The Importance Of Stretching, Part 1

Morning-StretchYou’ve woken up from a bad night’s sleep with a kink in your neck. Doing the same motions every day at work is starting to take its toll on your body. You don’t seem to handle the pace of your life as well as you used to, you’re always a little tense inside. And it’s getting harder to reach your shoelaces.

You need to stretch! As a massage therapist, it was the most common piece of advice I had for my clients. Muscular stiffness is one of the easiest physical problems to get – don’t prevent it and it will eventually happen – and the jobs, lifestyles and stresses of modern life do little to improve the situation. Fortunately, it is also one of the easiest physical problems to prevent, and the medicine is easy and enjoyable to take.

Muscles are designed to contract. The fibers they’re made of, when signalled by the nervous system, ratchet together and become shorter, with the cumulative effect of pulling bone A towards bone B with a great amount of strength and speed. Then, when their action is no longer needed, the impulses to the fibers stop, the ratchets let go their hold, and our muscles relax out to their former length – ideally.

But many of us have forgotten how to relax. Established postures, hidden stress, and the busyness of life ensure that our muscles don’t always let go, and we stay tense. Over time, tension settles into stiffness, like an elastic band gone brittle. And that’s when the problems begin. Stiff muscles and fascia limit the movement of our joints, which need movement to stay healthy; they limit blood flow, starving our tissues and messing with blood pressure; they reduce our natural agility, making us clumsy; and they rob us of vitality, for it takes energy to keep our muscles tight. Being stiff means that you don’t move well, not all your energy is available to you, and you’re more susceptible to illness, degeneration and injury than you need to be.bear-swimming

Stretching is really that important. Our bodies are wonderfully adaptive mechanisms, and will put up with years of abuse and neglect, but eventually the unstretched person will suffer from aches, pains, and reduced body functioning and vitality which can easily be regained. More next time on the benefits of a loose body, and suggestions for how to accomplish it.

Published in: on September 14, 2014 at 9:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Massage Therapy Case Study: The Case Of The Shifty Spine

beautiful nude spineBilly sure had us puzzled. I was working in a clinic with two other massage therapists, a naturopath, and a chiropractor, and he’d seen us all. Billy had a peculiar problem – he was shifted to the left, and couldn’t get back.

Billy was healthy – early twenties, easygoing, a lanky six feet and slightly more proportioned to the trunk than the legs. Billy was strong from his work as a labourer, no previous health problems. He simply woke up one morning and found himself standing crooked. He had no pain of any kind, but his entire upper body shifted to the left at L4, just above his hips. “I feel like I’m always walking in circles,” he said.

The Amazing Adaptive Spine

Lots of people stand with their shoulders lateral to their hips, for many reasons – a short leg, a torqued pelvis, a locked facet joint, compressed ribs, to name just a few. Almost all of these produce subtle but characteristic changes in the amazingly adaptive architecture of the spine. Each vertebral block will sit a little bit sideways, and twist a little bit to the outside of the resulting curve, all the way up the column until the offending misalignment is as neutralized as it can be – until the head is once again being carried as level as possible. Almost nobody is without some level of lateral correction in their spinal column, and it is a testament to the adaptability of the human form that so few of us even notice.

Lateral spinal correction is supposed to be a gentle, gradual thing; Billy’s was like one block – L4 – was trying to divorce L5 and move out. His lumbar paraspinal muscles, quadratus lumborum, and erector spinae were in solid spasm all around the area. I spent three sessions using thorough neuromuscular massage to remove all the tightness, and sure enough Billy would be straight again when he stood up. For about a second and a half. Then clunk, he’d be crooked again.

The Answer

Two months after Billy finished with all of us he came back for a visit, walking normally. Detailed scans had finally revealed the culprit – a chunk of the L4-5 disk had broken off and was floating inside his spinal column. Disks have few sensory nerve fibers, thus the lack of pain, but his spine couldn’t tolerate the wandering invader. A good surgeon plucked it out, and Billy was immediately fine.

Published in: on September 15, 2013 at 4:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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