As a massage therapist who works every day on clients who are in chronic pain and dysfunction, I love to continually study the body and understand HOW and WHY the body responds the way it does to pain.
Through intense study with the “masters of massage”, I have come to understand the complex nature of the body, and its magical healing components. I come from an IT background, so I love the fact that the body is logical – it does what it needs to do to maintain balance and harmony.
Pain – Spasm – Pain Cycle
One of the first things we teach relating to pain treatment is something called the “Pain – Spasm – Pain Cycle” which looks like this:
Basically, “something” injures the client – whether trauma related, or sleeping funky. It doesn’t matter what it is – the client has pain, which causes them to guard and protect the area. Lack of movement causes lack of blood flow and a local chemical build-up in the area (trigger point), resulting in more pain and spasm.
This vicious cycle will continue until there is an intervention of some sort to stop the pain cycle from repeating. It’s important to note that this cycle could continue for years – even from a whiplash from a car accident 20 years ago.
Scar tissue – or as I like to call it, “muscle enemy #1” – results where there was injury and this fibrous tissue has replaced the normal tissue. Scar tissue is a natural part of the healing process and it should be noted that scar tissue is weaker than the original tissue it replaces.
Scar tissue can bind up many layers of muscle and connective tissue, causing varying degrees of limited movement and pain. Think of scar tissue like a snag in a sweater – it pulls fibers around it causing the snag to grow. Scar tissue in the body is very invasive; it pulls from the area around it and restricts movement of the joint.
The symptom picture of scar tissue looks like this:
- Impaired range of motion
- Circulation problems
- Nerve impediment
The Laws of Posturology
Like I said earlier, I am passionate about understanding HOW and WHY the body responds to pain. Once you grasp the laws, it’s easy to see the how and why. This area of research is called Posturology – which is the “science of human balance in every physiological condition.”
The coolest law of all the laws is called the “Righting Reflex” – which dictates our ability to remain upright to maintain a sense of balance. Basically, this law describes how your head will adjust (by tilt or rotations) so that the eyes can remain even with the horizon. Whether from a collapsed foot arch, leg rotations, increased hip flexion, anatomical leg length inequality, etc., the body will over time adjust to meet the Righting Reflex law so that the eyes can attempt to be even on the horizon.
Now, because of the Righting Reflex, there are physical forces applied on the body which CAUSE the pain response – and these physical forces will always do it’s thing because of gravity:
Now, let’s put this into terms that you might be more comfortable with:
- Compressions cause wear and tear injuries – such as disk bulges, SI Joint problems, hip degradation and pain. You’ll feel “compressed.”
- Torques – think of it like a wet towel being squeezed for years – over time, torque wears down the discs causing Degenerative disc disease
- Shearing causes facet problems, spinal cord pinching, derangement of discs.
Perhaps you’ve been to a doctor and he tells you that you have a bulging disc between L4-L5 and that perhaps surgery is the only option. I look at the bulging disc as a symptom and NOT the problem. As a body worker, I look at the posture of my clients and work at getting them back in order and we find that, in most cases, the pain problems resolve.
All of these posture patterns lead to something I call “Structural Sickness” – which manifest in all kinds of syndromes, including:
- Physical pain
- Nerve impingement syndromes
- Visceral (organ) pain and dysfunction
- Hormonal imbalances
Now, you can imagine how sitting at a desk job and doing the same thing over and over for years without thought of your posture can cause you to develop patterns that will ultimately develop into a pain response in the body. Because of the gravitational forces that are ever present, we cannot escape poor posture and the body’s attempt to fix things.
You can eat well, exercise frequently, be emotionally open and so forth, but sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes structures of the body get so out of place that the only way to get you back is to physically pull it back.
My kids make fun of me for always looking at people’s posture. I can’t help myself. I am a student that always studies… So, straighten up – someone’s watching!
Shari Aldrich, LMP, owns the highly successful Integrative Health Clinic in Olympia, WA, which includes massage and chiropractic care. She is also the owner of Bodymechanics School of Myotherapy & Massage, and Olympia Fit Body Boot Camp. Shari believes that educating her clients about their pain is the most important aspect of her job – and is currently writing 2 books on the subject. For more information, please visit her blog at www.shari-fit-touch.com or e-mail her at [email protected]