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Body Awareness

Article written for “We’ve Got Your Back Magazine”

Body Awareness

How well do you know your body?

By Christopher Twombly, MD

Listening to Your Body

When was the last time you took 20 minutes, or even 5 minutes, to sit/lay down in a quiet setting, free from distractions and actually listen to your body.  All of us occasionally feel aches and pains, muscle tension, stiffness, etc.  But how often do we step back and pay attention to what our bodies are telling us?

The Bodies Pain Signal

The sensation of pain is a complex signal that can be interpreted by individuals in many different ways.  This sensation is our body’s way of telling us that something is “not right”.  Many times muscular pain is related to tension and spasm activity in the soft tissues.  There are many causes of soft tissue pain…contusions, strains/sprains, overuse, deconditioning, poor posture and stress to name a few.  The vast majority of our occasional aches and pains are self-limited and will resolve on their own.

Be Proactive

However, if a soft tissue pain problem is not resolving it may require more of your attention and a commitment to do something about it.  From a rehabilitation perspective, it is important to take a proactive role in helping your body recover and get beyond pain complaints that become more frequent and nagging.  Many times there is tightness in a certain body part that leads to limited range of motion, which leads to more tightness and ultimately weakness or muscular imbalance.  If ignored, this can lead to more chronic symptoms and activity limitation.

Learn to Listen to Your Body

This is where a sense of body awareness can be very helpful for many individuals…a sort of “systems check” for the body.  Just like your car needs regular maintenance to run efficiently, your body needs both physical and mental maintenance to perform at its peak.  Taking a few minutes once or twice a week to listen to what your body is telling you can go a long way toward helping yourself get beyond some of these nagging complaints and hopefully even prevent them from happening in the first place.

Try to find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down and slowly assess how your body is feeling and the messages it is sending you. Start at the feet, move to the ankles, knees, hips, low back, mid back, neck and head.  Allow each body part a few seconds to give you feedback.  Once you identify an area that may be irritated or where you may be holding some tension, concentrate on the specific sensations you are experiencing.  Try to consciously relax the area that is irritated and see if the message changes at all.  These are simple biofeedback techniques that have been shown to be successful.

You Found the Problem… Now What?

The next step is to gradually improve the mechanics of an area of irritation.  If there is tension, then a stretching program may be indicated.  If there is looseness or weakness, then strengthening is more appropriate.  Usually, a balance of range of motion (stretching) and strength/endurance training (light weight resistance exercises, aerobic activity, etc.) will help to break the cycle of irritation associated with many musculoskeletal problems.

Getting Medical Care When You Need It

Obviously, there are complaints and problems that require more aggressive diagnostics and treatment recommendations.  If your pain is not responding to time and more conservative measures, or if you are having any progressive neurologic deficits (progressive weakness, bowel/bladder changes, etc.) you should be seen by your physician.

At Sierra Regional Spine Institute, we offer evaluation and treatment of spine and musculoskeletal problems.  Our goal is to identify any specific problems that may be contributing to your pain and develop a comprehensive treatment program to help you improve and get back to a higher level of function.  Your own personal sense of body awareness can not only help identify sources for problems, but can assist you on the road to recovery and even prevent problems from occurring in the first place.