Back in Cincinnati I had a mentor who, when speaking about pain relief, often spoke of balanced alignment. I know, it sounds like we’re talking about wheels and it’s easy to visualize the uneven wear and tear on the tires, but roll with me for a minute. Let’s look at the role that balanced alignment, or posture, plays in pain and pain relief.
Ever since we were children, our parents have told us to stand or sit up straight. I can hear my mom’s voice in my mind’s ear reminding me not to slouch. That’s a great tip to take seriously, but it doesn’t stop there. You see, muscles (which cross joints and allow us to move) all have an optimal resting length. When our muscles are in neutral/balanced alignment, meaning at their optimal resting length, we usually have a pain-free lifestyle, a “normal” range-of-motion and normal grip strength. Yep. When our muscles are at their optimal resting length, we usually have a pain-free lifestyle, normal range-of-motion, and normal grip strength.
Let’s look at the chronic shoulder tension of the computer muscles as they’re so often called. Many times people grasp one side of the shoulder, sometimes saying something like “It’s always on my right.” Or what have you. A person with a trained eye can make all sorts of observations and assessments. In this case, if the client were to stand in front of a posture grid, a professional might be able to observe (objectively) a shoulder height discrepancy, or a forward head, or as my mentor used to say “When one side of the pelvis shifts, the shoulder often follows.” It was in this way that we were trained to look at the musculo-skeletal system as a whole and dynamic system instead of just isolated muscles that simply perform a single job.
Professional bodyworkers may be trained to make assessments which measure range-of-motion. Additionally, the use of a posture grid will allow a therapist to see discrepancies and torsion in his or her clients. A person simply stands in front of the grid and the therapist takes a picture and/or marks position on the grid. You and your bodyworker will be able to clearly see if you have any shoulder or hip height discrepancies or rotational considerations. As we all know, muscles attach to bones and therefore can cause misalignments and imbalances at joints (where two bones come together) if the muscles are too tight. Assessments help the therapist determine which muscle groups need attention and what kind of modality would be most effective to make more space for the muscle fibers to glide and communicate as well as restore them to a more optimal resting length for pain relief and improved range of motion.
Overuse, sports injuries, poor ergonomics and an inability to resist gravity are a few reasons for changes in muscle length and the fascial fibers that surround everything inside of us. Therapeutic massage combined with corrective exercise can be a great non-invasive treatment option to restore your muscles and fascia to a more normal resting length. Or, as my mentor would have said, get closer to balanced alignment.
Gina McCafferty is a licensed massage therapist, and heath coach who works with women in their peri and menopausal years who have 30 or more pounds to lose.