Stagnation: Shedding Light on Disease & Dysfunction, Part I
I am a nut about the type of movement that stimulates not only the musculoskeletal system, but also the nervous system. That is the crucial element that many of us are missing throughout the day. As a Physical Therapist and movement specialist, when I start talking about the need to move during the day I inevitably hear, “well I move around all day.” Yes, if you get out of bed and do your thing, you are moving. But are we moving with the varying speed, direction and resistance that we were designed for?
The Industrial Revolution had a profound effect on the nature of work and the role of the worker. Scores of people went from more varied movements throughout the day to a sort of confined repetition. Wearing down our bodies with repetitive movement is like driving your car on the lawn over the same track everyday…..it won’t take long to wear down that one pathway. The same thing happens in our bodies. Osteo or Degenerative Arthritis can be explained simply in this way. We wear down the cartilage in the same pathway instead of moving in ways that disperse the glide over the entire surface. Travel back in time to when humans had to gather and hunt to survive and you conjure up images of long days of movement in every direction and at varying speeds and loads.
Many of us have more sedentary office jobs or have to sit in the car, train or plane for hours at a time. I would argue that sitting is even worse for your body than the repetitive motions required in more labor intensive work. When we sit, we do 4 things to our body:
- Shorten the muscles in the front of the hips and behind and knees and ankles, as well as in the chest and axilla. This causes them to hold on tight and restrict the motion of these joints when you stand up (that’s why we feel stiff). Over time, this has implications when we do finally get out for that walk, run or game of golf. Something else has to take up the slack and it’s usually your low back, knees or shoulders.
- Compress the muscles and soft tissue in the buttock and thighs. This can create significant problems with blood flow and over time can compromise the nerves running through there.
- Cause the postural muscles to shut off (as an energy efficient machine, our muscles will “hibernate” when are still for a period of time). This causes the ligaments to have to try and hold the bones in place. Try as we might, none of us sits with prefect upright posture. As a result, the vertebrae will compress the nice squishy disc more on one side than the other. Over time this can lead to painful disc bulging or herniation. Another nasty effect is something called creep or the fancy medical term Spondylolisthesis. Both of these can cause compression of the nerves leading to back pain, leg pain and sometimes leg numbness. Since the muscles think they can take a break, the ligaments try to hold on (we have ligaments as an extra protection to keep our joints in place). Over time they get lengthened and don’t hold the bones in place anymore, causing one vertebrae to creep out of place on top of another.
- Create knots and uncomfortable inflammation. Consider this, the human body is roughly 60% water. Our muscles not only move us from place to place, they act as a hydrodynamic pump to keep the flow of important nutrient filled fluid running through our bodies. Knots are what we feel when the tissue gets sticky or dry. For the GrillMasters among you, this can be likened to the difference between a juicy rare steak and a t
ough, dry, well done hunk of meat.
The Stagnation Nation
ALL 4 of the above cause Stagnation (stag-ney-shuhn) which by definition is the state or condition of having stopped, as by ceasing to run or flow. Another definition is a failure to develop, progress, or advance.
Visualize the difference between the clean running waters of a beautiful mountain stream, and the stale stagnant water that pools when the flow is blocked. The running stream is fed by gravity and fueled by momentum. That is what movement in our bodies that combine multiple directions, pushing, pulling, climbing and carrying does for our system. It keeps things fresh, healthy and alive within our neuro-musculo-skeletal system (the effect on the organs and prevention of disease is huge, but we will cover more of that in Part 2 of this series)
Now picture the pooled stagnant water that has lost it’s ability to flow. Things get stale, organisms and bacteria grow; within the confines of our bodies this stagnation takes up space and causes pain or tenderness. The congestion sends a signal to our pain receptors (we all have different frequencies that trigger pain), which unfortunately can create a cycle of protection and less movement leading to more stagnation, more dysfunction and more pain.
This stagnation within the soft tissue of our neuromuscular system is what makes deep touch to these areas tender to massage. A skilled practitioner can feel the difference in this tissue and should take care to follow the right paths to clear the congestion. This is what we do here at Be Fit Co in our Active Tension Release sessions. I call them active because while I’m a huge fan of massage as part of a healthy lifestyle, I know the importance of teaching you the right movements to keep the stagnation out after you walk out the door.
Treatment and Education
Common sense combined with a knowledge of anatomy and physiology give us the 2 best methods to treat this common cause of pain, fatigue and imbalance.
- We need to assess the soft tissue and use massage and manual techniques (some passive and some active) to clear the stagnation.
- We find the right movements to sprinkle into your day that target the whole system in just the right directions for you. This is crucial. Period.