In the January-February 2019 issue, I wrote an article, Integrated Functional Movement, with descriptions for three exercises to strengthen patterns of movement with optimal body mechanics (or biomechanics) that could be applied to everyday activities. Cultural norms and practices tend to lead us away from good body mechanics and into muscle imbalances, where some muscles are overworked and others under utilized. This changes the length and tension of the muscles and fascia, and causes abnormal stresses on joints.
It can be difficult and tedious to acquire optimal body mechanics during everyday tasks as we move about on autopilot. The key is to practice optimal mechanics, slowly at first, and lay down an improved pattern into the neurological system.
In my previous article, “Addressing Chronic Pain from Suboptimal Biomechanics,” I discussed how our body’s biomechanics and movement patterns (the way we hold ourselves and move), can be altered by old injuries or bad habits, which results in an imbalance of muscle tension. Some muscles become overused and painful; others become weak and often “silent.” The fascia (our three-dimensional web of connective tissue) adapts to the imbalance and contributes to abnormal forces on joints. All this can lead to arthritis. Any component can contribute to chronic pain, and this is often difficult to sort out and treat successfully.
The meanings of the two terms, biomechanics and movement patterns are very similar. Good biomechanics result in good movement patterns. Good functional movement patterns have nerves, muscles, joints and fascia that are working together optimally. With optimal biomechanics and integrated movement patterns, there is the potential to be pain-free, because of less joint compression and better-balanced soft tissue tension.
Chronic pain will visit most of us at some point in our lives. It comes and goes, or is it constantly nagging, despite our efforts to deal with it. A trip to your doctor, and maybe to a specialist, may reveal that nothing is seriously wrong—which is good to know. You might be offered an injection to the painful area or a prescription for physical therapy.
Chronic pain could start from a variety of possibilities such as an old injury that may have occurred years or decades in the past. You have long since dismissed it as irrelevant, since the old injury was in one location and the pain you are now experiencing is in another.
As a physical therapist emphasizing myofascial release and integrated movement, I like to augment my hands-on and exercise treatments with home programs that include foam rollers for soft tissue mobilization, and balls or gadgets to release “knots” in the muscles and fascia. A metal folding chair is another valuable tool for self-treatment. It is indestructible and stores in a closet or behind a door. It is a great value—$15 at your favorite box store.
A person can accomplish multiple stretches and joint range of motion (ROM) from the following pose, using a chair or the lower steps of a stairway: Place one foot on the floor and the other on the seat of the chair and grasp the back of the chair for security. The leg of the lower foot is kept straight, stretching the “gastroc” muscles of the calf and the hip flexors (psoas and company). This also takes the hip and knee into full extension and the ankle into forward bending or dorsiflexion (see first photo, above).