Flexibility….For Life!

Do you ever feel like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz? Like you are so stiff and inflexible that you were left out in the cold, damp forest for so long that you can’t move your joints and you’re screaming for your oil can? Or, have you ever tried stretching your tight muscles only to feel even worse afterwards? It’s not just you. There is a physiological reason for it, and it is basically quite simple.

Before I get all geeky about physiology, let me assure you that losing flexibility is NOT a “normal” part of the “aging process.” Who came up with that idea, anyway? If you find out, let me know. I’d like to smack ’em upside the head for spreading stuff like that! The truth is, that we do not have to lose flexibility as we get older. Even more good news is that we have our own internal oil can, which lubricates and nourishes our joints to keep them healthy and mobile during the entire course of our lifetime.

So, how do we access this internal oil can? By gently moving and mobilizing our joints in the full range of motion that they were made to do to help us perform at our best. I’ll use the hip joint as an example. It is a lovely joint that is made to move in a circular manner called circumduction. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to use it as a hinge joint, moving only forward and backward. Sitting, walking, climbing stairs are an example. As a result, the soft tissue that supports that magnificent joint gets tighter and tighter. Oww. So, we stretch.

One of the functions of the soft tissue is to protect the joint. It is rich with nerve endings that talk to the brain and let it know how things are going. When we try and stretch, those nerve endings send signals to the brain that say STOP!! You’re going to damage the joint. The brain replies by saying OK, and tightens up the soft tissue even more to protect the joint. Ooops.

Instead of stretching, try gently mobilizing your hip joint in its socket with gentle, circular movements. Do not force it, just let it relax into the movement. Remember that less is more. really listen to your body and the signals it is sending you. It does take some extra time, and you do have to slow yourself down. But, in the end, it sure is worth it.


The Power of Words, and Permanent Damage

I love working with people, and I love helping them recover from injuries and chronic pain. I recently worked with a young woman who was experiencing persistent neck pain from an auto accident. Along with her neck pain, she also had frequent headaches, numbness in her hands and arms, decreased cervical range of motion, difficulty keeping up with her job, and her home life was suffering.

However, after just a few weeks of gentle therapeutic movement, her neck pain dramatically decreased, her headaches were gone, the numbness in her hands and arms were a distant memory, her cervical range of motion improved, her energy increased, and she was able to return to work full-time. Even better, she got a spark in her eye, a spring in her step, and her remarkable wit and sense of humor returned.

We both decided that she no longer needed to see me, and she was off to enjoy the life she loved before her accident. Therefore, I was stunned when she came back a few weeks later with a full-blown return of all her symptoms. She was in tears, extremely depressed and in severe pain. I couldn’t understand what went wrong, until she told me the story.

She had returned to her physician for a follow-up assessment, which included cervical x-rays. Her physician looked at the films, showed them to her, and informedher that she may have permanent damage” as a result of the accident. He told her that she may never be the same as she was prior to the incident, and may be looking at a life of pain and dysfunction. Yikes!

I reminded her that she had been pain-free for weeks, had regained her strength, range of motion and had returned to all of her activities. She burst into tears and wailed, “But that was before I knew I had “permanent damage!” Uh-oh.

I pointed out that her doctor said that she may have permanent damage; he never said that she did have permanent damage. Through her tears she explained that she saw the x-rays herself and they looked “pretty bad”. Surprised, I asked her if she had ever seen an x-ray before. No, she never had, but she assured me that they looked awful. Sheesh!

Language has power. An unfortunate choice of words can transform someone who is healing into someone who has no hope of recovering. Words can heal or harm, encourage or destroy, empower or devastate. They can even cause permanent damage. So choose them carefully, and think before you speak.