The human body is an amazingly complex system of bones, joints, muscles, and nerves, designed to work together to accomplish one thing: motion. Remember that motion is life. Everything about the human body is designed with motion in mind: nerve fibers stimulate the muscles to contract, muscles contract to move the bones, bones move around joints, and the nerve system controls it all.
As a matter of fact, research has shown that motion is so critical to our body’s health that a lack of motion has a detrimental affect on everything from digestion to our emotional state, immune function, our ability to concentrate, how well we sleep and even to how long we live. If your lifestyle does not include enough motion, your body cannot function efficiently. First, you will not be as physically healthy and will suffer from a wide variety of physical ailments, ranging from headaches to high blood pressure. Second, you will not be as productive in your life because of reduced energy levels and the lack of ability to mentally focus. Third, because you have less energy, your activity level will tend to drop off even further over time, creating a downward spiral of reduced energy and less activity until you get to a point where even the demands of a sedentary job leave you physically exhausted at the end of the day.
Imagine waking up one morning with a frozen shoulder where you couldn’t move your upper arm more than a few inches in any direction. How much would that impact your ability to do your job? How much would that affect your ability to drive your car or even to dress yourself? How much would that affect your ability to concentrate on anything other than your shoulder? Obviously, if your shoulder did not move correctly, it would have a dramatic impact on your life. Well, the same is true with movement in every part of your body. If things aren’t moving the way they are supposed to move, it will have a negative impact on your ability to function at work, take care of the demands of everyday life, and even your ability to concentrate.
Many patients with severe low back pain report that their pain came on suddenly when they did something as simple as bend down to pet their cat, put on their socks, or pick up the newspaper. Just about everyone would agree that a person’s body should be able to handle such simple movements. So what has happened?
In every one of these cases, the joints of the patient’s body were “all locked up” -- they were barely moving at all. When the joints in one area of the body do not move the way they should, other areas of the body are forced to move more in order to compensate. This creates a significant stress on those areas that have to pick up the slack, and it soon leads to pain and inflammation. At the same time, the areas that don’t have normal movement will slowly worsen as the muscles continue to tighten, the joints stick together, and the ligaments and tendons shorten. This leaves the body in a very unstable condition; if left unchecked, this process will continue until the body can hardly move at all. That is how a person comes to suffer flare-ups of pain at the slightest provocation.
Most of us have seen people who have lost most of their normal mobility: they look like bodies have been starched stiff whenever they try to move around. This is especially prevalent among the elderly. Contrary to popular belief, however, this is not an inevitable effect of aging; rather it is the inevitable effect of not maintaining the body’s mobility through exercise, healthy alignment, and body mechanics. There are people in their 60s, 70s, or even older, who are stronger and more flexible than the average person in their 30s, simply because they keep themselves exercising.
Maintaining mobility is critical in order to live free from pain and disability. Maintaining good mobility is not difficult, but it does not happen on its own. Just as in developing a good posture, it is necessary that you perform specific exercises and stretches to keep your muscles, ligaments, and tendons flexible and healthy. In addition, it is necessary that all of the joints in your body are kept moving correctly as well. Although this can be achieved to a great degree through stretching, most people also find routine chiropractic adjustments to be very beneficial.
Balance and coordination exist when the body is used for what it is designed for. Exercises such as walking, swimming, yoga, pilates, bicycling, martial arts and bodybuilding all help to improve muscle coordination. Activities such as working at a desk, reading, and watching television do the opposite for the body. Without realizing it, most people have extreme stress in their muscles. This muscular tension contributes to muscle tightness, restricted movement, and joint pain. This occurs simply because they sit for many hours every day and do not perform regular exercises that will work to keep all of the muscles in their body in balance.
Strong muscles keep your body upright and allow you to move. Good muscle strength and balance are critical to maintain proper posture and minimize muscle tension. Your muscles function much like the wires that hold up a tall radio or television antenna. If the wires are equally strong on all sides, the antenna will stand up straight. If one of the wires becomes weak or breaks, the antenna will either lean to the side or collapse. The same is true with your body. If the muscles on all sides of your spine are balanced and strong, your body will stand up straight and strong. Unfortunately, most people don’t have balanced and strong muscles – due, once again, to lack of exercise and to misalignments of the spine.
Muscles are very efficient at getting stronger or weaker in response to the demands placed on them. Since most of us sit at a desk, drive a car, and sit on the sofa at home, many of our muscles are not challenged. Consequently, they become weak. At the same time, the muscles that are constantly used throughout the day become strong. This imbalance of muscle strength contributes to poor posture and chronic muscle tension. Left unchecked, muscle imbalances tend to get worse, not better, because of a phenomenon called "reciprocal inhibition."
Reciprocal inhibition literally means "shutting down the opposite." For all of the muscles that move your body in one direction, there are opposing muscles that move the body in the opposite direction. In order to keep these muscles from working against each other, when the body contracts one muscle group, it forces the opposing group to relax -- it shuts down the opposite muscles. When only one set of muscles is used consistently, the opposing group, from being continuously shut-down, is liable to atrophy.
This phenomenon is especially important to people who work at a desk, because all day long the same muscles in the upper back and chest area of the body are used. This means that all day long the body is essentially shutting down the opposite muscles in the middle back. Over time, the muscles in the middle back become very weak because they are not being worked like the muscles in the front. This contributes to poor posture and chronic muscle spasms and pain. The easiest way to correct this imbalance is to do specific exercises which will increase the strength of the back muscles, along with manual therapy and chiropractic care. Once the muscles in your middle back are strong, the tightness and poor posture simply disappear.