Steering clear of pain
It was a dark and stormy night, one of those nights when the wind threatened to lift the roof off the house and send us spinning into Oz. I heard the phone ringing and went to answer, knowing that these storms often blow in the most interesting conversations.
“Is this the anatomy nerd?” asked the voice on the end of the line.
“Yes,” I replied, hoping this was a call about muscles, bones and posture. “What’s going on?”
“Well,” said he, “I drive a lot for work and I think its wreaking havoc with my body. Every time I go for a long drive I get a pain in my low back or sometimes my cheek. Sometimes it feels like it travels up my back and locks into a painful spot under my shoulder blade. I want to understand why.”
“Well,” said I, “Tell me what you think happens to your body while we’re driving.”
This is what he said. “My car is an automatic transmission, not a stick, so when I drive my right leg is outstretched and my left leg is bent. In other words, my left leg’s hamstrings are passively contracted while my right leg quads are passively contracted. That probably puts an uneven torque on my pelvis.
Moving up my spine, that torqued pelvis probably makes my shoulder height different. With my arms outstretched to reach the steering wheel, one scapula probably rotates more than the other, putting a strain on the scapular muscles giving me a pain right under the shoulder blade. That’s what I visualize is happening when I drive.”
“So what you’re saying,” I began to reiterate, “is that when you drive, one leg is outstretch and one is bent so the muscles adapt respectively. Maybe that position, over time, puts torque on your pelvis, which causes the muscles up the spine to contract more on one side than the other. When your arms are reached around the steering wheel, maybe one scapula rotates upward or downward more than the other side and you think that perhaps that contributes to the pain under your shoulder blade. Did I understand your theory correctly?”
“Yes, precisely.” He said. “I’ve been using my foam roller to roll on and also stretch out after work. I try to take stretching breaks to get myself into a different position than I’m in all day. I noticed that the bird dog pose both strengthens and stretches the muscles that are weak from driving, so I do that too. Do you have any other ideas?”
I thought for a moment. It sounded to me like he had a good handle on things. I suggested maybe meeting with a physical therapist or a personal trainer to learn some corrective exercises. I also told him that some kinds of therapeutic massage could help realign his muscular-skeletal system especially when used in combination with core exercises. Another suggestion was to consider the purchase of a trigger point bar, like the Theracane variety they sell at health food stores or some doctor’s offices.
We were just about to disconnect when the wild winds whipped once again, completing the task for us. I often look back on this call and hope that more people take proactive steps such as hydration and exercise to prevent certain kinds of musculoskeletal pain.