Our bodies were made to move

by Sarah Goulding | February 26, 2014

Sarah Goulding

Dr. Sarah Goulding is a naturopathic doctor and clinic director at Nickel Ridge Health. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Surprisingly, many of us take our bodies for granted. We spend most of the day sitting down or doing a repetitive task and leave it up to our musculoskeletal system to deal with it.

Without this support system, we would be immobile blobs of organs unable to nourish ourselves, put our thoughts into action, or fulfill our desires. Our skeleton creates a frame to hold our shape and our muscles, tendons and ligaments allow us to move that frame. And when it’s unhappy it communicates that with us by reducing function and increasing pain.

On a macro-scale, muscles attach to two separate bones and when they contract or shorten, the bones move in relation to each other (like your bicep shortening to bring your forearm towards your shoulder). A joint is just the area that muscles cross and attach. Usually for chronic injuries, pain is not originating in the joint itself but is being felt there because inserting muscles are out of balance and pull or rub.

Muscles work together as a group. For instance, the four muscles of the quadriceps at the front of the thigh insert onto the lower leg via the knee cap. When these muscles contract in unison, the knee cap slides along its allocated groove in the knee. Unfortunately, it is common for the inner quad muscles to be weak and the outer quad muscles to overpower them, pulling the kneecap slightly to the side, causing unnecessary friction.

Try getting out for a 10-minute walk, climbing the stairs, using a kneeling chair or balance ball at work, or even switching to a standing desk.

It is vitally important for joint health to keep muscle groups working together in harmony. The best way to accomplish this is to move in as many ways as possible. So if you sit all day, try not sitting. If you’re a runner, be sure to throw some cross-training into your exercise regimen. Repetitive tasks invariably lead to dominant muscle activity while other muscles weaken.

We were made to move. Our tissues are happiest when they are in clear communication with the nervous system and blood supply. Tight muscles and sub-optimal biomechanics cause nerves and blood vessels to be pinched off, reducing the nourishment arriving at the muscle, tendons, ligaments and joints. Having good posture is not a luxury, it’s a requirement for ensuring that lines of communication between the nervous system, cardiovascular system and muscles and organs are open and clear.

Each muscle is covered with a thin layer of connective tissue called the fascia. When there is immobility and/or inflammation, adhesions can form between the fascia and the muscle, between the fascia and the skin, and between the fascia and adjacent fascia of other muscles. These adhesions restrict movement, reduce blood flow to tissues and can contribute to pain.

The most important thing to do to both treat and prevent these adhesions is to move. It’s the same reason that cats stretch when they wake up, and why sedentary desk jobs are so detrimental to our health. Try getting out for a 10-minute walk, climbing the stairs, using a kneeling chair or balance ball at work, or even switching to a standing desk. There are simple cumulative ways that we can help direct our bodies back to healthy patterns of operation. Choose to view exercise as vital aspect of both our physical and mental health, not just as something to get off of the daily task list. It’s not an optional 30 minutes of our time for health promotion, it is the foundation of our health, and our health is how good we feel on a daily basis and how many of those days we will have.

Take home message:

Move! Move lots and in a lot of different ways (yoga and swimming are great winter sports that can help).

Get to know your body. Being mindful about what “normal” feels like will help you easily become aware of the first signs of discord and empower you to resolve the issue before it progresses.

Foam rollers are great tools not only for treatment and regular self-maintenance, but also as a self-assessment tool to keep your musculoskeletal system happy. They’re cost-effective, easy to use and only take five minutes out of your day.

If a joint or area of the body starts acting up, don’t just ignore it. It’s your body telling you something is out of whack. Invest in figuring it out sooner, so that you don’t have a bigger problem on your hands later. Physical therapists like massage therapists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists and naturopathic doctors can help.

Sarah Goulding is a naturopathic doctor and clinic director at Nickel Ridge Natural Health at 1177 Barrydowne Rd. Visit nickelridge.ca.

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