Move It or Lose It
Most of us have heard the phrase “Use it or lose it.” I would like to reframe this as “Move it or lose it!” In order to change our perception of exercise as something separate from our other activities, we need to begin understanding movement as something that we are always doing and which is literally shaping us.
When we don’t move our bodies on a regular basis, we lose the ability to move freely. Muscles atrophy, bone density decreases, our cardiovascular system loses circulatory strength which reduces oxygen delivery to our tissues, and acid build up in our tissues makes us feel sore, sluggish, and weak. These are only a few byproducts of under-use.
When an injury or pain impedes our ability to move and use our bodies, it can feel like our health is in a downward spiral. What can we do when we find ourselves in this situation?
Though pain does not always correlate with actual tissue damage, the first steps of pain reduction are to allow the tissues to heal by giving them a rest from movement or activity that aggravates the symptoms. Moving the rest of our bodies as much as possible will improve the outcome because we will be in a stronger state during this healing process. Studies have shown that even visualizing moving the injured parts (motor imaging) has a positive effect on our physiology (Cramer, et al, 2007). When the tissues have healed, we can gradually increase the load, range, and duration of our movement.
I have found MAT to be a powerful tool in this process, both through my own experience as a client and athlete working through imbalances, and through applying muscle activation techniques with my clients.
A principle of MAT is that tightness is secondary to weakness. Muscles are often hypertonic around a joint when there are other weak muscles that expose the joint to vulnerability. It is important that we don’t zone in and focus only on the area in which we feel the symptoms, because the body is more integrated than we often realize. Symptoms are tricky; they may point to an imbalance, but they don’t always point directly to its source. To illustrate that point, I would like to finish with a story of an experience I had with a client last summer.
A young ballet dancer named Gabriella was in the midst of a prestigious ballet intensive and pushed herself too far. She disregarded her persistent knee pain, which was a warning sign from her nervous system, until she woke up one morning a few weeks into the program and was unable to bend her knee. After seeing the school’s physician to rule out structural damage, Gabriella came to me for MAT treatment. A range of motion examination showed that her left hip was more limited in flexion compared to her right hip. After we worked on her left hip, her bilateral hip flexion became symmetrical for the first time that she could remember, and her knee pain went away. She was able to fully bend her knee and finish her ballet intensive with increased range of motion. By working on her hips, her knee issues resolved allowing her to perform at her peak.
The more that we can all keep our muscles in balance, the better our systems will function as a whole. And always remember...laughter is the best medicine!
(Cramer, S.C., Orr, E.L.R., Cohen, M.J. et al. Exp Brain Res (2007) 177: 233. Doi: 10. 1007/s00221-006-0662-9).