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Body Un-Awareness

by Marjorie Brook(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 195 - June 2012

As a race we are excellent at compensating. From surviving in harsh environments, overcoming illness and disease to dealing with daily stresses. We learn to adapt and adjust in order to make it through the day. We do so on automatic pilot, especially within our own bodies. The brain's need to protect and keep the body functioning often sets up a chain reaction that leads to future more damaging complications. And we are blissfully unaware of what is going on in our own bodies until the damage it done.

A male client with severely locked hips (shockingly, he is
a marathon runner - I could not figure out how he was even walking) could not perform any movement with flexing his head forward. Sitting down, standing up, lifting his legs, all trunck movements. He was totally unaware that he was even moving his head. ... he was so disconnected from his own body he could not see that his limited range of motion and inability to move freely was the cause of his dysfunction and pain.

The other day I was engaged by a massage therapist who wanted to learn more about my scar and stretching techniques. She lined up a full day of her clients for me to work with and she to observe and assist when applicable. One female client with lower back pain could only lift her leg by engaging her opposite QL [Quadratus Lumborum] and her Psoas; her quadriceps where completely inactive. It took about 10 attempts of isolated movement with verbal and physical cueing to retrain her body to perform the function properly. She was in complete shock at how hard it was to lift her leg properly and how much she had been using her back.

A male client with severely locked hips (shockingly, he is a marathon runner - I could not figure out how he was even walking) could not perform any movement with flexing his head forward. Sitting down, standing up, lifting his legs, all trunck movements. He was totally unaware that he was even moving his head. Ironically, the entire time we were trying to have him utilize the appropriate muscles, he fought and argued. Refusing to believe that he was incorrectly using his body, that his movements were not natural, after all he was a long distance runner. He was so disconnected from his own body he could not see that his limited range of motion and inability to move freely was the cause of his dysfunction and pain.

Time was spent after each session (stretching, scar work, massage) with the clients, retraining them or simply making them aware of the improper body mechanics. Later, when we were done and I was reviewing the day with the therapist, she was astonished at the difference in her clients. She agreed with me that it was important that our clients be made aware of their body mechanics. However she said that she did not feel it was her job as a massage therapist to work with them on it. She said there was just not enough time to do so.

The next day I had a new client come in. A mountain of muscle, but it took a only few seconds of really looking at him to observe that he had about 30% less mass on his right side. He had several surgeries on his shoulder which caused nerve damage in his right Latissimus Dorsi. His physical therapy had ended a year ago and he stated, with both pride and frustration, that he has been working out at the gym trying to restore the muscle himself. When I asked if he knew exactly what functions the Lats were responsible for, he said "no". I followed that question with, how then did he know if he was performing the right exercises in correct form? His reply "Well I guess I don't”. His PT never explained to him why he was doing the exercises he was doing during his therapy, nor did the PT give him any explanation as to what he could do to help himself once the insurance cut off the therapy.

It never ceases to amaze how disconnected people are from their bodies. We have all been taught that proper body mechanics is essential to maintaining our bodies. Proper body movement will prevent and correct posture problems, reduce stress and enhance physical capabilities. However the average person has no clue that they are not using their bodies the way they were designed to be used. They have very little if any body awareness. For health to be restored, the brain and the somatic body needs to be reminded / re-educated as to how it is designed to work.

Body Awareness is the ability to recognize different parts of one's own body, and their relative positions. It is essential for performing smooth, coordinated movements. Body awareness is dependent on being able to perceive and integrate information coming from all the sense organs, including the less well-known ones (proprioceptors) in the muscles and joints, which monitor internal movements. Proprioception is the most overlooked of our senses, it is as important, if not more important as the other senses, for normal functioning.

Proprioception, often referred to as the sixth sense, was developed by the nervous system as a means to keep track of and control the different parts of the body. While we all have proprioception, the sense develops as we grow, it is necessary for learning a type of movement or skill involving muscle. And anything learned can be learned incorrectly or become skewed. With every correct or incorrect movement, as the client stands, sits, walks, drives, lifts, reaches, pushes, pulls, exercises, and even sleeps, the client is affecting his/her physical well being. When we think of instructing our clients in regard to Body Mechanics, it is often for issues such as carpel tunnel or a bad back. But proper body mechanics is need for all functions.

