Musculoskeletal pain is one of the main things that brings people into my office. Most of us have resigned ourselves to pain simply being a part of life. We’re even told by the medical establishment that it is simply part of getting older.
Pain from trauma or acute injury not withstanding, I generally don’t accept this ‘simply getting older’ argument. I think a much more likely culprit is the way we do or do not move our bodies on a regular basis.
For instance, I have joked with people that I have a job because people sit at computers all day long. They spend hours a day using only the tiny muscles of their hands and eyes, while hardly using the large “prime mover” muscles of the hips, legs & torso. As the number of hours a person spends in a chair accumulates over a lifetime, their body begins to adapt to this position. Hamstring and calf muscles become short & tight, as does the psoas (which helps stabilize the lumbar spine). Glut maximus muscles lengthen and become weaker. This alone correlates with most of the cases of low back pain I see in my office. When the glutes are no longer effective at extending the hip- a motion which allows us to standing up right from sitting, I find that more of the effective load shifts to the smaller, paraspinals muscles of the low back. This often leads to a person’s back going ‘out’ and musculoskeletal pain in the low back as these small muscles aren’t designed to take that much of the load. (Read more about why sitting is bad for you in my post Sitting is the New Smoking.)
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, if the problem is caused by the way a person is moving and using their body on a regular basis, then the solution should be aimed at this root cause. That’s because “you are how you move.”
Here’s a couple of examples:
- Baseball pitchers show a “twisting” of their humerous (upper arm bone) in their pitching arm on CT scans. Why would the bone twist? Because it is responding to constant twisting forces that come from the wind-up portion of the pitch. (Read more in Katy Bowman’s Whole Body Barefoot.)
- Ever known someone who has a bunion on one foot and not the other? If this was just genetic condition (as some people believe it is), it should happen on both feet because your feet are not genetically different from each other (unless you are the world’s first walking foot transplant recipient). The bunion develops on the foot where there has been downward movement of the arch, toward the ground. This results in forces that push the big toe to the side as the foot rolls over it or “toes off.” The bunion is a callous of bone that develops in response to this force.
I could go on, but for the sake of brevity, I won’t. The point is this: despite what it may seem, your bone structure is not fixed. Neither are your muscles. They simply react to the loads and forces placed upon them on a regular basis.
This means that even something like osteoarthritis- and it’s subsequent musculoskeletal pain- is subject to change! After all, what osteoarthritis really is, is a mal-adapation to forces and loads placed on a joint or joints from the way we use them (or don’t) over our lifetimes. This is essentially what mechanotransduction is- the physical loads and forces on a cell effect the way it’s DNA is expressed. (The word of the day kids is ‘mechanotransduction.’ Bonus points if you can use it in a sentence today!)
So how do you ‘fix’ this and end your musculoskeletal pain? The solution is simple, but its not easy. It requires a daily commitment. A commitment to move more- through a variety of ranges, positions and conditions. It requires a transition away from positive-heeled, overly built footwear, to zero-drop or minimal footwear. It requires a transition away from sitting at your desk in front of a screen all of the time, to standing, squatting or even sitting on the floor more and taking frequent screen breaks to ‘rest’ your eyes. It requires doing the daily work of performing corrective exercises that stretch and lengthen tight tissues while also committing to doing work to strengthen weak areas. In short, it requires commitment to a daily movement practice.
The good news is that this doesn’t have to take long. You can do many of these things while doing your normal daily activities. Watch for a future post about how to incorporate more beneficial movement into your daily routine. (You may want to sign up for my email list below to be notified when it’s posted. You’ll even get a free gift from me for signing up. Use the box below.)
In the meantime, if you are struggling with musculoskeletal pain and are looking for a doc who will help you work to fix the root cause, give my office a call at 845-687-6387.
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