October 2014

A Structural Bodyworker’s Perspective

A series of observations about the way people sit, stand, and move (or barely move in some cases)

by Richard Green – Executive Director, MTW

In the time since we published our previous newsletter I have worked with no fewer than fifteen new clients all of whom have low back and/or hip issues as a direct result of their work-posture! Roughly half of those clients work out 3 or 4 days a week either doing some variation of a squat with weights or a sustained lunge. The result is significant pain which does not “heal” on its own.

My solution? It’s two-part.

My first task is to identify which specific muscles have become strained and then shortened & locked-down to protect against further injury. My next task is to start bringing relief to the body using massage which also allows me the opportunity to explore the extent of tension in the various regions (neck, shoulders, back, hips, etc). Once I have enough information to conjecture a few possibilities of why there was (or, likely, still is) a need for your Mind/Body to respond the way it did we next move into the next (and possibly the final) phase of pain resolution, neuromuscular integration. For me this is the most important part of the treatment. This is when I re-balance the tension within each functional structure (i.e. your shoulder joint, your hip joint) and integrate them so that they perform their functions efficiently as a single unit.

The second part of the solution rests with you, the client. For obvious reasons a therapist can only do so much. As soon as you leave our office you are on your own and you will need to be vigilant. If the primary cause is left unrecognized it is highly likely to re-offend and undo the progress we achieved during treatment. Mindfulness is the key to success. Start making it a habit to notice everything you do – how you sit, walk, run, stand, read a book, stand waiting for a bus, etc. and remember to take time every day to sit & relax for at least 20 minutes.

This is what I suggest you do right away if you are dealing with consistent back pain:

  • Re-train yourself to sit at your PC in an upright position whenever possible (unless it’s for a very brief time; then it doesn’t really matter).
  • Your back should be able to rest against and be supported by the back of the chair.
  • Start with your arms dangling at your sides.
  • Then, bend your arms at your elbows without raising your shoulders.
  • Instead of reaching for the keyboard by moving your arms & elbows forward move the keyboard closer to you.

If, instead of a PC, you use a laptop or tablet you will have to deal with the additional challenge of looking down at the screen. Unfortunately, the only method I know of which addresses that is not one of prevention but response. You will need to undo the effects of looking down. Since the reverse of looking down is looking up what you’ll need to do every day is to either sit back with your head bent back with your chin up, or lie face-up on a bed with your head hanging off the edge. Either way gravity is now working for you instead of against you (so to speak), and those chronically tight muscles in the back of your neck finally will be able to unlock & relax. Two or three minutes is all that is needed to make a difference.  Ultimately, you will need to find/make time to have one of our massage therapists work on your neck and restore its structural integrity.

September 2014

A Structural Bodyworker’s Perspective

A series of observations about the way people sit, stand, and move (or barely move in some cases)

by Richard Green – Executive Director, MTW

Last month I introduced you to the role of your hip flexor muscles. Now every time you lean forward, whether sitting or standing, you should be aware that you are engaging your psoas muscles which incidentally are attached to your low back. So, if you’ve been experiencing back pain regularly, say at the end of a work day when you attempt to rise up from your chair but your low back says “not so fast; I need to let go first”, you need to start thinking about making some changes to your sitting posture.

We’ve all heard how everything in the body is connected to everything else. Well it’s true! What we weren’t told us that our nervous system is wired to notice everything we do, both consciously and unconsciously. The posture you take on when doing each activity is merely your variation of the way others do it: the way you sit, reach, raise your shoulders, extend your legs (or tuck your legs under). I’ll bet that no one else in the world does it exactly as you do. In other words, there’s always another way, perhaps even a better way, to do the same thing! So now we need to help you come up with a better, less stressful, more functional way to work at your desk and computer.

Ok. Let’s start with your chair. (Oh, so you’ve been seriously considering switching to a standing desk because it’s supposed to help your back. Well, yes and no. Yes it will help you deal with your current pain; however, other muscles will be forced to engage in order to hold you up, and how long before they start to fatigue and complain?) Ultimately, the overall best solution will be one where your body is properly supported without any assistance from your muscles. With the right chair you’ll be able to relax your shoulders, sit upright AND have back support! Stop by our office any time; we have two samples in our office for you to try out. In next month’s newsletter we’ll discuss additional changes you may need to make with your workstation in order to take advantage of that new chair.

August 2014

A Structural Bodyworker’s Perspective

A series of observations about the way people sit, stand, and move (or barely move in some cases)

by Richard Green – Executive Director, MTW

I’m going to make an assumption: if you are reading this you are very likely leaning your body forward. So how often do you do that, or it may be easier to calculate how often do you not do that?

Alright, so what’s my point here? Unless you are from another planet repeatedly maintaining a forward-lean posture for longer than a few minutes is going to cause your lower back to tighten up. Include neck & shoulder tension to that if you’re working on your laptop or smartphone. Now consider how many of the following situations you engage in on a regular basis:

  • working at a computer
  • reading a book in bed
  • riding a bicycle
  • driving a car
  • running, hiking, rollerblading or similar
  • kayaking, surfing or similar
  • weight-training or similar

Well, hopefully you get my point. We all do it a lot, and it’s called hip-flexion. I’ll even bet that you know someone who has been complaining for a while about their back and how much it hurts much of the time. Well, help is not far away. Next month, we’ll look at the steps a person can take to get control of their back pain which in many cases can eventually result in a pain-free back.