Note from Catherine Carrigan: As a long-time corrective exercise specialist and teacher of therapeutic yoga, I connect with like-minded people across the globe. John Miller is an Australian health and fitness educator who shares my views that if you suffer from neck, shoulder, back, hip or knee pain, you will benefit from A, an individual postural analysis, and B, an individualized corrective exercise program combining stretching and strength training to bring your muscles and bones back into alignment. In this article, John brilliantly explains why!
Years ago I went to my dentist with a sore tooth.
First thing he does is get out the ice gadget and starts doing a vitality test.
As soon as he got to the sore tooth I get a stabbing pain.
The dentist says, “John, pain is your friend,” which was a bit hard to take at the time.
But the fact that I felt the “ice pain” was good news. What the test showed was that though the tooth was cracked, the roots were still healthy. Some cement and a band would fix it.
When it comes to joint and muscle pain it’s the body’s way of telling you your skeleton is out of alignment. The solution to relieving the pain is to get it back into alignment.
Consider joint and muscle pain as a symptom, not a cause. This means you’re going to have to track down the cause of the pain, not be distracted by the spot where it hurts.
If you have lower back pain and you think the source of your pain is sneezing, coughing, picking a leaf up off the lawn or getting out of a chair, chances are you’ve fallen for the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy – which when unpacked means “if B occurs after A, than A must have caused B.”
You cough (A) and your back hurts (B), therefore the coughing must be the cause of the pain. You pick up a leaf off the lawn (A) and your back hurts (B) you blame the act of picking up leaf for your pain.
BUT there’s a chain of events that leads the point where your back hurts when you cough, sneeze or pick up a leaf.
You’re wasting time taking a pill to mask the pain. That’s junk medicine.
And you’re wasting your time and money getting someone to rub, crunch, heat or vibrate the spot where it hurts. That too is just treating the symptom. It’s another variation of junk medicine.
You’ve got to track down and treat the underlying cause of the problem.
Treating the cause of spine pain
First search for the cause. It’s highly likely the culprits are muscles attached to your pelvis.
The alignment of the pelvis sets the stage for what what’s happening in your spinal column.
If hamstring and buttock muscles pull too tightly your pelvis tilts back and the graceful ‘S’ shaped curve of your spine becomes a ‘C’ shape. It’s almost inevitable that this will happen in a sit down culture that doesn’t have a strength and flexibility training program. Make that inevitable!
Now for the interesting part. When your pelvis tilts back, theoretically your head will tilted forward. You’ll be walking around with your head looking at the ground.
To assess whether your pelvis has tilted back, stand in front of a mirror with your hands by your side. If you notice the back of your hands are facing forward – rather than the palms facing the side of your body, you’ll know your pelvis had tilted back.
If you stand with your back to a wall – heels, bottom, shoulders and head flat against the wall, check to see whether your eyes are looking straight ahead or up at the ceiling. If you’re looking up at the ceiling your head your head is out of alignment. Take your head off the wall and look at the skirting on the other side of the room. Your head may be 2 or 3 or three inches off the wall.
But you don’t walk around with your eyes looking at the floor. Your eyes want to look straight ahead.
In order for that to happen your spine contorts itself. Bones move out of alignment. Ligaments, tendons and muscles are stretched beyond their pain threshold. Discs – particularly in your lower back and neck region begin to herniate.
You’ll know you’ve herniated a disc in your lower back by what happens when you sneeze or cough. Every time you sneeze and cough it feels like someone is ramming a red hot poker into your back as a herniated disc gets forced against your spinal column.
Next thing that happens is tight muscles attached to one side of your pelvis twist the pelvis around.
If you stand up straight in front of a mirror with your hands by your side, if your pelvis is twisted to one side you’ll see more of the back of one hand than the other.
But your head will be looking straight ahead. If your pelvis is twisted and your eyes are looking straight ahead, you’ll know your spine is contorted. Ligaments, tendons and muscles have been stretched beyond their pain threshold, discs have started to herniate.
Finally if tight muscles on one side of your pelvis have caused the pelvis to ‘drop,’ you’ll notice that one shoulder is lower than the other. But likely as not, your head will not be leaning to one side, it’s straight, your eyes are horizontal.
In fact it’s this burning desire for your eyes to be looking straight ahead and horizontal while the pelvis is twisted that leads to the spinal column being forced, inexorably out of alignment.
There are two principles at work here and they come from Pete Egoscue.
- It’s tight muscles that take bones out of alignment
- The cause of the pain is rarely at the site of the pain.
Your job is to find and treat the underlying cause of the problem – muscles that have taken the pelvis out of alignment – not the symptom.
There are some very simple tests to see whether hamstring and buttock muscles are two tight. There are other muscles involved, particularly your hip flexors.
There are some very simple exercises to loosen them up.
How quickly you can relieve your back pain will depend on how often you do the exercises and for how long.
There is a cost. Time, that’s all, spent on the floor in your living room while you watch TV, read a book or drift off with the fairies. You don’t need people laying hands on you at the rate of $40 for five minutes on the plinth.
You don’t need to rush out and purchase a “rack.”
In the initial stages why wouldn’t you take an anti-inflammatory drug to make yourself comfortable? Just remember that your pain is not caused by a lack of Voltarin.
What about hip and knee pain?
It’s not hard to see that a pelvis that’s out of alignment will impact on your hip and knee joints. You get sore hips when the thigh bone is not fitting snugly into the hip joint. You get knee pain when the bones in the upper and lower leg are out of alignment.
If this explanation sounds simple, if spending time on the floor doing the exercises sounds easy, then go for it. You may start to get relief within a week. By 80 days you should be in must better shape – and well on the way to being pain free.
As well as a flexibility program you need a strength program that involves situps, pressups, squats and Superman back arches. When you can do 30 situps, 30 pressups and 30 squats you’ll know you’re strong enough to support your skeleton as it goes about its daily work.
Is there a catch?
Yes, there is a catch, in fact two catches.
- I can give you the exercises, but I can’t do them for you.
- If, once you pain has gone away, you don’t have a maintenance program, changes are it will come back. Now you wouldn’t want that to happen would you? I’d be a wealthy man if I collected $10 from everyone who said the pain came back when they stopped doing the exercises. Duh!
In the meantime stay tuned, highly tuned and get your skeleton back into alignment.
Canberra, Australia-based physical educator John Miller started his professional life as a teacher and 50 years on he’s still teaching – adults, mainly in corporate health seminars. He’s a prolific writer on a wide range of health, fitness and wellbeing issues. Read more about him at http://www.fitandhealthyonline.com
Hippocrates said, “The physician speaks with more authority if he’s had the disease.”
Whilst John Miller is not a physician and lower back pain is not a disease, John has had the sort of back pain that hurts like hell when you sneeze and cough.
Standing on Pete Egoscue’s shoulders, John has developed his own theory of the likely causes of back pain (and other joint and muscle pain) and devised a set of strength and flexibility exercises to get the body back into better alignment.
John’s other inventions are the 20 run test of aerobic fitness and the Aerabyte aerobic fitness prescription.
Recommended reading, Egoscue’s book, Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain.