cycling utah June 1999

Is your body storing tension?

By Dr. Michael Cerami

Last month we talked about how to better listen to your body's subtle messages. A vital lifetime strategy for health, wellness and optimum performance is paying attention to your body. In this article, I'll review how the spine works and outline some ideas on how to check for tension on a spinal system.

Let's break down the spinal system into three subsystems.*

The first part, called The Passive Subsystem, is comprised of the vertebra, discs and supporting ligaments. The second part, The Active Subsystem includes the spinal muscles and tendons. The third part, called The Neural Control Subsystem, includes the brain, spinal cord, spinal nerves and dural covering of the spinal cord. Successful coordination of these subsystems is vital to a well functioning body. Stress in one area causes changes in the other subsystems.

The three subsystems work to support and move the spine. The neural control system affects the active system that moves the passive system. In other words a nerve impulse activates the muscle, which moves the bone, which then relays its position back to the brain.

A professionally trained Network Chiropractic analyst considers all three subsystems along with a history of physical, chemical and emotional/mental stress. Research has indicated that tension on the subsystems will change body posture and the bio-mechanics of the spine. The legs will appear to be different lengths, there may be excessive foot flare and heel tension (Achilles tendon resistance), along with unbalanced para-spinal muscle tension which is measured with a computerized surface electromyography.

When there's stress on the one of the subsystems, a chiropractic analysis will detect it. You can do a few simple tests to check your friend's spine for stored tension and imbalance. First have the person remove their shoes and lie face down on a mattress or slightly elevated surface with the feet extended over the end. Support the head with a pillow on each side so it faces forward without squishing your friend's nose. Lightly hold the heels and pull the feet together to the midline. Look for rotation of the foot and for corresponding uneven wear on the bottom of the shoe. Next measure from the bottom of heel of the long leg to the bottom of the heel of the short leg. The legs should be equal or within an inch of each other unless the person has had a past fracture.

Next, take your hands and slowly feel the muscles along the back from the base of the spine to the upper neck. Start at the bottom center along the small bumps of each vertebra and work your way to the sides about two to three inches. What does the area feel like? Is the tension higher on one side than the other? Does it yield to your touch? Feel like concrete?

Now have your friend sit up and check their range of motion in the neck by having them turn the head side to side. Is one side restricted? Now have them feel both sides of their neck for a difference in muscle tension. Can they feel any tight muscle bands or a marked difference between the left and right? Get a feel for where the body may be holding tension and ask the person if they feel anything in that area.

These simple tests can give you some idea of how your spine has adapted to stress and if it's holding tension in certain consistent patterns.

If you want more specific information, contact a qualified professional for a more complete evaluation.

* Adapted from Dr. Panjabi in his text "The Stabilization System of the Spine" Part 1 and Dr. Donald Epstein's "Theo-retical Basis and Clinical Appli-cation of Network Spinal Analysis."

Next month: What spinal cord tension and stored stress can mean to your performance.

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