It’s NOT Caused by
You CAN Fix IT
Tying All the CAUSES Together
The Myth of Aging and the Riddle of the Sphinx
This is a simplistic yet powerful title. The Riddle of the Sphinx may help to
According to Greek mythology, the Sphinx provided a riddle: “What has one voice
is four-footed, and two-footed, and 3 footed? Oedipus, correctly answered: “The
human being who crawls on all fours as an infant; walks on two legs in
adulthood; then leans on a cane in old-age.
The obvious question according to Thomas Hanna [¹]
is “why is it that humans, having learned to walk up-right, may lose this
ability, often ending up walking with a cane?” “Clearly it is to grow older is
to become crippled.”
In other words, when the word “aging” is spoken or thought of we equate it with
becoming crippled and infirm – we are “degenerating.” Our spines and joints are
“degenerating.” This thinking was accepted as far back as the 5th century and
for the most part is still believed today. Furthermore, we see it happening in
people everyday. Aging = Degeneration.
Is This Truth or Is it Nonsense?
What is not explained here is why we see a 30 year old, who was a perfectly
happy active 10 year old, with a straight, flexible spine, who is now showing
all the physical signs of being “old,”
The very degenerative “signs” we have been led to expect we will see in
ourselves, as our end of life approaches.
Everyone has seen people like this - they hobble down the street, bent, perhaps
even using a cane or walker. And, who has not also seen an 80 year old, striding
along with a strong, graceful gait, and their body straight? Genes, you say?
Certainly, genes play a role, but if we exclude people born genetically crippled
from the age degeneration equation, then what is left is weakness in genes.
Weaknesses that interact with negative aspects of how we live, eat, breath, and
move – can lead to a quickening of some “aging” processes.[²]
And without question, some of these can add to muscle dysfunctions. However,
metabolic muscle dysfunction can also occur without the presence of any genetic
anomalies. Such muscle dysfunction is a direct result of side effects from
commonly used pharmaceutical drugs; and certainly from toxic chemicals,
xenobiotic hormones, metals, pesticides/herbicides, food additives, and on and
But, we are not talking here about the metabolic changes discussed in our
article on premature aging.
We are looking at a functional, physical, simple to fix, muscle-to-brain
communication malfunction. A malfunction that results in various
and appears to be the underlying “cause” for a very high percentage of back and
neck pain suffering.
A malfunction, having nothing to do with pathology (dis-ease caused)
A malfunction that creates changes in otherwise healthy spinal movement leading
to a host of painful back and neck “conditions” – all of which is blamed on
Those of us who have or will develop progressive back or neck pain episodes and
increasing disability, as the years go by, have been programmed to believe this
is simply the result of “aging” and its expected degenerative changes. After
all, medicine can show us these “degenerative” changes on our X-Ray or MRI –
once such changes can be seen and identified, we are counseled, “to come to
grips with the fact we are aging. It becomes simply something we must accept and
learn to live with.”
So, how did we manage to progress from an active, flexible, healthy child, with
a lust for life, to a sedate, inflexible, inactive person living with back or
neck pain, some of who are less than 20?
We Start to Grow Up
From birth an intricate complicated system of internal and external
communication sensors, is how our muscles “learn” processes, which allow our
“body” to hold itself “up” against gravity while keeping our head lined up with
the horizon. Without this, our balance would be compromised.
During the first 2-3 years of life, our muscles have “learned” their role to
help us reach our individual musculoskeletal functional ideal. For the rest of
our lives those sensors are used to constantly check in on our bodily position,
weight, or movement of the muscles, tendons, and joints - making any necessary
adjustment to the muscles to preserve our ideal posture and balance, no matter
the activity. The muscles of our spine and limbs have the potential to work and
move our bodies in perfect, flexible, balanced harmony.
