By Tom Fontana, MSPT
Set point is what every tennis player wants to achieve—the point, if won, that captures the set and moves you closer to winning the match.
Set point is also a theory used in endocrinology, and other fields, holding that systems have a point at which they are designed to operate and deviations from that point are signs the system is not working optimally. In physical therapy, we are often trying to move a person’s body—specifically their nervous system—back to its set point.
Sometimes your body is too “sleepy” and needs to be woken up and other times is too “amped up” and needs to be calmed down.
It’s confusing because sometimes the exact same technique (e.g., kinesiology taping) is used to achieve opposite effects. Hunh? How does that work? Think of it like the Aesop’s fable “The Satyr and the Traveller.” A traveller comes upon a Satyr (half goat, half man) in the woods on a cold winter’s eve. The Satyr notes the traveller blowing on his hands and is impressed when the traveller explains he is doing so to warm them up. Later, in the Satyr’s cave, the traveller is served a hot bowl of soup. After he blows on the soup and explains to the Satyr that he is doing so in order to cool it, the Satyr banishes him from the cave, wary of the traveller’s duplicitous, and untrustworthy, nature.
Just like with the traveller, the important effect of the treatment may not be what it does so much as what it does relative to the starting point.
So, if the explanation we give you of how something works seems to contradict an explanation we gave you earlier and you think we’re “blowing hot and cold,” don’t blame us—it’s just how your nervous system works!