Pain experienced from your back, hip, knee or shoulder are common afflictions today. Often as we age doctors tell us it is arthritis or bone degeneration and that eventually we might need surgery. In the meantime your doctor prescribes various anti-inflammatories or painkillers. When the pain persists you might see a Physical Therapist or a Chiropractor or a Massage Therapist. Chances are all of these relieve your pain but none of them eliminate it. Sometimes surgery will eliminate pain but you may find that you are restricted or unable to do the activities you used to enjoy.
You do have another choice. You can become aware of your patterns of movement that have been leading you down the path of pain and discomfort for some time. You can also learn how to change your movement patterns to eliminate pain. By becoming aware of what you do that leads to pain you begin the process of learning how to change your patterns of movement so that you will no longer experience pain.
How did the pain get so bad
The human skeleton is an interconnected set of bones that are designed to work with one another to achieve flexible movement in gravity. The skeleton is our infrastructure while muscles, tendons and ligaments exist solely to assist the skeleton to achieve movement.
If one part of the skeleton stops moving, (much like an auto engine) other parts must take over the additional burden of the unmoving part. Like auto engines some parts that stop moving cause more serious consequences than others. For instance the pelvis is the most important moving part of our skeleton because it is our balance mechanism along with being the heaviest bone mass in our body. If the pelvis stops moving we lose our ‘skeletal’ ability to balance and the ‘ musculature’ begins to take over that role. The problem with relying on muscles to keep us in balance is that they are not designed to do so. It turns out muscles are not terribly smart because they act much like computer machine code, either on or off. If a muscle is ‘on’ then it is contracted. Contracted muscles are rigid and therefore prevent parts of the skeleton from moving leading to stiffness and pain. As less of the skeleton is able to move your system tries to compensate by contracting more and more of your musculature to keep you upright in gravity. When muscles become chronically contracted they also become shorter and because less oxygen is available they ironically become weaker. This leads to more stiffness and pain as the muscles begin to draw the interconnected parts of the skeleton closer together until bone may meet bone and you experience clicking, grinding and in many cases bone degeneration. As this process progresses you lose height because the shortened, contracted muscles pull the bones closer and closer to one another.
Muscles versus nervous system
Muscles receive the message to contract or release from your nervous system, but muscles cannot tell the nervous system to turn on or off. However, muscles can alert the nervous system of problems in the form of pain from fatigue due to lack of oxygen and chronic contraction. This is what most of us experience when we have chronic pain; muscle fatigue from contraction. We can get muscles to release with massage and other techniques; unfortunately it does not mean the muscles have ‘learned’ not to contract inappropriately. To re-train muscles the message must come from the nervous system to release based on the movements we are trying to execute. The whole process becomes more complicated because the nervous system sends messages to many muscles at once via neural pathways. If you are trying to change how you do a movement such as reaching, the nervous system is sending a message throughout your system along a neural pathway. Your neural pathways are constantly being tweaked depending on pain, discomfort, injury and muscle contractions. Even as you move less and less your nervous system is actively changing to accommodate what you can do for that moment in time! The most direct way to help your system learn how to move without chronic pain and stiffness you must address the muscles from the message center; the nervous system.
Can I reverse the pain process
The nervous system is a dynamic, ever changing part of us that continues to create new neural pathways throughout our lives. The revolutionary method devised by physicist Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais addresses how you can learn to move in ways that lead to a pain free life. You can unlearn the habits and patterns of movement of many years that led to your chronic pain. By working with a practitioner that specializes in the Feldenkrais Method® you become aware of the patterns of chronic contraction that are causing your pain. Over a short time you will find lasting relief from pain and begin to regain your lost height. Age is of little consequence in eliminating pain.
The approach is non-invasive. You lie on a massage table and the practitioner gently moves you around re-training your nervous system when to send messages to contract muscles and when to send messages to release muscles. You become more aware of your patterns of chronic contraction as the process progresses. You may experience reduction in pain in just one session, but most often it takes several sessions before you are pain free.
Better than new
Many people that have used this method to eliminate pain and learn better ways of moving find that they feel stronger and more flexible than they have been in years. As height is regained and balance re-established, many of the activities that were impossible become possible again.
Once out of pain you can attend tune-up classes that guide you through movements to locate areas that may still be contracted. You learn to empower yourself to stay out of pain by increasing your awareness of what you do and how to change what you do to feel better!
Jackie Mason is a practitioner of the work of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. She can be reached at (530) 478-9547 for more information or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org