Our muscles help the spine to develop the natural curves it requires to share
both the loads of gravity and the loads we place on in through our various forms
of movement. This allows us to walk, run, jump, flip over, roll over, climb,
crouch, lift, bend backwards, forwards, side to side, and rotate. As children,
life is an adventure and we use these abilities to have fun - through personal
exploration and play – at the same time developing our strength, endurance,
agility, and greater control over fine motor movements. Thus, beginning the
process that helps us learn who we are, how we relate to the world and others.
Optimal, symmetrical movement for the longest duration is our evolutionary
prize. But no matter how much fun we are having using our newly developed
abilities, eventually we begin to “grow up.”
We begin to have to “DO” things that aren’t “fun.” We being to realize the
difficulties in meeting obligations most never knew about as a child.
Relationships become more complicated, sitting for hours at school and work.
Then there’s finding a job, having a family, worry about that family, worry of
meeting the bills, keeping the boss happy, illness, death, losing our job and
the constant worry for our safety because of events in today’s world. In other
words, the real “cost of living” is stress.
Welcome to Life!
The “Stress” of Aging
Most everyone has heard the expression – “Life will eventually kill you.” To
“live,” means you will experience all forms of stress, physical, emotional, and
social, both good and bad. Digestion of food is a form of “stress” for the body.
Fortunately, as we were evolving as a species, our body, and brain cleverly
developed a variety of methods to manage and reduce the consequences of stress,
what ever the stress, “ – good ” and “bad.”
One of the most primal of those methods involves signals to the muscles that
result in a specific type of “protective” response. This oldest of methods
involves three main signals – Muscle contractions that placed you into the
equivalent of the fetal position to protect from danger, called the “Withdrawal
Response” muscle contraction for the preparation to fight or to flee,
called the “Fight or Flight Response” - and contractions that are
the result of trauma, called the “Trauma Response.”
Each “response” has different and temporary consequences to normal posture. When
the “stress” condition is removed or dealt with muscles eventually return to
their normal resting lengths. At least, they’re supposed to.
But what happens if the “stress” condition occurs repeatedly or never goes away?
When this happens, muscles are forced to stay in the configuration that resulted
from the “stress” response. This means they remain in a contracted state.
Slowly, over time, the muscles begin to “forget” to return to their normal
resting length and they “learn” the need to stay in contraction. Unfortunately,
we have no conscious control over these muscle changes. What is happening is a
reflexive action – a matter between the brain and sensors in the muscles. It all
happens at an unconscious level, beneath our awareness.
Stress is multi-faceted and depending which form of stress is being experienced,
involuntary muscle contraction behaves very differently. An extreme example of
this is the child of war, physical or sexual abuse. These children have already
developed various types of muscle contraction imbalances, which can often be
seen in their posture even at ages under 10. These postural changes are usually
related to the muscles that contract in the “withdrawal response.”
Taking this one step further, it has been proven that when a person experiences
a “startle” event, like a loud and frightening noise, muscles of people with a
healthy strong self-image rapidly return to normal resting length. Children of
war or abuse can find it takes up to several days for this same normalization of
muscle to happen. AND “extreme fear” can have this same exact effect on many
different people, no matter the state of their self-image.
The Aftermath of 9/11 and Back and Neck Pain
Staggeringly high numbers of people attended doctor’s offices and hospital
emergency services for back and neck pain complaints after 9/11 and this
continued over the next several months. Many of those people are still under
treatment years afterwards. Certainly, we have already explained that the
bio-chemical results of fear, no matter if it’s a fear of pain, or a fear for
ones safety – “fear” can increase the level of pain. However, this extreme
increase in the numbers of people suffering with back and neck pain was more
likely due to the muscle contractions caused by the “Withdrawal Response” which
was a result of their fear.
