Sunday, August 12, 2007

Healthy Muscles, Part II

Last week, I introduced the concept of undulation as an activity that adds variety, and therefore youthful movement, to your body. A couple weeks earlier, I explained the basics of keeping your muscles healthy (Healthy Joints and Muscles). In this article, I’ll tie the two together and show you that how you move determines how healthy your body can be.

Muscular activity regulates much of the flow of fluids throughout your body. When it contracts, a muscle forces fluid from the surrounding connective tissue. As it relaxes, fresh, available fluid flows back in. A muscle can become dehydrated and dried out like beef jerky if it’s chronically contracted. It may also start grabbing nearby tissue for some temporary additional strength, causing adhesions that can later constrict movement.

Without fresh fluid from regular use, a muscle can become stagnant. A brace-like structure may develop when the connective tissue lays down extra fibers to support the immobility, for example sitting over a keyboard for hours. Asking a muscle to contract with all that extra fortification is like asking a piece of plywood to bend. A “tight” muscle may actually need to be shortened instead of stretched like you may think. For example, in the habitual rolled-forward posture the upper back, neck, and shoulders are elongated, but stretching these tissues actually creates more stiffness, not less.

Obviously, movement is vital to keeping your whole body healthy, but it has to be the right type of movement to avoid injury. I divide injuries into two categories: 1) overstretch and 2) overuse.

Overstretch Injuries
If you stretch too far, you can actually create tears within muscle and connective tissue. These tiny lacerations get repaired with scar tissue, which, by nature’s design, is inflexible and stiff. Going for the “burn” is too much and counterproductive.

Stretching is most effective done only to the point of first sensation, which requires an awareness of subtle changes.

Overuse Injuries
Unless you were a prodigy, you probably didn’t learn math all at once. But for some reason, we all want our bodies to do the physical equivalent of calculus right out of the starting gate. It just isn’t possible. And when we try, try again, an injury from overuse is usually the result. A much more effective long-term strategy is to build up your strength gradually and let muscles rest after intense activity.

Another common cause is using one part of the body more than it is designed for, such as bending at one vertebra, rather than spreading the movement over several, or over-rotating the neck, because the torso does not. The tissues around these overworked areas soon become worn out and exhausted. By learning to use your whole body, these types of injuries are preventable.

In summary, we need to move, but it can’t be too much or too little. That’s why I’m a big believer in undulation. It encourages activity with the focus on paying attention to your body’s messages and getting more movement from still places so those inactive tissues become hydrated and healthy.

This article was excerpted from Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young Again with Undulation (ISBN #978-0-9796179-0-4) Chapter 3: Characteristics of a Youthful Body.

1 comment:

Stella said...

Your comments about hydration and lubrication are well-taken. Not only do my joints and muscles benefit from undulation but I've discovered a new awareness of how I move. There's a lot of "unlearning" to be done but this happens over time.

The idea of stretching "too far" isn't entirely new to me but this article made me think about exactly what it means to overstress.

Stella Cameron