Our bodies are designed to move. From our upright posture to the biomechanics of every joint, muscle, tendon, and ligament, our human body’s purpose is to facilitate ambulation. When we move, our joints are lubricated with synovial fluid which keeps them healthy and nourished. Our discs are hydrated and our muscles and ligaments are able to expand and contract to provide flexibility, strength, and support. The importance of movement goes beyond structure and function, it is a key component to improving posture and avoiding injury.
Most people know the importance of movement and exercise but unfortunately the way society is geared today with busy work schedules, school, family life, etc., people find little to no time to give the body what it craves. A typical day for the average American is to sit eight hours a day working at a computer and then come home to relax by watching TV, reading a book, or surfing the web on their cell phone or I-pad. Although these activities may feel helpful for the mind as an escape from the stressors of the day, the implications it has on the body can be damaging.
The human body is amazing in its ability to adapt to its surroundings. You’ve probably noticed this in the past in regards to how your body regulates temperature. Our bodies will shiver to warm itself up, and sweat to cool itself down. We are one of the few species on the planet with the ability to do this. It has been shown that people that live at higher altitudes have higher levels of red blood cells to carry oxygen to compensate for the thinner air. Even something as simple as callus formation on the skin is an example of the body adapting to the stress of its environment. The body’s adaptive capability can be highly beneficial in allowing us to cope with our ever changing environment, but unfortunately when you sit for eight hours a day, it adapts to that as well.
When sitting at the computer the proper posture would entail a fully supported straight spine, shoulders back, ear lobes over the shoulders, with the hips and thighs forming a 90 degree angle with the torso. Your elbows should be at right angles if you’re typing and your feet should be flat on the floor. This is the resting position for the body where the joints and muscles are in a relaxed position. How many people sit like this? Very few. The trap that we fall into is what we perceive as comfortable and what is actually considered resting. As soon as our heads translate forward on our shoulders, or our shoulders round to accommodate typing, or our hips contract because we are sitting too far forward or leaning too far back in our chairs, our bodies are no longer in a resting position. It may feel comfortable in the short term, but our bodies are forced to adapt to these new imbalanced stressors. Gradually, our postures change to conform to our new demands. Our muscles contract in these positions to stabilize the imbalance, and over time lose their stretch and proper function. Soon we start to notice that sitting improperly actually feels more natural than sitting with proper posture.
Did you ever notice that everyone walks and carries themselves differently? Next time you’re at the beach take note of other peoples’ postures and the way they walk. No two are similar. Some people might have rounded shoulders or one shoulder higher than the other. Others may flare one or both feet out to the side, or lean to one side or the other. This is an example of how the body adapts or compensates. The number one job of the twenty four bones that make up your vertebral column is to protect your spinal cord. Each bone should be able to move independently while sliding over the smooth surfaces in between called your joints. However, when the body is put under a physical stress (it could be something as mild as poor posture or sleeping in an awkward position) or something major (e.g. slip and fall or car accident) the brain goes into protective mode and the way the vertebrae protect the spinal cord is by misaligning, thereby becoming immobile and rigid. This protects the spinal cord from outside trauma.
Although the brain’s protective mechanisms are beneficial in protecting the body from serious injury, if left untreated can lead to chronic issues. When the vertebrae subluxates every structure associated with that vertebrae is distorted as well. The muscle surrounding the stuck joint is contracted, the tendon is overstretched, the joint swells with inflammation, and the disc is compressed. The first two days after injury the brain will release chemicals of acute inflammation. Acute inflammation is positive as it is the body trying to heal and fix the problem. Symptoms may lessen during this time period but the problem is if it is left uncorrected, the brain cannot re-align and restore motion to the affected vertebrae once it subluxates. Instead, the brain adapts and the chemicals change. The acute inflammation now becomes chronic inflammation. The brain now tries to help you live with the problem. At four weeks after the joint misalignment the brain will start to lay down scar tissue in the tissue surrounding the subluxation. At twelve to fourteen weeks the scar tissue and fibrosis starts to be laid down in the joint itself. The body is trying to stabilize the instability caused by the injury and will now recruit other areas of the body to work harder to take the pressure off of the dysfunctional area. This creates imbalance and prevents the body from distributing its weight evenly. It can also lead to balance issues as the sensory receptors in your joints and muscles stop providing accurate sensory information to the cerebellum, altering proper proprioception and making you feel unstable. The body has adapted but hasn’t corrected. Eventually this leads to a breakdown in the kinetic chain and can lead to more serious injury in the future.
This process can be avoided with routing chiropractic adjustments. Chiropractic adjustments restore proper motion and function to subluxated joints. Restoring proper function allows all of the protective mechanisms associated with the subluxation to alleviate. The swelling resolves, the muscle spasms diminish, allowing the muscle to expand and contract and the scar tissue in the joint and muscle is broken up restoring proper motion. Chiropractic care corrects compensation in the body, improving posture and allowing the body to function the way that it was designed.
Article written by Dr. Kevin Mikalaitis of Omni Chiropractic in Naples, FL.