Those who suffer from neck and back pain are often in search of the best way to resolve or improve these conditions. Others have tried using methods that use the mind-body connection such as Yoga, Feldenkrais, Tai Chi to name a few.
It’s no secret that the nervous system controls everything. For proof, look at someone who has broken their neck and is now quadriplegic and compare how they move and function compared to yourself. From the time we are born, we have learned to use our bodies while we walk and move against gravity.
Early on, we develop neurological mechanisms designed to program our brains, and develop our muscles and nervous system structures while we explore the world around us. Babies are a blank slate ready to learn through the use of neuroplasticity. Each sense and nuance of movement is programming the brain and the body how to move, while we also condition our muscles and develop our fascial system that ultimately works as an exoskeleton that also has its own neurology.
These movements are somewhat different in all of us since we are all built differently and come with an individual genetic blueprints. We not only look like our parents, but walk like them too.
Initially, we lift our heads, and we turn to the right and left, and learn to hold a bottle as we learn how to use our hands and develop reflexes that allow us to eat and smile. In early development, babies will roll, which helps develop their core. Eventually they learn to crawl and finally pull themselves up to walk. By the age of 5-6 they walk like we do. As discussed in the book Cheating Mother Nature, what you need to know to beat chronic pain, we then get taller, and women have hips that are wider which may be one of the reasons that they have more knee and back problems than men do.
These developmental skills have one thing in common; movement. Perhaps this is why methods such as Tai Chi and Feldenkrais may be helpful, as well as other methods that teach movement, and flexibility such as Pilates and Yoga.
The medical profession for years has looked at problems such as back and neck pain as conditions, or diseases or pain that requires treatment and in most attempts, has failed to help people prevent problems later on in life. Perhaps, this is why there are so many businesses that are profiting from knee, hip and other joint replacements, problems that were likely preventable if they understood that these are problems resulting to movement. The reductionist approach taught in the medical system ignores the systems that cause movement related problems, causing misdiagnosis, or rote referral to therapists working on the part, rather than restoring movement to the system. Examples of this include shoulder or elbow pain or problems that are part of a gait problem beginning in the feet, or knee pain that has the orthopedic looking at the knee, while the cause is in the feet, hip and pelvis. Most neck problems that are chronic involve the lower back, and only a holistic evaluation that looks at movement and function will be able to properly diagnose and guide you to an appropriate intervention.
When doctors who have been taught reductionist thinking look at your problems, they are likely to categorize your problem to fit their thinking, instead of using their knowledge to fit your systems and how you have learned to move and function. This has resulted in many problems and misunderstandings with what pain is and how to treat is leading to todays Opioid crisis. This has also led to many surgeries in the shoulder, back and neck that may have been preventable, or treatable with the right conservative approach to a more satisfying outcome.
Chiropractic has been the only profession to embrace the idea that mechanical movement problems will require a mechanical solution such as manipulation, myofascial release and the right corrective exercises that are personalized to the patient.
Recently, Tai Chi and Feldenkrais have been mentioned as better approaches to chronic pain in the Annals of Internal Medicine, than interventions such as surgery and spinal manipulation has been noted as well. If we read into their recommendations, based on the current available data, the methods they mentioned for improvement of pain are movement based. Their recommendations however, are vague, and while these methods are not harmful, they may not resolve a chronic problem and are merely one size fits all solutions that may not fit all.
Most people with Fibromyalgia live with a classification that gives them few useful options, yet many have movement based problems that over the years has been misinterpreted by the brain with chronic pain stimuli causing a small amount of pain input to be quite painful. Rheumatologists to diagnose the problem have little training in evaluating body mechanics, and sending these patients for one size fits all solutions of therapy and medications while following one size fits all protocols is a poor answer to a growing problem.
What is a person in pain to do?
Find a holistic provider who will look at you, how you move and how you function. Their care should be centered around you and your unique body style, rather than a protocol that they use on everyone, since you are not everyone. They should have knowledge of spinal and extremity manipulation, as well as myofascial release or some other soft tissue method to help improve fascial restrictions and enhance the way you move. Rather than having a number of different specialists evaluate and treat you, increasing the likelihood of higher costs and a less helpful outcome, chiropractors are physicians who will also treat and personalize the care to you.
Regarding the ideas of Feldenkrais, Tai Chi and others, you will get better results when your body ergonomics have improved. Where there is an improvement of body function and movement, these methods can be very helpful on further improving and changing poor movement patterns that developed early on in life.