Obviously, the majority of people who decide to come into my office for evaluation and treatment are here because of some type of pain or discomfort. Unfortunately, I believe our society has created some biases that may be untrue in regards to what is the best method of addressing pain.

One of the biggest issues I see is: If I have pain somewhere then something else must be weak, so we try to find the right exercise to strengthen it; or my back hurts, so I must need to do some back exercises. 

In reality, the key is to just let the muscles relax — have those muscles do less work. Additionally, just because those back muscles are tight, sore and doing too much doesn’t mean that the abdominal muscles or “core muscles” are weak and need to be exercised through some type of loading mechanism. 

I’ve seen people who have done every core exercise in the book for years and have incredibly strong “cores,” but still have back pain or neck and shoulder area tension. 

Recently, I even came across a physical therapy handout that recommended strengthening the upper trap muscles and squeezing the shoulder blade muscles together while at the computer to improve posture and decrease tension. This would be like telling someone to slow a vehicle down by pushing harder on the accelerator!

All of this said, just “relaxing” isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, I have spent multiple visits with many patients simply getting them to feel what it feels like to relax. Learning to relax a certain muscle may take time and practice. Then what can take even more work and concentration is making sure one can feel the same relaxation while under a load or exercising. For example, not overusing some of the muscles around the neck to push a sled in the gym or while doing a supine skull crusher.  

This is why so often in my office the first thing we work on is simply feeling what letting a muscle truly relax feels like. 

As many patients have experienced, one of the initial ways to feel this relaxation is to lay on your back and breathe in a way that creates expansion of your abdomen and chest toward the ceiling during inhalation while making sure your rib cage isn’t being pulled closer to the head. It is only from that point can one learn to “feel” his/her body in a way that allows for exercise to be done without overloading certain body segments.  

Stay tuned for more specifics of breathing and relaxation and the effects on the body in the coming weeks.



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