Sunday, February 12, 2012

Spine Wellness, Physio-Style (Part 1)

Recently, I gave a public service lecture on spine health at the Cushman Wellness Center located in the Outpatient Pavilion at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego.  My topic: Spinal Tension Release Therapy – A Physiotherapy Wellness Approach to Spine Health.  There was a great turn out, but, I know many of you wanted to attend and were unable to. Thus, I am posting the content over the next several posts.  Enjoy!

The World Health Organization defines health as: “A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."  However, using “well-being” to define “health”, one must define “well-being” or “wellness".

Searching throughout the all powerful INTERNET, I conveniently found a nice compact definition from which I happen to agree with: “Wellness is not the mere absence of disease. It is a proactive, preventive approach designed to achieve optimum levels of health, social and emotional functioning.”

Combining the two definitions in its application to the spine, I came up with the following:  “Spine Health is the optimal state of physical, mental, and social well-being as affected by the spine achieved through proactive, preventive measures.”
This is distinctly different from the reactionary and interventive approach of most healthcare systems.  While most healthcare systems align with taking action only after physiological and/or pathological insult to the body, the approach of wellness not only prevents decline, it actively pursues measures which brings one’s health to the farthest point from illness and dysfunction to optimal health and functional performance.

Spine health & wellness generally revolves around postural awareness, core strength, muscle control, biomechanics, tissue integrity, tissue recovery, nutrition, lifestyle, and global life stressors. However, achieving and maintaining a Well-Spine isn’t always easy.  Normally, our body experiences wear & tear and responds to this daily damage with precise systems of function to repair, replenish, recuperate, and recover. This process of tissue restoration is active at the molecular level, the biochemical level, the tissue level, and ultimately the body and mind as a whole. However, there are times when the proverbial “straw breaks the camel’s back.”  Just about everyone has experienced that one “time” when compounding stress & strain add up to a critical point beyond the capacity of our body.  This is when the trouble starts. When physical stressors out-compete & overwhelm the body’s natural process of restoration, this over-competition of stress, strain, & tension can create a chronically impaired system of function. For those of you who have suffered through or currently experience chronic pain, you know that the impairment is both mental and physical.

A decline in the health & wellness of the spine can present in and is not limited to variations and combinations of the following manners:
  • Joint and muscle stiffness/restriction in movement
  • Joint and muscle soreness/pain/aches (even headaches!)
  • Muscular tenderness and trigger points
  • Impaired movement patterns
  • Impaired functional capacity
  • Decreased tolerance to activities
  • Weight gain due to decreased activity
  • Painful and limiting postural deviations
  • Decreased tissue integrity, fracture, strain, sprain
  • Inefficient and dangerous biomechanics which lead to a high risk of injury
So how do we achieve a well-spine and maintain that high level of health?  My suggestion is to explore approaching spine wellness from a physiotherapeutic perspective.   Physiotherapy is an ideal modality to achieving optimal spine health as many of the symptoms of poor spine health are rooted in the neuromusculoskeletal impairments.  These impairments tend to be a combination of pain, poor movement, and decline in function of which Physiotherapists are expert in correcting and resolving.

As the body is comprised of living tissues, we know that everything that moves within the body must have circulation (the movement of fluid, proteins, particles, cells, etc.)  Circulation allows for tissues to heal and regenerate; therefore, it can be said that physiological health is founded in MOVEMENT. "Moving Well Is Living Well."

But to truly understand Spine Wellness, "Physio Style", we must discuss the major practice patterns of which Physiotherapists are "practitioner of choice", and, how it relates to the wellness of the human body.  Physiotherapy address four interrelated practice patterns which are integrated to rehabilitate, promote, and maintain physiological health and well-being:
  • The Musculoskeletal system: The muscles, bones, and connective tissue which are responsible for gross body movement by use of mechanical levers throughout the joints of our body.
  • The Neuromuscular system: The brain, nerves, and connections which are responsible for activating, terminating, and controlling the movement of the musculoskeletal system.
  • The Cardiopulmonary system: The heart, lungs, and blood vessels which supply oxygen, energy, and nutrients to the neuromuscular system which controls the musculoskeletal system.
  • The Integumentary system: The skin - the largest organ of our body - which acts as a barrier and protective armor for the cardiopulmonary system; protecting it from injury, insult, and infection. However, the integumentary system yet is still controlled & limited by the architecture and physical structure of the musculoskeletal system.

In essence, Physiotherapy approaches wellness from a comprehensive and integrated consideration of the physiological tissues of the whole body as it applies to movement, function, health and wellness. Well... this is all good but how exactly we achieve a Well Spine, "Physio-Style"?  After contemplating on the concepts above as well as some of the scientific literature regarding therapeutic treatment of the spine, I wanted to systematize for my own edification - a reliable order of operations of which I personally could address the spine from a perspective of wellness. Eventually, this systematic approach became what I composed as Spinal Tension Release Therapy.

Coming Up: Spine Wellness, Physio-Style (Part 2). In my next post, I will continue to highlight key points of my lecture on spine health and expand on how I came to the idea of Spinal Tension Release Therapy.