We tend to think about our daily exercise as strengthening our muscles or stretching our muscles. We do it every day, we are committed and diligent to maintain our strength and flexibility. If we stopped any part of our routine, we’d lose ground and our body would suffer, right? While there is truth to this, it may not be the appropriate thing to do when you are in pain. As Egoscue therapists we are trained to look at the body using a different approach.
In my physical therapy training, I learned the origin and insertion of all of the muscles and where they connect to the bones. I was taught the particular function and range of motion of each of the individual muscles. In physical therapy, I was trained in specific techniques to treat neck pain, back pain, hip pain, knee pain, shoulder pain – you name it. I also designed personal fitness programs to get people strong. I taught stretch classes to relax tight muscles. I owned a fitness studio in the 1980’s when aerobic classes were the thing to do. I taught classes 7 days a week and had so much fun! I was in great shape but my body was a mess. Why? I never thought about the position of my joints. Even with pain, I would have been hard-pressed to give up my exercise. It was a big part of my life. My new Egoscue clients feel the same way when initially stepping back from their exercise might be necessary. They feel as though they will lose ground with their fitness.
Here is what I now understand from my training and certification utilizing the Egoscue Method for the last 13 years. Our habits and old injuries can change the position of our joints. When joints no longer line up correctly, an uneven force goes through them when they bear the weight of your body. This new uneven pattern wears down the cartilage and changes the balance of the muscles. Some muscles are doing more work than they are designed to do, causing them to get stronger and other muscles are doing less work than designed, causing them to weaken. The overall loading of the joints is now very compromised. Let me give you an example:
John Doe works at his desk all day with his back rounded and shoulders slumped over his computer. Years of this posture becomes habit and his muscles now rest in this position. Some of his muscles have shortened over time making it difficult for him to stand straight and pull his shoulders back. It feels normal to have rounded shoulders. John Doe really does not think about it. He has no pain. John Doe goes to the gym and does weight training. His shoulders and his upper back are rounded as he performs bicep curls. Yes, he is strengthening his bicep muscles but, he is also reinforcing the uneven loading of his spine and shoulders.
Fast forward a couple of years and John Doe now has lower back pain. The rounding in his upper back and shoulders changed his center of gravity. This causes the muscles of his lower back to work harder to compensate for the changed center of gravity. The body’s response is that the lower back muscles are tight, creating pressure on the nerves. Strengthening and stretching the muscles of the low back will NOT change the position of the rounded upper back and shoulders. John Doe’s back pain is caused by the position of this upper back and shoulders.
John Doe looks everywhere for relief – physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture. Everyone is trying very hard to help but focusing on his back. He still hurts. He finally ends up at Pain Free. In order to help him using the Egoscue Method, we focus on his body as a unit, his alignment. We might recommend temporarily changing how he works his biceps until his upper back and shoulders are in a better position. Does this mean he can never do bicep curls again with weights? Absolutely not! It just means that he may need to back off his old exercise routine a bit until his body responds to the new exercise designed to correct the upper back and shoulder position.
You can understand now that everything in the body is connected. Working on the body part that hurts will not change the way the body moves. The Egoscue Method has taught me how to look at the body as a whole, no longer thinking about strengthening or stretching muscles but alignment. When John Doe stands in front of me in pain, my focus is determining misalignment, what is necessary to correct it and getting him back to his life pain free. Maybe his focus is to be out of pain so that he can get back to his bicep curls. We both win.