The Four S’s…Fix Your Habits, Fix Your Pain

We live in a time of extremes. Our health insurance bills are higher on preventable diseases and conditions, while our expenditures on health related products have never been more. The average American will spend more than 4.5 hours a day watching TV, at the same time extreme training DVD’s like P90x and INSANITY are of hottest “fitness” trends. I am not sure just how any that makes any sense but I do know one thing….WHAT WE ARE DOING IS NOT GOOD!   The truth is that more than ninety percent of all chronic pain that we feel is related to what we do, whether that means nothing or way too much.

The bones that make our body are dense enough to survive 150 years. These bones stack one on top of another to form joints whichh is enveloped together by a web of fascia containing connective tissue and muscles to allow for the body to be mobile. The problem of pain and poor movement begins when these muscles push and pull our joints out of place and tack down the fascia.  You can stop right here if you can easily pass this next test

THE WALL ALIGNMENT TEST

Find a wall to stand against and remove your socks and shoes. Align the back of your heels, tailbone, shoulders and head against the wall. Its ok, if you can’t do this already but please, keep reading. If you were able to do this, you are AWESOME, but definitely not done with our experiment. Now, try to maintain that posture and flatten you lower back against wall as well.

If you could do that without any extra movements (ie rolling your shoulders in, buckling at your knees, etc.) then GAME OVER and you win, if not you have to keep reading. I guess, even if you did somehow manage to complete this task you should ask your self, “How do I feel?”

WHAT THIS MEANS

The wall test is great because in a matter of seconds it uses standing as a diagnostic indicator that something may be off in your musculosketal system. I mean standing up-right is a big part of what defines humans as a human, but most people are just not able to do it. Ask yourself what you felt and where? Did it feel as if you were falling forward? Did your knees buckle or did your heels raise? If the answer is yes, it doesn’t mean that aren’t part of the human species, it just means that you have allowed your habits to influence your body and create dysfunction.

You see the thing is that the connective tissue and muscles are meant to be in balance. The balance that is created between the front and back half of our bodies is supposed to allow for us to stand for hours with ease. The reality is not many of us could take minutes, let alone hours. Honestly, our habits are doing us in.

WHY

One of the most magical features of the human body is its ability to adaptatively respond. It is the obvious things, like sweating when it is too hot to cool the body’s temperature or increasing respirations to deliver more oxygen when the demand is greater to working muscles. One phenomenon that occurs is muscular creep. Essentially what this means is the length of muscle tissue will change according to positions that it is set in for extended periods. Shirley Sahrmann reports in her work that if muscle tissue is left for 20 minutes without change in length than it can take 40 minutes to reset itself when actively stretched. Think about the amount of time the average person spends behind a steering wheel or at a computer screen or repetitively throws a ball or clocks in mile after mile doing the same motion over and over again. Our habits influence change to take place in the length of our muscle and therefore put our body out of alignment.

POOR POSTURE CREATES PAIN

If you have ever tried hold up a bag of groceries for an extended period of time, you have no doubt felt the pains of lactic acid buildup in your bicep muscle. Lactic acid (LA) is that burning you feel when your muscles are just worked too hard. This acid is produced as a by-product of your body producing energy to keep your muscle contracted. Now consider that we have more than 800 muscles in our body.  The same thing occurs when we have muscles that are working too hard to keep your body upright.  Chronic pain and constant muscular tension go hand in hand. what happens is that so much acid builds up around the pain receptors that the bloodstream cannot flush it away that pain and stiffness are the end result.

ALIGNMENT INFLUENCES MOVEMENT

Hopefully you are starting to connect the dots and get the point that staying immobile for too long is not a good idea. That certainly doesn’t mean just get up right away and start moving right away. Try this while your reading. Roll your shoulders as far forward as you can and attempt to raise your arms over your head. Now, sit up as tall as you can and reach your arms over your head. Obviously there was a big difference and you could reach much higher and with greater ease the second time.