It’s helpful to understand the specific types of normal postural deformation
changes that result from the muscle behaviour caused by the 3 “stress
responses.” Understanding which stress response we are more likely to experience
helps us to visualize which of our muscles are most affected. This can help us
to understand the origins of our particular back and neck pain. It’s also the
turning point in our perception of the role “aging” plays
The “Withdrawal Response”
This stress response involves a forward contraction - a curling into the fetal
position. Muscles of the shoulders and back of neck contract drawing the head
down and the shoulders up, elbows bend, hands curl. Contraction of the abdominal
and flexor muscles curves the trunk forward and draw the rib-cage down,
immediately stopping breathing. Knees bend and point inwards; ankles roll and
feet turn inwards; toes curl up, and the crotch tightens. The body is flexed and
crouched. You “freeze.”
“Fight or Flight Response”
This response sees a totally different set of muscles contract. Our eyes open
wide, the head pulls back, the back extensor muscles lifts and arches the
back to strengthen our center of gravity. Arching opens up the lungs and heart
area allowing for deeper breaths and greater movement of blood. The shoulders
drop and the arms prepare for battle or to help us run. The legs bend in
preparation for quick movement.
These are also the primary muscles we use as children when we happily progress
to meet the wonders and adventures of life. When you are praised, feel
confident, are happy and full of life you stand straight maybe even puff out
your chest a little and the extensor muscle helps you to adopt these postures.
But if negative stressors evoke the contraction of these muscles and if those
stressors become chronic so do contractions of those muscles.
The “Trauma Response”
Muscle effects from the trauma response more often affect our side-to-side
“tilting.” But it can affect almost any muscle. This happens as the
sensory-motor system attempts to “guard” us from pain or the source of pain. If
we prick ourselves, get stung by a bee, or get too near that lovely bon-fire, we
instinctively flinch away, or cringe. This is the trauma reflex. Any injury to
the body, no matter the cause results in our muscles holding a tight protective
pattern around the point of injury and this too is the trauma reflex. Discussion
of the trauma reflex is an article in itself. For the point of this article, we
only need to understand, this reflex not only causes muscle contractions and
postural deformations, but it can and does contribute to other types of muscle
imbalances, which cause back and neck pain, with new and even greater muscle
contractions and postural changes,.
One Additional Unconscious Muscle Imbalance Response
Self-Inflicted Postural Damage
Basically, this simply means that we subject our bodies to physical work and
play postures and loads they were never meant to experience. Eventually, our
posture begins to deform. Sensors in the muscles tell our brains we are
overbalanced, twisted, overworking parts of our bodies beyond the ability, which
our musculoskeletal system can bear. It then begins to make compensations.
Further down in the article is an illustration that provides an opportunity to
judge what possible muscle imbalances will result from a particular self-imposed
Undoing More Degeneration=Aging Connections
In the article on Muscle
Imbalances we looked at how muscle contraction affects the smooth, strong,
flexible movement of our bones and joints so we need only remind about these
effects in the development of back and neck pain. A more important fact of note
is that it appears muscle imbalance also create a host of other conditions we
now look at as being related to aging.
Remember that “Withdrawal Response?” The posture deformation that results from
long term muscle contractions due to this response is one that we usually
associate with “old age.” It’s the one that sees an elder person in their 80s
bent, chest concave, head forward or down, shuffling or limping along, leaning
on a cane. Common complaints from such a person are, poor digestion, difficulty
defecating, problems getting enough breath to walk more than a few steps, rapid
heartbeat, inability to sleep, painful knees, hips or legs, little desire to
eat, and pain. Lots of pain. We have been led to see all this as simply the
expected result of “aging.”
But hold on a minute. What about that 30 year old we mentioned? Is this
an “old” person? Have they somehow become Aged at 30? If asked,
this person will have many of the same complaints as the bent and disabled 80
So, we begin to acquire a different viewpoint about common “maladies of old
age.” We cannot begin to cover all the conditions that can result from this
particular dysfunctional muscle/postural condition. Hanna took a book to cover
them all. But we’ll look at a few consequence of the “abdominal contraction.” In
his book, Hanna [¹]
“Not only does this abdominal contraction cause shallow breathing, it creates
other problems as well. The pressure on the organs affects all organ functions.
