Orthopedic Wellness: Maintaining an Active Life
Most individuals have a general understanding of the meaning of Fitness. We tend to think of fitness as cardiovascular health, weight management and the ability to perform a given set of physical activities. Despite being motivated, why are some individuals able to achieve fitness and stay fit while others seem to experience one injury after another? Many aspects of fitness follow a formula. Calories in vs. calories burned should determine our ability to maintain weight. Stressing the Cardiovascular System through elevating the heart rate and allowing time for recovery should equal increased stamina. So, what about when it comes to joint health? Is there a formula for keeping our joints healthy?
We call it Big Picture Posture. That’s right, the same thing your Grandma used to get on your case about. Stand up straight, suck in that gut and look straight ahead. There is truth to this - general structural integrity is a formula, a balance of compression and tension elements. In the body, our bones are like the steel beams of a suspension bridge and our muscles, tendon’s and ligaments are the suspension cables. In order for our joints to function properly and to last a long time, we must be mindful of the type of load we are putting on them.
Here is an example: If you remove the top hinge of a door, leaving only the bottom hinge to support the door’s weight and rely on only this bottom hinge to open and close the door, it will not take long before the weight of the door rips the bottom hinge out of the door jam. This is because a hinge is designed to work as a hinge. So long as the applied force is within the parameters of structural design, that hinge would function for a very long time. Our joints are no different. A knee works well as a simple hinge, add rotation and you are going to see pain and premature degeneration. The body is not symmetrical, however relative neutral should be the expectation. A fallen arch, pronated ankle, rotated knee, or an asymmetrical pelvis can all cause abnormal stress on the joints.
What happens to us as we age? We develop what we call a Wobble. A Wobble is any structural imbalance that compromises our alignment. Once we have a Wobble our body starts to compensate. We see the formation of abnormal curvature to the spine, increased internal rotation to the shoulders, increased external rotation to the hips, and rotational changes in the extremities. Everyone, no matter who you are and what you do, wants a Neutral Horizon (eyes and ears level). In order to achieve Neutral Horizon, we have to add compensations to account for the Wobble. This happens through the formation of something called a focal adhesion or Knot. Soft tissue changes by thickening and becoming stiff to help compensate for a Wobble and to help you get back to Neutral Horizon. These changes all add stress and change the type of load put on the joints.
If a balanced body is so important; then how, you ask, are you supposed to achieve a balanced body? Remember what your Grandmother told you, stand up straight, suck in your gut and look straight ahead!
Here is a tip: Pretend you have a bolt screwed into your sternum and there is a cable attached to that bolt pulling your sternum into the sky at a 45 degree angle. Get tall by lifting the sternum (breast bone). Once you get your chest lifted, the shoulders can relax and the chin can tuck. This uses your Core to support your posture (specifically, your transverse abdominus muscle). This muscle can work all day long. If the upper body is nice and tall, the lower body knows what to do. If the head is too far forward, and the shoulders rounded; your center of gravity is falling forward. This means that in order to stay upright, you will have to widen your stance, externally rotate your hips and squeeze the hips forward. This Common Postural Collapse puts abnormal stress on the back and neck, makes the hips tight and causes rotation at the knees. With the exception of a traumatic injury; such as a car accident, all abnormal wear and tear on the joints can be blamed on compromised alignment and therefore compromise to our mechanics. Not all joint problems can be resolved by simply improving your posture. Some structural imbalances need to be corrected by a professional. Muscle weaknesses may need strengthening and injured or degenerated surfaces may require surgical repair. However, most people are taken back by the profound effect of making the simple change of paying attention to standing tall.
Grandmothers know what they are talking about!
Douglas Bertram, L.Ac., MTCM