My point with that little experiment is to show you that structure feeds into function and function feeds into structure. If you body isnt aligned properly, it will still do whatever it can to perform the desired task but that doesn’t make it safe. Being in the correct posture or taking the wrong shape to repeatedly perform movement is how “-itis” develops. You know like tendonITIS or arthRITIS. These can  most certainly be the end result of misaligned joints rubbing against bones and other tissue over and over again.

WHAT TO DO

The format to address chronic pain that is a result of constant muscle tension is simple. You release a tissue, stretch it and then integrate it back into the whole system with strength training. The key is being consistent with the correct exercises and reinforcing with proper habitual movements and posture. I will get into the simple exercises and streches that you can do another time, but I will spend the rest of this article illustrating ways that you can alter little habits to help reduce pain.

THE FOUR S’s

The Four S’s are standing, sitting, sleeping, and stepping (walking).  When you think about it, it would be a combination of these actions how we spend the majority of our time.

SITTING

If you look at our skeleton, there really is absolutely no ideal way to sit. Most people when they plop down in a chair, they will round their lower back immediately and this just sets up back pain pretty easily. So the advice that your grandmother would give you to sit up with shoulders came with tremendous biomechanical insight. That is really just not enough though. Rememeber that muscles adapt to shapes. So if we stay in one position for too long, we will get chronic muscle tension. That being said the key to sitting is probably fidgeting. Be wary of your legs, hips, shoulders and neck to not let them sit in one position for great lengths of time. In addition, here are a few other ideas:

  • include variety in where you sit (change your office chair, position on couch, etc.)

  • always stand to answer phone calls or when someone enters the room

  • keep a box near to reposition your legs by placing them on it

  • try to adjust your computer height

  • avoid sitting through commercials

I think the biggest thing is really making sure that your lower back doesn’t round and that you can maintain an arch. With that being said try to be real conscious of your upper body posture when you sit. Try hard not to let your shoulders roll forward (i.e. at the dinner table) your spine is a continous  chain and what you do at one end affects what happens at the other. If you round at the top it will round at the bottom.

STANDING

The biggest thing with standing really is being even. For me it is really important at this point to realize that your feet can talk. What I mean is the next you are barefoot and standing, really try to feel what the pressure on your feet are telling you about body position. Actually, try this little experiment now. Stand up a couple feet behind your chair and lean as far forward and feel what is happening on the bottom of your feet. You should feel the pressure move forward to your toes. The same feeling would happen if you moved to left or the right. Your feet tell you where your body is going. With that being said make sure to try to keep your feet underneath your body and your toes facing forward. Avoid stances in which you put a leg out to the side or in front. This will just feed into imbalance.

SLEEPING

Sleeping is a big one. Think about how many hours we spend in the same position without moving. If we don’t adopt the correct position then it is easy to see how our muscles could creep into postures that contribute to pain.With that being said people generally fall into three categories of sleepers and each gets its own advice.

  • back sleeper-Try using a little pillow that supports you neck well and keep your knees bent with a pillow under them. This will keep your spine in a neutral position and help you avoid waking up with an achy back.

  • side sleeper- Side sleeping isnt the greatest idea because you put so much downward pressure on one hip and shoulder so it is best to avoid. What you can do is put a pillow between your knees and extend your bottom arm out in front of your body. This will make it a little easier on your hip and shoulder.

  • stomach sleeper- JUST DON’T DO IT!

STEPPING

My advice for stepping has mostly to do with footwear at this point. it really is unfortunate that we have to wear shoes. Our feet were designed with arches so that we could travel across different uneven surfaces. By putting our feet in boxes, we limit the capability of foot to talk to our leg and tell the rest of the body what to do while walking. Anyways, there a few things I would suggest when choosing footwear.

  • avoid heels- This also means running shoes. Although, they may look good, your hips must tilt to accommodate the extra height and that could end up meaning back pain.

  • make sure to give your toes space- Avoid shoes that crowd your toes. Your toes are supposed absorb the ground and spread when your foot hits the surface.

  • consider orthotics-We spend a whole lot of time on our feet. If  your arch is high or low you may need more support. Until you can strengthen your foot and ankle it may be a good idea.

Anyways I hope this helps. Just remember that structure feeds function and that function feeds structure…..Jeremy

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Categories: body maintenance

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