For example, contracted abdominal muscles squeeze the bladder, raising its
internal pressure. This gives the false sense of a full bladder. Frequent
urination is the result. This same abdominal contraction also affects digestion
and elimination.” When you consider that the digestive system is the body’s
largest immune system organ any disruption here can result a host of body
malfunctions. Additionally the contraction of muscle that takes place at the
bottom of the pelvis, among other things, causes a reflexive tightening of the
anus, which can lead to constipation and hemorrhoids…”
These are just a small few – little more than a glimpse into the collection of
subsequent secondary effects of the “Withdrawal Response.” Unfortunately, they
are most often seen as “medical problems” indicating a breakdown of the internal
organs and metabolic processes – once again – what one should expect as a part
of the normal degeneration of the body as we advance into our 80’s and 90’s –
certainly not at 20 to 30.
Reversing the Myth of Aging as a Cause of Back Pain
Why medicine has not looked at the consequences to the body that are the result
of muscle contraction and imbalance and included them in “treatment” for back
and neck pain, we can’t say. But, there are scientists, and practitioners who
have examined these consequences and assisted in finding ways of restoring
healthy muscle functioning. They have decades of data that demonstrate complete
resolution of the many varied secondary effects to the spine once muscles have
been restored to their normal healthy, flexible function.
The consequence of our fast paced technological westernized life style finds us
trying to cope with high levels of very distinctive and new forms of stress. 80%
of the population suffers back pain of one degree or another. It’s ironic that
in spite of our gigantic advances in science and technology, medicine is still
spectacularly unsuccessful in combating, or even understanding, this epidemic
affecting almost an entire population.
Next to only the cold, it is the most common disorder people seek medical help
for. How can anything so painful, so epidemic, so socially detrimental, and
costly, be so little understood and so poorly coped with?
This is proving to be an embarrassing question when the very doctors we seek out
to help rid us of our back and neck pain also suffer with this same disorder. In
spite of training every gun from every area of medicine on this disorder,
medicine remains unable to explain why it cannot diagnose any identifiable
physical reason to explain well over 80% of their patients back pain. Faced with
this confusion they have elected to lay the “blame” on the door stop of “Aging.”
And as we discussed in the Muscle Imbalance article - if the compression on the
spine is not resolved, deterioration of the integrity of vertebrae, facet
joints, discs, ligaments, etc will surely be the end result. When this occurs,
medicine puts this forward as proof of “degenerative aging.”
We can’t lend much credence to this explanation when we consider that 40% of the
disability suffered by people UNDER 35 is a result of back and neck pain.
This picture is a perfect illustration of self inflicted postural damage.
The brain must compensate in order to provide us with optimal balance.That
means muscle contractions, here, where there should be none.
Can you see the stress and contraction forces on this spine? The shift in the
shoulders and pelvis? Our children sit in these types of positions for hours
every day. So do we.
Medicine IS looking into the links between muscle imbalance and back or neck
pain but the majority of this work consists of looking at the consequences TO
muscles because of a response to a damaged spine. It makes little difference how
this damage occurred, whether from accidental injury, surgical procedures, or as
a consequence of those so-called, “degenerative aging” conditions. This all
relates directly to the “Trauma Response.”
Little if any work concentrates on how damage to the spine is a consequence of
muscle imbalances. Actually, that is not true. There is a great deal of work
taking place in this area. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be translating
into the every day normal medical doctor-patient relationship. There is
practically no assistance provided toward the need for proper treatment. These
muscles need to be “retrained” in highly specific ways. These muscles have lost
their “memory” – their “sensors” no longer send the message to return the muscle
to its resting lengths. The muscles have become habituated to their
dysfunctional postures. Few if any people have the ability to identify and
isolate the muscles that need to be retrained to release - until shown how. In
fact, most people have, also become “habituated” to these changes, and have no
idea any of their muscles are in a state of semi-contraction.
How Effective is This Type of Treatment?
