Top 3 simple phrases to live a healthy life
by Dr. John Neal
Over the course of practice, I’ve found myself using simple phrases to help in the educating patients to manage their musculoskeletal injuries. These phrases are typically rhyming, short and sweet, and are surprisingly packed full of applicability. As we go through these helpful phrases, you’ll probably have heard them before but not realized how expansive their meanings can be. I hope you enjoy the list as much as I enjoy explaining them to you and to patients for the benefit of a healthy lifestyle!
“Motion Is Lotion.”
This is number one for the simple reason that it is repeated numerous times in the course of the day. I’m honestly surprised it isn’t painted on the walls of the clinic yet! The benefit of motion is that it is what our bodies were designed for. We are not rocks or stone, we have hundreds of joints, muscles, ligaments, and other connective tissues that help create movement.
Movement provides information to our brain (via mechanoreceptors in our tissue) to let it know how the body is moving in order to plan for the next movement. This is why we in the clinic look at the intricacies or fine details of our patient’s movement. If movement isn’t occurring in the right place or in the right way, than that provides information to the brain that is a bit muddied which causes following signals from the brain to be less ideal to manage the movement. For example, if your shoulder joint, which has countless degrees of movement, is not able to fully access its potential movement, than other structures nearby will have to compensate. Reasons for a joint to not move the way it is supposed to range from previous injuries causing fibrosis or scar tissue to simply lack of movement in various ranges. For a joint to be healthy, it has to move and move well. Not too much (hypermobility or instability) and not too little (hypomobility or compressed).
The lotion part of this phrase comes from the fact that movement causes increase of blood flow and synovial fluid dynamics which bring nutrients to the joints and takes waste products away.
Chiropractors are trained extensively to assess the joints of the body. Historically chiropractic would treat the joints of the spine with adjustments to create various changes in the patient to help promote healing. Our approach to therapy evaluates the patient’s movement and finds where deficits reside and uses a variety of treatments, including adjustments, to restore and train proper joint mechanics to ensure improved health and function of the joint as well as decrease pain.
“Use It Or Lose It.”
As mentioned above, joints have the move well in order to remain healthy joints. The same goes for the rest of your tissue in the body. Thus we come to this classic gem of “Use it or lose it”. I’m sure you’ve heard and used this phrase numerous times in a variety of contexts. I’d also bet money that you probably don’t realize how true it actually is when it comes to your physical health!
Let’s first look at the facts in regards to muscles: After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3-5% of your muscle mass per decade. Part of this is the fact that the rate of muscle atrophy (wasting) from disuse (10-42 days) can range from 0.5-0.6% of total muscle mass per day. Putting this together, if you remain inactive or sedentary, we are wasting away as we age. As our muscles waste away and we lose the parts of us that produce and absorb forces and stresses placed on the body. Without muscle, that leaves our joints, ligaments, bones, and other tissues high and dry to handle the load. Hence why a simple fall in our later age can become catastrophic!
Now for some good news! We’ve touched on the “lose it” part; let’s talk about how we “Use it”. Another popular phrase that works into this conversation is “Nothing wrong with getting strong”! It didn’t quite make the list but it could mean the difference between life or death. Resistance training, lifting weights, pushing and pulling heavy stuff, doing this can make you strong and combat muscle wasting! One study by Vikberg et al (2019) showed that 10 weeks of a body weight based resistance training program produced a 2.8% increase in lean body mass. This was in men and women in their 70’s! There are more studies showing that resistance training improves strength and muscle mass which combats muscle wasting. Muscle wasting leads to being frail. Resistance training twice a week combined with 30 minutes of daily activity, makes you healthier. “Use it or lose it” rings true with your muscles!
What about joints you ask? Let’s get into that. In a 2017 study by Wallace et al, they found that the 2 fold increase in knee osteoarthritis is not primarily due to weight or age longevity. They looked at thousands of skeletons from the early industrial era and from the modern post-industrial era, they controlled for body mass index, age, and other variables, and found that osteoarthritis is more preventable than is commonly assumed. Over this course of history, humans have gone from less physically demanding jobs and have transitioned into a more sedentary lifestyle. With less movement, the joints do not get to BE joints. They don’t get the fluid dynamics needed for healthy capsules that surround the joints as mentioned in the above section. They begin to stiffen and become less and less like the joints they are and more into the surrounding bone tissue.
If you “lose” the joint by not “using” the joint, guess what else you lose? Range of motion? Yes of course, but why? Part of the loss of your ability to move your joints is because the joint structurally changes. HOWEVER, there is another factor involved and it is your brain! The brain understands where your body is in space (i.e. your arms, limbs, joint angles, length of muscle) by mechanoreceptors that sends signals to the brain. These receptors sense mechanical changes (i.e. movement) and tells the brain what happened in order for the brain to know and respond accordingly. This happens constantly and subconsciously in order for you to move, stand, sit, walk, dance, and so on. When you don’t move your joints, than these signals to the brain become less frequent. With less input to the brain (known as afference) than the brain starts to unlearn ranges of movement in order to be more efficient at what your joint is currently doing…which is NOT moving! This is why after we’ve been in school for 12+ years, we’ve seem to have lost the ability to sit with our legs crossed on the ground or be able to do a perfect squat. “Use it lose it” rings true for the joints!
Just like muscles, this can be retrained and restored… to some extent. While the significant changes in structure requires surgery, the neurological and functional changes can be adapted using manual therapy and specific movement training. As chiropractors, our spinal adjustments improve movement of the joints which provides those signals to be sent to the brain. Combining this with rehabilitation exercises, we start to see some awesome changes in joint mechanics!
“Know Your Limit, Play Within It.”
Have you heard this one before? I BET you have? I gently borrowed this from the Lotto Max tag line as I found this was an easy reminder to tell patients as I encouraged them to be physically active. The idea here is to know what your limit is. Frequently I get people come into the office because they took up running in the spring and ran 5 to 10 kilometers for a couple weeks after not doing any exercise for months. Sometimes it is a patient who decided to take that extra squat repetition even as form was failing 2 reps ago. We all have physical and mental capacities. These are what we are targeting when we are studying or doing exercise. When the external stresses or “loads” are placed on us, it is up to our capacities to handle them. When Load is greater than our capacity, this is when break down and injury occurs. Our connective tissues have a certain tolerance to load. If the external load is just at or slightly above the current level of capacity, than the tissues will adapt and get stronger if you provide it with the resources (nutrition) and time (rest) to do so. If you do too much too soon and too often, that is a recipe for stiffness, pain, burn out, and injury.
However, the same goes when the external loads placed on us are far below our capacities. When we aren’t challenged, we waste away (similar to the use it or lose it principle). Think about how much you were able to do when you were in high school athletics. Then came years of desk work, watching television, and lack of exercise. Good luck breaking your personal best time running a 5k! You won’t be able to do it that first week getting back into running but someday you might if you train well.
Finding that happy sweet spot where we get challenged and succeed is where we get to “push” our “limits”. We “play” within our limits in order to encourage growth of our capacities. Using the “overload principle” is a way we grow both physically and mentally.