Posture And Pain: Does Your Back Hurt?

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freedominaction-web2-05-e1278581828693We all know about the desirability of relaxation, flexibility, good posture and the absence of tension. Despite our best intentions, despite relaxation classes, fitness classes and Eastern disciplines, despite stretching exercises, posture exercises, taping and Californian know-how, we’re still tense and uncomfortable in our bodies, with aching backs, sore necks, stiff shoulders, injuries and named conditions. What information are we lacking?

There is no shortage of advice and injunctions.

We all know about the desirability of relaxation, flexibility, good posture and the absence of tension.

Yet by the end of the day your shoulders ache, or perhaps it’s your neck or your lower back. You’ve tried to improve your posture. You’ve done various exercises, stretches, treatments. They work, up to a point. Your approach is palliative, a management strategy. Things are OK most of the time, but occasional periods of more pain, or a real “back attack” get you. You see your therapist of choice, the pain mostly goes away, until next time. Perhaps you feel you are “just getting older”; some activities are a little circumscribed, perhaps knees are giving a bit of trouble, or your flexibility is decreasing.

Or else you’ve had a diagnosis of something actually “wrong” – scoliosis perhaps, or part of your spine is “too straight”, or else you have osteophytes, or disc degeneration. You have been told that “nothing can be done, you’ll just have to live with it”. Maybe you have a special exercise or stretching routine that keeps the symptoms under control, but you know you might be in trouble if you miss a day or two.

Despite our best intentions, despite relaxation classes, fitness classes and Eastern disciplines, despite stretching exercises, posture exercises, taping and Californian know-how, we’re still tense and uncomfortable in our bodies, with aching backs, sore necks, stiff shoulders, injuries and named conditions. Diagnosis of a named condition can also give the impression of permanence, so that one does not look further for a solution, not learning to exercise the choices that can make a big difference.

What information are we missing?

It should not have to be this way! If it’s aging, the passage of time, why doesn’t everyone over a certain age have these problems? And why do some very young people, in their 20’s and teens even, have these problems? Why do some of us recover more fully from accidents than others? Why do some of us remain fit and active far longer than others? What makes the difference between those who breeze comfortably through life, and those who seem to suffer successive aches, pains and injuries?

“Everyone wants to be right, but no one stops to consider if their idea of right is right” FMA

We don’t even know it is there.

The hidden part, the unseen portion of the problem, is that many of us get stuck at some point in a certain level of tension, or fixity, or distortion, or holding, which becomes built in to our habitual way of being. We become accustomed to “typist’s hunch”, “jogger’s slump”, “mother’s hip”, “driver’s neck”, “student’s shoulder” and the like. Because it is there all the time, our own individual holding pattern simply slips below the level of our conscious awareness.

Our own personal pattern

of “use” can levy a hidden strain, lowering performance and predisposing us to injury and back pain. Yet we remain unconscious of the fact that the pain we are in may be a cumulative result of strains we are inadvertently imposing on ourselves day in, day out.

Our individual movement, holding and postural patterns, comprising our way of applying ourselves across all our activities, may encompass compensatory mal-adaptations to earlier injuries or on-going adjustments that generate further strain and injury.

Our personal pattern.

Our personal pattern, for better or worse, comprises the matrix out of which all our actions are performed; exercise, relaxation, work, leisure. It is precisely in unravelling these patterns that the Alexander Technique of neuromuscular re-education sheds light and may be invaluable.

In other words, it’s the things that we don’t know that we are doing, that may be at the root of back or neck pain.

How are you “wearing” yourself?

Aches, pains and even degeneration may be symptoms of a hidden problem. Until the “conditions of use”, ie the individual’s habitual holding pattern or way of “wearing” themselves, has been adequately assessed, the diagnosis has only been partial. If there is an undiagnosed pattern of movement which involves, for example, unremitting pressure through the lower back, then until that pressure-producing habit is changed, the results of the pressure (ie pain) will continue.

Pain may start to dissipate.

An Alexander Technique teacher is highly trained to recognise poor habits of “use”, assessing where and how a person is introducing unnecessary strain into their way of being. The Alexander Technique teacher brings to your attention things you are doing that you are unaware of. That is, (s)he helps you to extend your choice in the way that you move, act and react. ….You learn a new way of moving; sitting, standing, applying yourself across the range of your activities with less strain, less effort and less energy. You begin to feel lighter and freer as old habits are unlearned. Pain, even of many years’ standing, may start to dissipate.

Whatever our situation, we can learn to minimise strain, and work with ourselves, rather than mechanically performing mindless exercises, stretches or forcing “right” positions, and ultimately fighting what is perfectly natural, comfortable, strain-free and sustainable.

© M Stenning, Canberra 2002

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