There is a movement happening, a movement on moving! Recently I have read countless articles, dedicated to the importance of movement for optimal health. As a society, we have become stationary. Our careers and lifestyles in North America have become directed by technology. This keeps us sitting for long periods of time. Getting up and moving is becoming increasingly less required. More notably, the hour workout after work is not enough to counter the effects of being immobile for the majority of our days. Some of the terrifying effects associated with immobility range from aches and pains to an increase risk in cancer and diabetes. The evidence is clear, “sitting is the new smoking”. So how do we counter these negative effects if our lifestyles are becoming less conducive to movement?
As a massage therapist working downtown Toronto I have become very familiar with the aches, pains, and ailments associated with lack of movement. Hectic work hours, exhaustion from working too much, and lack of physical stimulation as a result of the chronic usage of electronic devices, are often the root cause of the problem. I wish that a cure for these aches and pains were as simple as a regular massage. While massage can be very beneficial, the answer to the problem is going to require a deeper understanding of our culture of movement.
So what happens to our body when we are stationary the majority of the day?
First off, the circulation is slowed. The musculoskeletal pump that encourages movement of blood and lymph throughout our body is not being utilized as efficiently as needed. This forces our heart to work harder, making the correlation between immobility and cardiovascular disease apparent. Our musculoskeletal system is built for movement, when we spend our days seated, certain muscles become contracted and short while others become lengthened and weak, creating an imbalance. This imbalance causes an increase in the normal curvature of the thoracic spine and rib cage. This can lead to a common condition I regularly see in practice, shoulder-cross syndrome. Shoulder-cross syndrome is due to one set of muscles shortening due to a contracted tight posture, while the opposing group gets weak due to disuse. For example, the Pectoralis muscles and the lateral neck muscles become short and tight from rounding forward and extending the neck forward. Adaptively the Rhomboids, Thoracic Erector Spinae and anterior neck muscles become weak and inhibited from being lengthened. These muscles fatigue very easily as they have become weak, which results in what we are seeing more frequently as severely rounded shoulders, a head forward posture, and an increase in the thoracic curvature of the spine, known as hyperkyphosis.
How can massage help?
Massage mechanically increases circulation throughout the body and therefore will help to move lymph and metabolites back into the circulatory system. This is not a preventative measure for cardiovascular issues however it helps to maintain tissue health. Massage can help to relieve the hypertonicity in short and tight muscles, stimulate underused weak muscles, and decrease the discomfort associated with hyperkyphosis and shoulder-cross syndrome. My approach to treatment is focused on mobilizing the scapulas, releasing the muscles surrounding the scapulas, decreasing tension in the pecs and neck, stretching out tight muscles, and mobilizing stiff joints. This treatment has proven to be successful in combination with the clients self-care and dedication to one’s own wellness. Massage can get you back into a position where you can move more fluidly with less discomfort and stiffness, but it is up to you to keep moving.
In addition, there are many exercises that can alleviate muscle imbalance and help to maintain a rebalanced system. Generally these include simple stretches for the Pecs and neck in combination with isometric muscle activation of the Rhomboids and scapula retractors. Every massage therapist is knowledgeable of these exercises and should be willing to properly demonstrate how to perform them simply, correctly, and effectively. However, the most simplistic way of curing hyperkyphosis and shoulder-cross syndrome is movement. Movement doesn’t have to entail a high-intensity work out or a crazy body building regiment. Movement is as simple as walking or standing up and stretching, but doing so more frequently. I try and encourage my clients to schedule a reminder in their phone calendar that goes off every hour to encourage a movement break. Or incorporate a core stability ball into the office setting and rotating it to every ones desk at some point in the day. The core stability ball encourages engaging the core muscles, creating a more erect posture. It utilizes the muscles that get weakened from disuse in a slouchy posture. In turn this alleviates the increased kyphotic posture. Standing desks are also becoming more popular, however we need to be aware that postural dysfunctions can be associated with standing still for long periods of time. So, for every one with a standing desk, it is also very important to move around and take a regular break to stretch the shoulders and bend the knees. That natural pump our muscles and bones create for our circulatory system needs movement and contraction to achieve its maximum benefit.
Becoming self-aware and listening to our body is a major step in implementing wellness into our lifestyles. Massage therapy is a very physically and emotionally challenging career. It has forced me to become self-aware and really focus on my own health and wellness. I have to counter the postural effects of giving massage and stay mentally strong in order to be the best I can be for my clients. Without physical activity, there would be no longevity to my career. I would not be able to physically treat my clients without injuring myself or block the energy shared in such an engaging practice. I encourage you to push yourselves to be physical. To be active. To be healthy. I am blessed to be apart of a wonderful team at the Integrative Health Institute that push me to live and breathe the embodiment of health. Good health enables empowered, authentic living.
Melanie Gillians is a Registered Massage Therapist who graduated from the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy. She is registered with the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario and is a member of the Registered Massage Therapist Association of Ontario. She has completed continuing education in pregnancy massage, infant massage, and sports massage.
For more information, feel free to contact Melanie at [email protected]
Movement is Medicine
Presented by Melanie Gillians, RMT
Sunday, March 29th, 2015