We live in an age where we spend more time sitting, driving, and slouching than ever before. As a species, humans are designed to move. We have the spectacular ability to use our upright posture to drop our centers of gravity – taking stored potential energy and magically turning it into kinetic energy (energy of movement) to assist and direct walking, running, jumping, hunting. I read somewhere (and I can’t remember where or I’d give the author credit) how poor humans are at standing still. It drew attention to statues of humans standing upright. They require huge bases of support because our relatively tiny human feet are poor stabilizers. Given a small wind, those priceless statues would blow right over without their bases. The advantage we have, as living creatures is we can constantly make micro adjustments when standing. This starts at the ankle depending on the amount of adjustment needed, and then will make use of the hips, and eventually a step if needed. This works optimally when our base of support falls within normal limits (IE our posture is ‘normal) and our stabilizers are working up to par (ankles, hips, and stepping is on-line).
A thousand years ago, we walked as our primary means of getting around. We had to make sure our posture and movement system was good to go because we needed it to get us around. Our daily life was spent squatting, lifting, pushing, pulling. All skills we mastered as children and, when utilized, honed and perfected through our daily activities to keep us moving. We kept our hips mobile, our ankles loose, and our core strong through daily skills and practice. Age-old daily ‘practice’ of Yoga and Pilates reinforced these movements and forced us to make use of movements that we might not have used daily.
Fast forward to the present. We walk less then ever. We sit for hours at a time. We cram our head neck and hips into smart cars, cubicles, stare at tiny screens craning our neck to text/email/surf the interweb. These postures slowly shape our bodies and alter our posture. Our head juts forward, shoulders slouch and round, our back rounds forward, the front of our hips get tight, our hamstrings stiffen up and our ankles tighten up. So instead of mobile ankles and hips ready to adjust and step we end up with stiff, rigid ankles and hips. What does this lead to? A low back and a neck that takes on the role of moving the center of gravity. We have given up our core stability, choosing to move the lumbar spine, the neck, and the shoulders instead.
Now, the human body has an amazing ability to compensate for poor movement patterns. Given enough time, we can make ourselves do just about anything – and often, during our daily routine we can survive (or even excel) at sitting, driving, texting, surfing. We are the modern day hunters – hunters stalking their prey from a captain’s chair. We don’t notice that our posture has gone downhill because it has happened slowly and the body has adapted. This slow adaptation doesn’t threaten or cause pain because of it’s ‘molasses in winter’ rate of change. Normally, you may never notice that your lumbar spine is unstable or your neck has poor alignment because it doesn’t hurt you and you can get what you need done without pain.
Then you _____________ (slip, get in a car accident, trip, twist your back). And now your neck, low back, etc is painful. And you hurt all the time. And it isn’t getting better. Why?
Because prior to this incident, you perfected the ability to move through your low back or neck. And now that area is painful, you don’t have a movement strategy to keep that area from doing its own thing and causing pain. This is a recipe for chronic pain.
To correct this movement problem you have to go back to the basics, and slowly, painfully practice moving in the age-old, tried and true developmental fashion you perfected until you were about 5 years old. This isn’t easy, especially if you’ve had more than a few years of moving on this earth. Even harder if you have a significant amount of pain while doing it. Some of the most basic movements may seem alien to you because of disuse.
An easier fix? Start now. Work on your core stability. Work on your hip mobility. Practice your movement. Reinforce this through exercise. And stop sitting for longer than an hour at a time. Get up, move, squat, push, pull. And if you don’t know what is safe for you, please contact your local physical therapist!