Christine Craig, ND
Are you stiff when you get up in the morning? Do your knees and joints click or clunk when you bend them? Are you suffering from backache, or muscle aches and pains? If you answered yes to these questions, most likely you are inflexible..
Are you stiff when you get up in the morning? Do your knees and joints click or clunk when you bend them? Are you suffering from backache, or muscle aches and pains? If you answered yes to these questions, most likely you are inflexible.
Bone Anatomy Lesson
Your skeletal structure provides shape and support to your whole body. The inside of bone contains marrow, which produces red blood cells (you may know it as blood). Interestingly, bone contains 50 per cent water and is a storage site for mineral salts. Joints are the mechanical structure that allow the movement of bone on bone. Muscles allow your body to move by adhering across the joint. The connective tissue that joins muscle to bone is called a tendon. A ligament is the connective tissue that adheres bone to bone. To protect some bones from the friction of movement, the end of the bone is covered with a glass-like plate called hyaline cartilage. The shape of your bones is determined by the stress that you put on them. What that means is that the pull from your ligaments and tendons on your bones governs their form and strength. This is why research studies claim that weight-bearing exercise prevents osteoporosis.
But most people are so inflexible, they are not using all their muscles, ligaments and tendons fully. If you look at an aging adult's foot, you will see that it is literally deformed compared to a young child's foot. Those bones of the feet are being pulled right out of place by tight tissues. Wherever there are tight tissues, there is an uneven pull on that bone. In fact, you can see how this principle applies to most conditions with bone malformation. An example is rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis is an autoimmune condition where a possible food allergen sets off the immune system to attack itself. The misguided immune system results in cartilage breakdown, which then causes inflammation in the joint. The inflammation and the uneven pull from the aggravated connective tissue results in bone deterioration and misshapen bone reformation.
Your joints are like any piece of moving machinery: you need oil to lubricate them or you will damage the machine from the friction. Around many of your joints are capsules containing lubricating fluid that is moved solely by the movement of your joints. The better the stretch in the joint the better the movement of fluid. This may be why people find they are stiff in the morning. You have been in bed all night, but find that the longer you've been up and moving around the looser you feel. Besides having tight connective tissue, you may be dehydrated. You need to move your joints even more as you age to compensate for dehydration, yet most aging adults choose to be more sedentary.
The Importance Of Stretching
Stretching stimulates flow. Your blood, nerve, lymphatic fluid and energetic currents all move more effectively when you stretch. But if your muscles or connective tissues are tight, you will impede natural flow by literally clamping down on your blood vessels, nerves and lymphatic vessels. Anyone who has suffered from a ruptured disk will attest that this is a painful anatomy lesson to learn. A disk is the spongy cushion that lies between two spinal vertebrae those bulky bone segments down the middle of your back. When a disk ruptures, it bulges out of its connective tissue barrier and pushes on a nerve. Often this occurs because of poor flexibility, which results in improper stress on that bone. If there is a tight muscle/tendon attached to the joint, there is usually a lax one on the opposing side that is compensating. The joint is no longer moving properly or receiving adequate lubrication.
The Ultimate Exercise For Bone Health
Relaxed muscles and flexible tissue decrease risk for bone injury, and Tai Chi, an ancient form of Oriental exercise, is excellent for bone and joint health. Although it has a foundation in martial arts, it looks more like a graceful slow-moving dance. Through much practice, you can learn to completely stretch and relax every muscle, tendon, ligament and tissue in your body. In time, the connective tissues relearn to work together to move your body instead of just the major muscle groups. The bones learn to accept the weight of your body, thus they receive tension both up and down, and even in a spiral, which happens because there is always continual stretch and relaxation being placed on your spirally attached connective tissues.
A spiral is a strong and flexible structure. Think of a rope: the fibres have been twisted to give it added tensile strength. Within the wisdom of the human body, you will find that the bones grow in a spiral, and connective tissues are attached to the bones in the form of a spiral. If you apply the principle that the stress on the bones determines its shape, it then becomes logical that you need to pull, push and twist the bone.
If you choose Tai Chi as part of your exercise routine, I highly recommend you work under an instructor. Most everybody has tight areas that inhibit proper movement of the joints. We also tend to be unaware when we are moving inappropriately, so feedback from a trained eye is crucial in getting the true benefit from such an art. Many recreation centres and gyms offer lessons; however, I am personally partial to the Taoist Tai Chi Society. It is a non-profit volunteer organization that promotes health through Tai Chi. It has classes all over the world that are structured to meet the needs of all ages and abilities. (For more info, visit taoist.org).
Other Therapies For Bone Health
Chiropractors, massage therapists and yoga practice can also promote flow. A chiropractic doctor can use a variety of techniques that promote the proper alignment of your joints, ensuring proper nerve and blood flow to your organs and tissues. Registered massage therapists are trained in techniques that move lymphatic fluid and relax the muscles. Yoga is a fabulous stretching exercise that promotes blood, nerve and lymphatic fluid flow. With a regular yoga practice, you can experience relaxation of muscles and heightened self-awareness of your body.
Stretching your body every day is vital for healthy bones and joints as well as your spirit and your immune system. Stretch your mind by listening to your own body in order find something that works for you. Happy stretching!