So often people leave the treatment room saying “I had no idea I was that tight in my chest/legs/forearms/you name it”. Why does this happen?
The answer is twofold.
The first part of the equation is that simply we move so little in our society. Movement is literally what we were designed for, and so if we’re not moving often two things happen; you build tension, and you don’t realize how tight you are because you don’t move through that range of motion to notice it. If you were to move through a range that is larger than your norm, then you would notice just how stiff or restricted this movement is. Have you ever re-taken up a sport/movement/activity after years of not participating in it? Notice the differences between what you can do now vs. what it felt like back then?
Second to this, and somewhat intertwined with the above information is that the body is incredibly good at adapting. Our bodies are highly adaptable pieces of biology – it’s really quite mind-blowing just the things we can adapt to do. What this means is that our body adapts to the ways in which we move most often. So, as per the above, we end up not noticing over time that we are getting less and less range of motion, and more and more tense simply because we are not using that range and our body therefore builds stability instead of mobility.
As part of being adaptable, our nervous system is comprised of tonic and phasic receptors (amongst many other divisions of sensory information and anatomical arrangement). Tonic receptors are designed to consistently respond to a continuous stimulus without too much adaptation of the signal. This is really important for a lot of processes in our body – for example, vision! If our eyes were not full of tonic receptors, we would see one flash of an image every time we opened our eyes – but the rest of the time our eyes were open we wouldn’t see anything, because they would have quickly adapted to the conditions of light. Phasic receptors are those that respond at the beginning of stimulation but then even if the stimulus remains, the response of the body doesn’t remain. This is also abundantly necessary in our body. A really great example of this is clothing, or a watch – something that you wear. Do you know how awkward it feels the first time you put on a watch? Or a piece of new jewelery? Imagine if that awkwardness stayed all the time? Right – so now you see why we adapt – sometimes our body deems it simply pointless to keep responding to certain stimuli.
Take our example of tension then – initially you might start to feel some discomfort, but if you ignore it for long enough (by not moving or seeking bodywork) then your body basically says “well okay, you don’t want to do anything about that? Cool. I won’t bother continuing to tell you about it anymore then.”. In short, our body adapts to low grade pain signals coming from tense connective tissue.
But when we press on it or stretch that region of the body in a treatment your body has a new stimulus to respond to, and on top of that, you’re brain says “oh hey, that’s right…we told you about this a while ago, so now we’ll speak a little louder”.
So now that you understand the physiology behind this “hidden tension”, how do you limit it? Easy!! Just move 🙂
If you need some suggestions for movements to do at the desk – take a look at some of these stretches we put together earlier.. or just do what we do and DANCE AT WORK!