From all the research, we have done into the medical puzzle that is “back and
pain” muscle imbalance and this specific form of “treatment” for it – it appears
to be the best bet for real resolution of back or neck pain problems – even if
you have already begun the development of those degenerative functional spine
problems. Release the contractions and you relieve the compression on the spine.
Integrity of the spine and every other joint in our body depends on functional
muscles that “remember” how to completely relax after use. If you are one of the
high number of people it is estimated who actually suffer from muscle imbalance,
and you are committed to putting in your homework, this treatment appears to be
Success depends upon finding the right, properly trained therapist. After a
thorough, top to bottom evaluation of your posture, muscles, fascia, gait, and
joint movement, they will tell you, upfront exactly what results you can expect,
and how many treatments it will take. Usually, it takes very few treatments. At
first, a few may be close together, after that they can end up being months
apart, because 99% of the work must be done by you, at home. These additional
appointments are for “check-ins” to evaluate your progress. To ensure you are
still on the right track, or to add another muscle to the process. All of these
“exercises” consist of easy, slow, gentle movements. Haste and great effort will
not work. Once your muscles have “re-learned” to release their contractions,
necessary work begins on strengthening.
We must be careful here not to use the word “cure.” That word remains under the
legal protection of Orthodox Medicine. Only Orthodox Medicine can make a claim
for a “cure” even though most of their “cures” are short lived at best. It seems
that the methods employed to affect such “cures” often lead to other dis-eases
and conditions. However, we have heard that word used by people, who have
undertaken this form of therapy, when describing their own personal results.
Anyone reading this article must be aware the information it contains should
NEVER be used to self-diagnose. If you believe you may be experiencing muscle
imbalance and you think you may benefit from the specialized type of therapy
used to treat it; you must discuss it with a medical professional first.
Unless your back or neck pain is due to actual dis-ease processes or other
serious causes you should not have too much trouble in convincing your
professional to both OK and support you with this treatment decision.
Yes, the spine does age, slowly, as does the rest of our body and those changes
will show up as degeneration of the various tissues. However, we do not believe
it is the “nature” of our body for such aging to begin just when we have reached
the prime of our lives. And we no longer agree that “aging degeneration” of the
spine is a rational answer to most back and neck pain conditions especially when
such “changes” are routinely found in extremely young age groups.
Don’t forget our Heat Treat Backpack. It’s the natural way to interfere with
pain signals. It reduces stress and helps to resolve inflammation processes.
But, best of all it won’t create or worsen inflammatory processes in and around
the spinal joints and delicate nerve roots. It is the only heat therapy pack
that can make this claim.
It’s very easy to use and gives you quick help for your pain - with little or no
need for dangerous medication. Quick is good because remember the longer you are
in pain – the longer it takes to bring it under control. And of course the more
pain your body goes through the greater the chance for the development of the dis-ease of pain, Maldynia. You can read more about this in the article about
Identifying the Pain.
In the article, About the Pack you will find more detailed information about how
our wonderful Pack can and does help.
3. Illustration from: Children of Clay, By
Ed Thomas, Ed.D.
RESOURCE: Massage for Orthopedic Conditions (LWW Massage Therapy and
Bodywork Series) Thomas Hendrickson DC, ISBN: 0-7817-3405-3 You can view this chapter from the book – it is available to the public. We
think this one resource is extremely helpful. The many illustrations are clear
and understandable and the explanation and demonstrations for specific muscle
release treatment is well explained. It is an excellent resource – especially
when you begin this method of treatment.
DISCLAIMER:The information in HeatTreat.ca is not intended as a substitute for appropriate medical professional help or advice but is to be used as a sharing of new knowledge, information and as an aid to a new understanding about back and neck pain and its treatment. A trained, appropriate health professional should always be consulted for back pain or any health problem. HeatTreat.ca provides links to other articles and web sites as a service to our readers and is not responsible for the information, services, or products provided by these web sites, health professionals, or companies. See "Terms and
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