DESIGN FOR LIFE
Who is more fit? Is it a small woman with elastic muscles and naturally aligned bones or a much larger man with six-pack abs and firmly developed pecs, deltoids, and biceps?
The small woman is able to carry heavy rocks on her head all day long, day after day, without strain. Because the weight of the load is distributed through aligned bones, the bones actually do the work of carrying the load. Her muscles are thus free to perform their primary job of moving the bones without strain. The musculoskeletal system functions as a dynamic interplay between bones and muscles that requires the bones to be aligned and the muscles to be elastic. This balanced interplay is the hallmark of true fitness.
This man is clearly strong in ways the woman is not. His power lies within his muscles alone, not in an overall integrated whole of fully functioning parts. The popular culture of fitness today is partly based on the idea that developed muscles are a requirement. Unfortunately, muscles that have been developed in this way are storehouses of contracted tension, making it difficult for them to lengthen and relax. This type of strength must be worked at continuously and is dependent on a regular maintenance routine. This man’s spine is shortened and compressed. His breathing is restricted because of a diaphragm that doesn’t move in a natural, efficient way. The range of motion of his shoulders and hips is greatly restricted. It is ironic that the strength he has worked so hard to acquire has also become a type of weakness.
The modern-day confusion about what constitutes authentic strength and natural, easy flexibility is at the root of most of the chronic pain experienced by millions of people every day. In the United States today, millions of people live with chronic aches and pain that severely limit their activities, affect their ability to work, cost them thousands of dollars in lost wages, and impair their enjoyment of life. Employers, insurance companies, and workers’ compensation funds pay billions of dollars each year for lost time on the job and benefits to injured employees.
- has its power in purposely developed muscles
- must be continuously worked at to be maintained
- limits the range of motion of the joints
- restricts elasticity of the diaphragm
- compresses the spine
- has its power in aligned bones
- is innate and reinforced in ordinary activities
- promotes natural, easy flexibility of joints
- elongates the spine
Whether pain is chronic and low level or severe and debilitating, it has become an enormous problem in our country. In fact, pain is so common that it has come to be considered a normal fact of life. The epidemic of chronic pain has given way to a new medical specialty--pain management--because it is assumed that, in many cases, pain is something one simply must learn to live with. Too often pain management relies on the use of prescription drugs that generate billions of dollars in profits for pharmaceutical companies, while driving a crippling addiction problem for millions of Americans.
The list of complaints is long and includes general unexplained lower back pain, hip and knee pain, arthritis, tendonitis, sciatica, fibromyalgia, plantar fasciitis, frozen shoulder, rotator cuff injury, herniated or bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, spondylolesthesis, temporamandibular joint disorder (TMJ), and chronic tension in neck and shoulder muscles. Much of this pain appears to be idiopathic, meaning it has no clear, discernible cause, making it difficult for doctors to know how to treat it. When asked what caused their pain, people will often say things such as “I shouldn’t have lifted that box of books” or “I’ve been running for twenty years, and my knees finally wore out” or “I’m not as young as I used to be.”
If any of these people knew what their bodies were actually telling them, they might respond with more accurate answers, such as “Bending to lift a box of books, my pelvis was tucked under, causing my spine to round and preventing my core from stabilizing my spine. This forced my back to strain rather than being able to rely on aligned bones working with the strength of my legs and arms to do the work.” Or, “Running for twenty years with misaligned bones has put persistent stress on my knees, causing the cartilage to wear out.” Or possibly, “This aging body is now paying the price for not living according to its natural design.”
It can be startling to discover that exercise in and of itself, and in spite of its obvious benefits, is seldom the solution for this kind of pain over the long run. In fact, because exercise can reinforce and embed unhelpful patterns of movement, it can, and often does, cause many people’s pain in the first place. Eventually we all pay the price if our bones have not been able to do the job of supporting us throughout the years.
Musculoskeletal pain is far less of a problem in some parts of the world, even in places where people do a lot of manual labor for years on end. The secret seems to be that some people never lose the biomechanical principles of the human design, something all healthy toddlers discover when first learning how to stand and walk.
In our popular quest for fitness and a culturally imposed standard of beauty, many of us unwittingly disregard the importance of skeletal alignment and create conditions that compromise our long-term health. A misaligned skeleton causes muscles that attach to the skeleton to either shorten or lengthen unnaturally. This creates chronic tension that restricts mobility of certain joints. It also impairs breathing, compresses vertebrae, puts pressure on and distorts the spinal cord (the primary neural pathway), and affects circulation. It would be hard to argue with the fact that all of these factors have far-reaching consequences for one’s health.