By Lisa Ziegler:
We may not realize it, but most of us are moving through life and our daily activities in “stuck” mode. We wake up with aches and pains and just accept it as part of “getting old.” We injure shoulders, hips, and knees – not from running or playing football or doing activities that you might expect would cause this but from doing every-day, normal things. Some people will suffer from some type of joint pain and then go to their doctor who will send their patient to get an X-ray or an MRI. This may uncover some type of structural deviation. Pain meds may be prescribed, or in the worst case, a cortisone shot will be administered to relieve the sufferer of pain with the hopes that inflammation or another issue will go away and allow the body part to heal. The problem with this is that medical imaging doesn’t tell the entire story. Yes, we are supposed to lose cartilage, incur minor tears and damage to the structures that hold our joints together, but this is not the sole reason we have pain or get injured (if it is not from a physical accident).
Research has revealed information about the role of fascia – a network tissue that is found in every part of the body and acts not only as a protective sheath around muscles and organs, but also conducts energy, reacts to stressors that are applied to the body, transports fluid that allows the muscles and adjoining structures to slide-and-glide and much more. It turns out that inactivity, and specifically, continuous sitting contributes to a “dehydration” of this tissue, causing it to get “stuck” or molded in such a way as to inhibit the body’s normal functional movement. Now when most of us think of being dehydrated, we think of not drinking enough water. But in this case, inhibition of the flow of water in some parts, along with inappropriate accumulation of it throughout the body is a problem, as well as circulation of blood.
This dehydration also makes us more prone to changes in tissue length (shortening) and areas of bunching or sticking (your massage therapist may call these “knots”). Fascia, muscles, and tendons, etc., lose their ability to glide-and-slide, link, and transfer energy efficiently. This can happen when we get injured and do not do a good job of rehabbing the injury to restore previous range of motion, or it can happen as a result of repetitive faulty movement patterns, poor posture, and more. This is where remodeling the body to move better comes in. How do we do this? Through a multi-discipline approach, which involves first hydrating the tissue through techniques such as “self-myofascial release” or “foam rolling” – and applying the right kind of pressure and movement through this process. This requires gentle, slow movement, not painful pressure, as seen when people grimace when rolling over sensitive areas. This helps to re-direct the flow of fluid throughout the tissues. Types of foam rolling that may be beneficial in this process include the MELT method and the Soma System. The benefits of this include reduction of swelling in parts of the body, increased lubrication in joints, and more when practiced regularly, so it must be incorporated into a daily routine in order to see changes.
Next, re-molding is finding the right type of exercise or type of dynamic application of movement and stress, as well as the right amount, and repeating it enough for a change to take place and take hold is essential. The force applied may come in the form of resistance, such as external weights, or no weight at all, such as using isometric force (i.e., holding yoga poses without movement). What is right for one person is different for another, so this is a very individual process depending on a person’s experience, tolerance, base-level, and more.
Lastly, stretching and stretching enough and long enough to enact a change in the tissue is essential to re-mold the body to restore it to function.
All of these techniques help re-direct the flow of fluids (water and blood) throughout the tissues to help them move better. Once rehydration is achieved, changing the body through movement is essential in helping to decrease pain and discomfort. The intuitive thing for many is to not move when discomfort is felt, but staying immobilized forms the wrong kind of tissue, sort of like a scar tissue that does not help us.
The main message here is that no matter the aches and pains, or whether someone tells you “it’s just age” or if you have been injured or have arthritis and have to limit your activities, the structure of our bodies and tissues is still recoverable. It just takes persistence and practice. Finding a specialized class (there are classes that incorporate foam rolling, restorative yoga, functional movement) or finding a trainer or movement specialist who can help you get started are all essential. Once we realize that our body is a system, and the lower back, knee, hip, neck, etc., function within that system, we can restore function and overcome limitations we once thought would hold us back.