you need to do is work out what is filling up your sink and what might drain the water away.
Recognise what is, or has been flowing through the tap and whether they are in your control so you can turn these factors down?
Accept the factors that you cannot change and move them to one side. Understanding what is going on will slow down the flow from the tap.
Do what you can and set goals around the factors that will pull the plug and drain your sink.
In doing this, it might also help you understand why your symptoms fluctuate from day to day. Or even month to month.
Remember, these tips and resources are for general use and are not specific advice for individuals. Always check before you follow the guidance.