Patients occasionally wonder why they have what seems to be a chronic condition, whether it be a sore lower back, pain in the shoulder, constant headaches, or discomfort while sitting at their desk. They have been to their medical doctor, their chiropractor, their massage therapist, acupuncturist – the list goes on and on. And no matter what they do, it seems like inevitably the problem will return. They may assume its their age, that old lifting injury, their mattress, or their job that keeps them in pain. The answer is that while those things may be aggravating factors, they’re likely not the cause.
Most of the time, the pain and discomfort we perceive is not the result of a structural problem or degeneration in the body but rather because of the way we move. Over time, day after day, your body has to put up with many stressors – they can be physical, emotional, postural, or chemical. The stress adds up and eventually (or sometimes very quickly in the case of trauma) it changes the way the tissues in your body behave. Muscles may become weak or inhibited, others may tighten, some may start to over-work to pick up the slack for others that aren’t pulling their weight. Regardless of the reason, your body begins to change the way it moves, a process called compensation. These compensatory movement patterns, if left long enough, will become the new “normal” movement pattern for your body. We know that when a tissue is injured and you change the way you move to avoid pain or lessen your fear of aggravating the injury, the dysfunctional movement pattern remains even after the injury has healed. These dysfunctional movements place a lot of stress on the body causing excessive wear on your joints, tissue breakdown, and pain.
So if you have pain, and you have some type of therapy on the area which initially makes it feel better, but then you go right back to moving the same way all over again, it’s really no surprise that eventually you’re going to hurt again. Why? Because you haven’t corrected the problem. These dysfunctional movements still exist because you haven’t corrected the way you’re moving and you just end up stressing out the tissues all over again.
The joint by joint theory is a relatively new idea in the world of rehabilitation. The idea is that the joints from the ankle up body have different purposes, and if they are not able to perform correctly, everything above that problem area will have to compensate producing dysfunction and pain. Starting at the feet, the big toe is a mobility joint, misfoot – stability, ankle – mobility joint, knee – stability, hips -mobility, low back – stability, mid/upper back – mobility, shoulder blade on mid back – stability, shoulder joint – mobility, lower neck – stability, upper neck – mobility.. So you can see that the purpose alternates every other joint. If one joint loses its characteristics, other joints will have to compensate for that. For example, if your hips which are mobility joints are tight and restricted from moving through their full range of motion, then some of that motion will have to come from the lower back. Now your low back, which is supposed to be a stability area, becomes unstable as it attempts to become more mobile to compensate for the loss of mobility in the hips. This introduces extra wear and tear on these low back tissues which can then become sore. So even though you may experience pain in the low back, it may not actually be the back that is the problem, it may just be those tight hips. Assessing your ability to move properly as well as determining the mobility and stability in your spine, hips, shoulders and ankles are all components. Many times patients in this situation, thinking that their back is the problem, try to improve their core stability. But they don’t see improvements because the sore area, the lower back, isn’t actually the area that’s causing the problem in the first place.
This is why proper assessment, corrective exercise, and rehabilitation is so important. Unless you are able to correctly identify what dysfunctional movement is the root cause of your pain, it is unlikely to improve to any great degree. Understanding what is actually at the root of the problem is vitally important. If you’re actually going to invest your time in exercising to improve your health, it makes sense to be doing something that will actually produce beneficial changes in the way you move, reducing your chances of injury and improving your ability to move. At Inspire Chiropractic & Rehabilitation we look closely at movement and determine how that can contribute or cause the pain or nagging injury you are experiencing. Often, the area that hurts isn’t even the area where the problem is. But until that problem area is identified and the dysfunction corrected, your problem will remain a problem. Give us a call if you’re interested in finding out more about how correcting dysfunctional movement can help you.