Sally is an accountant who has spent most of her life sitting down: first in a school room, then at a computer for her tertiary education and now her work, in the car, sitting for meals, and on a lounge at night watching TV. Her major muscles assigned to the task of walking are no longer able to do so efficiently and effectively. For the most part, these muscles have been shut down hour after hour, and the body has redirected its resources elsewhere.
She still has to go to the bathroom, and out to get lunch, so Sally must walk at least a little bit. These brief walks aren't really enough to maintain musculoskeletal function. Sally's body ends up borrowing other muscles and bypassing the quadriceps, the major muscle group on the front of the thigh. Normally the quadriceps stabilise the knee and position the hip. The peripheral muscles aren't designed to do the job of the quadriceps - they have another job - and don't do their extra job quite right and they tire easily.
Unsurprisingly, Sally developed knee pain some years ago. She blames it on the jogging that she used to do, but the real cause is long term lack of functional motion. No longer running because of her knee pain, her diaphragm, the major muscle involved in breathing, also didn't get enough motion and it is no longer in a state to enable her to breathe correctly. So now Sally's sedentary lifestyle has not only interfered with her ability to walk, but it has also undermined her capacity to breathe. Other muscles in the torso, even those whose primary function is to move the arms, head and spine, take over the diaphragm's job of taking in oxygen, but once again are less effective and they tire easily doing a job for which they're not designed.
Major postural muscles are not the only ones to progressively degenerate when they are not used. All muscles, and even all living tissue, share the same characteristic, hence the saying "Move it or lose it." The body recognises when a muscle isn't being used, so puts its resources elsewhere, meaning the unused tissue does not receive the optimal amount of nutrition and oxygen.
Due of her decreased capacity to breathe properly, Sally develops dizzy spells as her brain, which uses about 40% of the total oxygen intake of the body, begins to starve. The body deems the brain one of the most important organs of the body, so it doesn't let itself starve unnecessarily. The brain has already diverted oxygen to itself from less essential functions, like moving, posture, digestion, white blood cell production (that's your immunity) and more. Meanwhile, joints and muscles that don't get enough oxygen can't function properly, no matter how much they are drugged, manipulated or altered by surgery, and chronic pain settles in. All the other systems in the body suffer as well.
Sally's complaints will slowly escalate over the years. Her life of sitting causes her to stop jogging because her knees are sore, then "I can't walk because of my knees," "I've lost my appetite," "My stomach hurts," "I can't sleep at night," "I feel dizzy," "I have high blood pressure," and so on. Does this sound familiar?
Sally's husband, Tom, is a farmer. He spends most of his life sitting too - on the tractor, in the header, in the ute, on the quadbike, bending over shearing and crutching, sitting for meals and watching TV at night in the arm chair. He used to play rugby in the local club, but found that his back was too stiff and sore when he got out of the car travelling to neighbouring towns to play games, so he gave that up.
Tom's deep hip flexors are accustomed to being short because he spends so much time with his hips at 90 degrees or less. Now Tom's walking around bent over like a half opened pocket knife, and his knees don't fully straighten. He's already noticing that he's getting out of breath easily, thinks he's depressed, and he's tired nearly all the time which he puts down to the fact that he doesn't seem to want to eat as much as he used to. Because he doesn't like going to town, he hasn't seen a doctor in years and Sally is worried that Tom also has high blood pressure.
So was it inevitable that Sally and Tom are in their late 50's and in this state of health? Is there something that can be done which may make the rest of their lives look a little more enjoyable? And if you're in your 20's or 30's and reading this, thinking that Sally and Tom may be you and your partner in a few decades, I bet you'd like to know if there's something that can prevent your future looking like theirs.
Of course there is, but it takes personal effort and commitment, and a belief that you are worth that effort so that you make it a priority over your job and your family for the rest of your life. It should be a no brainer - if you don't address the issue, you won't be able to do your job or take care of your family and enjoy it.
Here's what you can do. First of all, go and see someone who can help you correct the primary cause of the dysfunction that is causing the problem(s). If you are older, go now. If you are younger, go when you first notice pain setting in (Sally noticed her knees were sore when she was jogging in her late 20's and Tom's back was stiff after driving in his late 20's too). Go to the doctor if you need some serious pain relief, but before you resort to asking them to help you fix the problem, go to a good bodyworker with a sound reputation and a good track record. Alexander Technique, Rolfing, Chiropractic, Osteopathy, Bowen Therapy are all good modalities that I believe can assist, and there are probably others. Of course I would encourage you to choose Bowen Therapy because that is what I understand the best, and I have helped hundreds of people sustainably recover from chronic pain and not spiral into conditions that the doctors say "Well, what do you expect at your age?", but I'm sure Bowen is not the only answer available.
To assist recovery, seek out a gentle exercise routine which will encourage functional movement. This may be well instructed Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong or Egoscue exercises. Once again, I would encourage you to consider Qigong or Egoscue as they are the exercise routines with which I am familiar, and they have helped me maintain strength and flexibility whilst living with a permanent injury from a car accident in my teens. I also successfully use these to assist in the recovery of my Bowen clients who cannot come to see me as often as I'd like due to shift work or distance, and are being very helpful at this point during lockdown.
Then, when you are moving in a functional manner (ie. your muscles are all working correctly) get back to exercise. Adopt a healthy mixture of strengthening, aerobic and mindful exercise to get the most benefit. Make sure you choose that which you enjoy, and continue this practice for the rest of your life.
Finally, if the old pain starts niggling again, or another issue creeps in, revisit the bodyworker and therapeutic exercises to nip it in the bud early and quickly so that it doesn't get a chance to escalate and stop you enjoying the rest of your life.
The body is incredibly efficient, and once it regains balance in the musculoskeletal system it may take as little as 20 minutes of targeted exercise a day to maintain a level of functional movement that will ensure ease of movement and optimal health.
Your whole life, including old age, is meant to be enjoyable and graceful. If you start early and put in a little time and effort, the joy in later years will be so worth it. If you would like to discuss your future health, please give me a call on 0427 143 743.
Hi, I'm Prue Duffy, a Bowen Therapist and Equine Muscle Release Therapist in regional NSW, Australia. I've been doing Bowen since 2007, and opened a practice in Dubbo in 2012. The results some of my clients get through Bowen is truly amazing.