By Dr. Darin Stokke, DC
There is a simple key to enjoying a lifetime of pain-free living and that starts with looking at the body as a whole rather than a group of parts working individually. Today, we have been conditioned to view every ailment or pain as an isolated body part, organ or system of the body simply malfunctioning and in need of a specialist to treat. Every ailment, pain or altered body function has a diagnosis and usually a pill to treat that particular thing without any consideration given to the rest of the body. Having well trained specialists in organ systems is often helpful and necessary, but it also can keep us from rightfully viewing the body as a whole and determining the overall effects on our whole person and perhaps even determining the ultimate cause of the condition itself.
When working with various pains, it’s easy to focus attention simply on the area of pain. Elbow pain, as an example, is often blamed on “over-use” of the elbow joint in sports such as golf or tennis. Tennis and golf elbow braces are even made specifically to address this pain. However, consider that elbow pain is not from over-use and is not necessarily even a problem with a dysfunctional elbow joint. The elbow isn’t simply out there, in space, by itself and not attached to any other part of the body. The elbow joint is centered directly between the wrist and the shoulder joints. Is it possible that perhaps immobility of the wrist or a poorly aligned and moving shoulder joint could affect the elbow’s ability to move properly? Moving out further, is it possible that poor posture and spinal alignment involving a hunched over position or scoliosis could affect all of those joints and how they move as well? Of course that’s possible and, as we often find, likely most of the cause. All of the expensive braces, pills, lotions and cortisone shots will have no effect on correcting the cause. Playing golf and tennis should not cause elbow pain with normal and balanced joint movements and the elbow was made to move and move often, not to suffer “over-use” from playing a few rounds of golf.
The key to pain-free living is based upon integrating and balancing three important factors; Structure, Stability and Strength. We live life through movement; movement of the cells, movement of the fluids, movement of digestion, and movement of the joints. Movement is life and functional movement is health or pain-free living in the case of our joints. As we age, structure, stability and strength often become imbalanced for a variety reasons including bad postural habits, work activities, a lack of or improper use of exercise, injuries, accidents, slips and falls, and even non-use or inactivity. We start with the structure of the body looking at it biomechanically as a kinetic chain, each joint and part affecting and supporting the next. A structurally sound body will maintain leverage allowing for the fullest ranges of motion to occur. A structurally imbalanced area of the body will not move well and will weaken the rest of the kinetic chain thus weakening the entire body. It’s much like the bridge collapse that occurred in Minneapolis back in 2007. Evidence found that it was simply a weakening in the weld joints of a few of the bridges trusses that weakened the entire bridge’s structural balance and eventually caused it to collapse.
Now our body must also move when structure aligned so the next part, stability, is necessary. Stability occurs between the ligaments and the small intrinsic muscles of the body. These small balancing or stabilizing muscles fire differently than our large muscle group and must be trained and treated differently. Watch how children play, swinging on monkey bars, climbing trees, running and jumping rope. Children are intuitively training these stabilizing muscles and ligaments with their play. As we age, we engage less of these stabilizing muscles and ligaments and with it, our balance and movements often become compromised.
And finally strength must be addressed to support body alignment and to perform our daily tasks. However, training strength without first having stability causes injuries and training strength and stability without having the proper structural alignment creates dysfunctional movement patterns and the eventual breakdown of our joints and nervous system. All three must remain in balance so that you can enjoy a lifetime of pain-free living!