Knowing the importance of utilizing proper body mechanics and the lack of body awareness by the average person, just having the client fill out a medical history and tell you what their problem is not enough information to start treatment. And once the treatment is over and you have altered the tensegrity (balance of tension) of the client's body, it is not OK to just let them roll off the table and out the door with no further instruction other than take it easy and drink lots of water. Spending a few minutes to observe how our clients move both off and on the table is so important and will not take away from session time. Nor will you hear the client complain about the time it takes to perform a few muscles tests if it helps to resolve the problem and make the pain go away. It is our job as healthcare providers to show the client how they are using their bodies incorrectly and give them the tools to correct the problems.

A client brought in his 8 year-old son for a stretching session. The father was concerned because the boy seemed very spastic and uncoordinated when he ran despite putting him in a running camp for training. The concern or fear was due to the fact that when the boy was born he required immediate brain surgery. While he beat the odds and survived to be a normal functioning child, the father is ever on the lookout for complications. After assessing, talking with and stretching the boy it was obvious that he was fine and 8-years old. By that I mean, he was just running like a care free kid whose only thought is to go fast. His coordination was off because to just verbally tell the child to lift his knees while he is running was not enough (not to mention he was leading with his head as he really wanted to win).

What was needed in this instance was specific exercises to show / explain to his body how to do what was being asked of it. I had the Father hold his hand out in front of the boy at waist height and asked the child to lift his right knee to his father's hand. After several uncoordinated attempts and a little verbal and physical guidance he smoothly hit the target every time. Simple as that. Dad left with a set of training exercises and a sigh of relief. Now I could have just stretched the child and told the father that there were no muscular problems and have a nice day, but would I have served my clients, both father and son, to the best of my ability? Taking the time to alleviate the father's fears and giving him the tools to help his son is as important as stretching the muscles of a growing boy. Helping the boy gain better understanding of his body and muscle coordination will assist him on his path of growth.

I had a 50 year old female client with severe knee pain in both knees. She was trying to avoid having surgery. In order to reduce her pain she developed a habit of roll walking - much like a drunken sailor. Unfortunately, her body's solution to minimize pain was actually causing more damage. After the session she stood up from my table and started to walk around the office. She very happily announced that her pain was gone. I asked if she was no longer in pain why was she still walking as if she was? She was completely clueless as to what I was referring too. We spent the next 15 minutes retraining her how to walk. Had I just let her leave, as happy as she was, she would have been back sooner rather than later with the same problem plus the add bonus of frustration, anger and depression to the list of aliments. Osteopaths, Chiropractor and Physical Therapists are all qualified to offer council and education on proper body movement. While they do not diagnosis, Massage Therapists can asses and utilize muscle testing in order to gain insight into their clients problems. Unfortunately the "treat em and street em" attitude and insurance company interference is resulting in just the opposite. More often than not I have clients coming in with the same story as my muscle man.

Using good body mechanics is important for everyone, not just our clients but for the Doctor/Therapist as well. As health care professionals, we need to educate and correct ourselves and our clients. The client must be informed about their illness, injury, surgery, or procedure, and proper body mechanics. Sometimes the answer to eliminating pain is going back to basics and simply relearning how to walk properly. I am reminded of the old saying "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for life". You can ease the a man's pain for the moment or you can teach him how to properly walk down the path to a healthy life.

Comments:

  1. Jennifer Jhanda said..

    Thank you for recognizing the importance of massage and spreading the gospel. We at National Holistic Institute Massage School (http://www.nhi.edu/) take every opportunity to spread the word, too, and appreciate those of you out there contributing to conversation about the rewarding, exhausting world of massage. Please keep up the great work!
    -Jen


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About Marjorie Brook

Marjorie Brook LMT CIMI is a International Instructor/Therapist. She is the creator of the STRAIT Method (formally  FAST Release Method), a specialized therapy for fascial scars and adhesions.   She teaches throughout the USA, Canada and Europe. Marjorie offers continuing education courses in Scar Tissue Release, Stretching and Strengthening, and Body Mechanics through her company at www.marjoriebrookseminars.com and www.marjoriebrook.com   Marjorie may be contacted on Tel: +1 516-409-1240;  kneaded@optonline.net   marjorie@marjoriebrook.com

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