It’s a new year! Now is the perfect time to face reality. The reality is that the health of your body and its ability to function is based on 2 factors – physiology (aka stress) and physics (gravity).
Let’s start with physiology.
Any type of stress: physical, emotional or environmental will be perceived by our autonomic nervous system (ANS) as a threat and the response of the ANS is beyond our conscious control. As a defense mechanism, the ANS will send a “protective muscle spasm reflex” which sends an electrical signal or impulse to the muscles causing them to contract and hold them locked in a contraction. This locked contraction is a spasm.
As a result, the muscle spasm or spastic muscle, sends a barrage of signals back to the Autonomic Nervous System and over stimulates it and excites it. The nervous system keeps sending the signal to the muscles to stay in spasm, creating a feedback loop between the ANS and the muscles as they communicate with one another. This loop is indefatigable and can last for years if left untreated. This is why many people suffer from chronic pain. This feedback loop is electrical in nature and tends to fluctuate between hyper signal activity to lower signal activity. This back and forth is the loop. This is the reason that some days you feel more pain than others. The pain level goes up and down and does not actually disappear.
The longer the muscle spasm lasts, the worse the pain intensity grows. It happens because the nature of the spastic muscle is to compress. It can compress blood vessels, slow down circulation which reduces the ability of the muscle to get oxygen and its ability to remove of lactic acid out of the muscle. The lactic acid in the muscle is usually the cause of the pain. Muscle spasms can also compress joints which reduces range of motion. Left untreated the muscle spasm will eventually compress the nerves and disturbs its normal impulse activity.
Now let’s look at the physics!
How does physics impact the bio-mechanics of the body? Everything on our planet, including us, has to respond to gravity. The force of Earth’s gravity is pressing on our bodies every second of our lives. Most of us are right-handed and tend to favor the right side of our body.
The majority of people drive automatic cars, which involves the use of the right leg to the exclusion of the left leg. While driving, we engage the right hip flexor, also called the psoas muscle, as we move our right foot between the brake and the gas pedal. The left leg is not very active.
The psoas muscles are attached to the spine and extend down through the groin to the leg. Eventually, when this muscle gets tired, it will send stress signal (alpha signals) which trigger the ANS to send the “protective muscle spasm reflex“. Once the muscle is in spasm, it is locked into a shortened and contracted position. When you lay on your back, the spastic muscle will rotate the right hip bone slightly forward towards your feet, between 1/8- one inch and this will push your leg down. This makes your right leg “positionally” longer than the left leg. Once in a while, in my practice, I will find that the patient’s left leg is also “shorter anatomically” than the right leg. But more often it is due to the rotation of the right hip.
When you stand you will immediately shift your body weight towards the left leg. By doing so, you shift your body’s center of gravity (in the hips) to the left. Your hips and spine will follow and will also shift to the left. All of this information is immediately sent to the ANS, using the “righting reflex” whose job is to keep your eyes level at all times. This “righting reflex” prevents dizziness and allows you to function. As a result, your nervous system will also send impulses to the spinal muscle on your right side and to the muscles above the right hip in order to shift the spine to the center of the body.
This causes your spine to shift too far to the right. The immediate reaction of your nervous system is to send a signal to the muscles between the left shoulder and the head to raise the left shoulder up in order to level the eyes. All of this excessive muscular activity is just an attempt of the nervous system to keep your eyes level and to enable you to function. This occurs due to the gravity center in your hips which is constantly communicating with your Anatomic Nervous System, every second of your life. When the hips are not level, which is the case with the majority of people, the muscles have to compensate to keep the eyes level at all costs. Eventually, the muscles get tired and spastic due to the work of compensation. Every muscle in the body, from your feet to the top of the head, has to respond to the body’s center of gravity, which is communicated through the “righting reflex” in the brain.
When the hips are not level, we are much more susceptible to injury and pain, which may show up in any part of the body.
When your hips are not level, it can be compared to driving a car with a flat tire. The car will swerve to the left (for example) and you will need to turn the wheel to the right, to keep the car in the center of the road. How long do you think a car will be able to keep functioning and driving properly with a flat? It’s the same for the body.
Counter-intuitively, the more athletic and physically active you are, you will exacerbate the bio-mechanical dysfunction and increase damage and pain, leading you to eventually need to quit activity due to pain. The solution is to outsmart the ANS and the bio-mechanical dysfunction. This means we need to learn know how to stop the muscle spasm and how to level the hips and to keep them level. This combination of physics and physiology have been with us for about 2.5 million years, since humans began to walk erect.