| Degenerative Aging | Muscle Imbalances | Back Pain | Neck Pain | Muscle Dysfunctions | Flexor Muscles | Musculoskeletal System |

immune system, metabolic muscle dysfunction, muscle dysfunctions, difficulty defecating, xenobiotic hormones, Withdrawal Response, extensor muscles, trauma reflex, Withdrawal Response, abdominal contraction, pharmaceutical drugs

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It’s NOT Caused by “Degenerative” Aging
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 explain.

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? Perhaps.

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.

Not Genetic
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 on.

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 Muscle Imbalances 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 AGING.

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 posture.

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 year old.

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] says:

“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 VERY effective.

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.

In Conclusion
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.

If you want to see how to use the Pack we have a video presentation just for you.

Or, you can just go directly to our Store. You have the option to purchase Online or Offline

References and Resources
1. “Somatics – Reawakening the Minds’ Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health”, by Thomas Hanna

2. “Aging”, by Heat Treat Backpack System Co: http://www.heattreat.ca/aging.php

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.

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