Movement is Medicine: Part II

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This picture (taken from the book Move Your DNA) is a great representation of the relative importance of exercise vs. movement. Though exercise is undoubtedly an important part of a healthy life, there are many movements that we may not consider exercise that are essential for the overall health of the body. This is why it’s so important to move more frequently and to add varied movements to your exercise routine. At Mountain Health & Performance we stress the idea of movement as medicine with all of our patients.

One of the reasons the exercise circle in the picture, has been drawn so small is due to the amount of time that we typically allot to exercise. The time that most of us spend exercising (45-60 minutes) is generally quite small compared to the amount of time that we are capable of moving our bodies. For our ancestors, movement was a critical part of life and nearly every aspect of the day required movement (hunting, foraging, building, etc.). In today’s society most human necessities are just a click, phone call or drive away and our jobs and schools force us to sit or be stationary for long periods of time.

Most types of exercise also rarely force us to utilize a variety of ranges of motion. Instead they consist of the same movement or limited number of movements, repeated over and over again. Our tissues adapt and change continuously based on our activities. The SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) asserts that the human body adapts specifically to the demands we place upon it. In other words, the stresses that we place on the human system, whether biomechanical or neurological, will lead to specific changes that will enable us to better handle those demands in the future. If we only ever move our joints through limited ranges of motion then our tissues and nervous system will adapt to this reduced range by increasing tightness or stiffness.

I will use a patient example to better explain the difference between exercise and movement. George is a 35-year old accountant. He appears to be fit and explains that he works out 5-6 times per week. He lifts weights, runs, hikes and eats a healthy well balanced diet. He has mid back pain that started a few days prior when he woke up for work. He works about 8-9 hours per day and 90% of his day is spent sitting at his desk. He acknowledges that he often goes hours without getting out of his chair and that his sitting posture and ergonomics could probably use some work. George’s standing posture is not ideal. His shoulders are rolled forwards and his mid back is flexed (slumped forward). When asked to move into active extension (backbend) or rotation he is limited by about 50% (compared to a normal range). These movements are stiff and uncomfortable for George. Slightly embarrassed by his inflexibility, he swears that he “really is fit!!”. The problem for George is not that he is “unfit” but that he lacks mobility in his mid-back (thoracic spine). This lack of mobility and pain may be partially due to: poor posture, sitting for long periods of time, poor breathing patterns and the list goes on. However, the main reason that he lacks extension and rotation is simply because his work, every-day activities and workouts rarely force him to use or control this range of motion.

Ask yourself when the last time your work, daily activities or workout forced you into full extension or rotation? If you don’t use these ranges on a regular basis then the joints will stiffen, the muscles will tighten and that range will be lost. This of course is a very generalized example but highlights the importance of maintaining good strength and flexibility throughout the entire body. A joint that doesn’t move well can become stiff and painful and create tension in the surrounding muscles. The body is also great at compensating so when you don’t have good mobility at one joint or several joints (i.e.: the thoracic spine) it will search for that mobility somewhere else along the kinetic chain. This is why a proper examination is critical. The site of pain is not always the true cause of the problem! At Mountain Health and Performance our chiropractors utilize functional movement assessments which allow us to assess every joint of the body. This allows us to identify joints and tissues that may be distant from the site of pain but are still contributing to the injury or painful area.

If you already exercise that’s a great first step. You will decrease body fat, increase muscle mass, improve endurance and gain strength. However, our bodies also require movement that’s unique and frequent. If you have stiff and or painful joints or muscles chiropractic adjustments and soft-tissue therapy are great ways to decrease pain, muscle tension and create immediate improvements in your overall mobility. It’s important however that these treatments are reinforced by exercises to improve and maintain this increased range of motion.

Incorporating mobility exercises on a daily basis should be a part of everyone’s movement routine-and an addition to strength and endurance training. In addition to these exercises take every opportunity in your day to move more often. Functional range conditioning (FRC) is a system which includes exercises that train the joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments to be strong in a variety of ranges of motion. These exercises promote joint and tissue health and can help to mitigate future injury. At Mountain Health and Performance our chiropractors utilize FRC for the treatment of painful conditions and the promotion of proper functioning of the joints and tissues of the body.

Written by: Dr. Amy Wiggins