Do you ever feel like your body is suddenly falling apart at the seams? You are not broken!
There’s a common thread in the people I talk to and with my own body, that I seem to have breezed through life fairly well and then I hit my late 30s and my body just felt like it was beginning to fall apart.
Now I wouldn’t say my body has been full of misadventures. In fact, quite the opposite. I’ve never broken a bone, certainly never worn the badge of honour of a plaster cast, not been rushed into hospital with a bursting appendix….. in fact, what my body has endured is fairly insignificant compared to some people’s, but I’ve had some periods of ‘falling apart’ all the same.
Most people I see in the clinic are in chronic pain, that is to say, they have pain in a region that is ongoing. They walk into the clinic puzzled, with no seemingly obvious reason why they are experiencing pain in the area, but aware that it is fully holding them back from enjoying the things they love to do.
Acute injuries, on the other hand, are much more obvious. Knee pain after tearing your ACL when skiing; pain in your forearm after falling from a playground climbing frame or neck pain after a whiplash in a car accident, all make sense because of the impact to the area. But where do these mystery aches and pains come from?
The Domino Effect
Our bodies are the product of a lifetime of accumulated dinks, bangs, scrapes and adventures. Every cause has an effect and that is nonetheless so when it comes to the way our bodies navigate through life. With every seemingly innocuous bump, stubbed toe, ankle sprain, or salad knife cut to the finger, the body finds little ways to work around the initial discomfort whilst it heals. If you sprain your left ankle, you most likely will put more weight through your right foot whilst the affected ankle recovers.
This compensation pattern takes your body off centre Left to Right but also affects the way the rest of the body stacks up above the injury. Shifting your weight to the right will cause your right hip to hike higher than the left. The brain, in its effort to maintain a sense of being level, will counter the hiked hip with a hiked shoulder on the left and before you know it, you have pain in your neck from out of nowhere. You may even have some left knee pain and right hip pain thrown in for good measure from all the shifting of weight into the joints.
As soon as we lose centre, our joints start to grumble and our soft tissues begin to moan. If no one ever tells our body to go back to the centre, we continue to use our body in our new ‘centre’, accumulate some more dinks, add some more interesting compensations and create an environment of non-optimal movement patterns which will inevitably lead on to pain and discomfort, overusing certain parts of the body, whilst underusing others.
Caution, Congestion Ahead
One analogy I use with my clients is a car journey.
Imagine going on a road trip from Brighton to Edinburgh. You have the perfect route mapped out: M23, M25, M1, A1 – a fast and direct route. Then you hit the M25 and encounter a car crash ahead. Luckily you are not involved in the acute crash, but you are diverted off the M25, onto the M4, to pick up the A355, then the B2133 (I’m making these up now, but you get the gist!) where you sit in local traffic at a multitude of traffic lights and roundabouts; accruing more mileage, using more petrol and working the internal and external systems of the car a little more as the car navigates local potholes and cools the rising temperature of the car.
The journey to Edinburgh has lengthened, takes longer and leaves you a little bit more weary at the other end. The journey is no longer optimal, balanced, or stress-free and unless someone takes up the diversion signs for the way home, you’re probably going to encounter a less-than-satisfactory journey home too!!
Our brains have one job, survival. The brain will always choose the path that keeps us safe, with the ability to keep moving forwards. It is full of adaptations, options and strategies. Although these strategies serve us in the short term, they may not be so useful in the long term when the threat has passed.
Noticing the dinks and the donks and their effects on how our bodies are moving is paramount in identifying what we need to correct. Returning to the centre often helps to negate the accumulative effect of a layering up of compensation patterns and, along with it, a feeling down the line, that we are simply falling apart.