I studied with an osteopath who once told me, “listen to your bones…they’ll be here long after you’re gone.” There’s great wisdom in that offering. Our bones are, contradictory to popular belief, soft tissues that make up our skeleton. Inside of them we have bone marrow, a soft fatty substance in the cavities of them, in which blood cells are produced. On the outside of our bones we have layers, and layers, of connective tissue. Ligaments, which attach bones to bones and reside at the joint site. Then we have tendons, which connect muscles to bones. They assist us in creating elastic spring-like motions. Then we have muscles, of all shapes and sizes, that go from an origin to an insertion. Think of it as originating in one place and inserting in another (eg; your rectus femoris grows out of your AIIS, on your pelvis, to your tibial tuberosity, of the top of your shin bone). Knowing this is crucial if you have plans of improving the ways in which your joints function, feel, and perform in daily life. For example, knee pain could be a simple result of muscles not helping to take the friction off of your joint. So I might say, “your quad (rectus femoris) isn’t working as well as it could.”
Now between all of these various connective tissues we have arteries, veins, nerves, and lymph. Basically, lots of various fluids that help create internal movement and a well circulated body. Having the space for these paths to be open assures healthy exchanges of oxygen, nerve conduction, and waste removal throughout parts of the body. What happens if you have a joint that doesn’t have its full capacity to function? What happens if your ‘arthritis’ or ‘osteoporosis’ is holding you back from improving the health of your shoulder, spine, hip, or ankle? Is this something you have to live with? Or is there anything you can do about it? This is the question of the century. Your joints hurt, so what can you do? One thing is for sure, if we don’t improve blood flow, nerve conduction, or oxidation to regions of your body, that joint and bone could stiffen up and calcify to the point of immobility.
Studies show that the body is incredibly resilient at self-healing. The human body is ‘regenerative’, capable of regrowing tissues. Degenerative disease is the one of the largest epidemics in modern society. Joints stop doing what they evolved to be able to do, and muscles stop doing their jobs. We are at a lose-lose scenario, where we aren’t moving the way that benefits us, and at the same time we’re looking for fitness. What to do? Don’t worry yet, because when we have joint problems, it isn’t the joint we have to be blaming, or even the bone…it’s the way we’re training relative to the current health of the joint. Do you know how many people I work with who have back pain from exercise or mundane daily activities? And these people do ‘core work’ a lot, but the truth is, you can’t exercise your way into a healthy functioning joint. I mean you can…but it’s more complicated than that.
We have over 650 muscles, 350 joints, and 220 bones, why do we think that joint pain can be easily solved? We are working against years of inefficient postures, life traumas, movement habits, and mental experiences that directly effect how our bones and joints operate. It would be too simple, and too lazy, to think that my shoulder can be “fixed” doing more exercise. IT CAN BE IMPROVED UPON, we CAN restore OPTIMAL range and FUNCTION to your joint, but its through intelligent, deliberate, and intentional movements TAILORED TO WHERE YOUR SHOULDER IS (not Becky’s, not Mark’s, YOUR shoulder).
“If you don’t use it, you lose it.” When was the last time you moved your scapula four different ways in three different dimensions? How about your pelvis? Can you think of the last time you shifted it left and right without rotating it? There are so many ways to move our joints and our bones, and if we give them more options, more possibilities, then we get new information in our brains about a body part that maybe hasn’t moved in five years (or more!). My point is this, our bones act in any given circumstance, and it is our muscles’ jobs to react to the scenario. However, you may have bones that don’t know how to move in a certain direction. Therefor your muscle won’t understand how to ‘kick on’ to nourish that joint and prevent unnecessary inflammation at the joint site. And this may be because you’ve never learned how.
If you want to have healthy circulation, stronger joints, and more awareness of how to move your body in useful ways in everyday life, it starts with listening to your bones. “The parts of you that will be around well after you’re gone.”
Rob Stephenson, a personal trainer in Boston who specializes in biomechanics, believes that restoring balance and optimal functioning resides in improving how joints move relative to one another. You can find him for one-on-one training to help meet any of your health and self-care goals.