HOLISTIC MUSCULOSKELETAL HEALTH: MORE THAN JUST JOINTS AND MUSCLES
What if I told you that you could stretch and release more than just your muscles and joints? Would you believe me? “Sure,” you might say. “I have an open mind.”
Great. You’re already ahead of the game. Now, what if I told you about this osteopathic technique called visceral manipulation where someone could stretch the fascia and tissues surrounding your organs? “Sounds interesting,” you think, “but this sounds kind of weird, and I don’t have tightness in my organs. How would you even stretch that out anyway?”
Ok, I know this is starting to sound a little odd. But hang in there. What if I also told you that many of our restrictions (and weak muscles) are the result of restrictions in places like the abdomen? “Of course not!”, you say. “That’s silly. My shoulder (or knee, or hip…) is what’s not moving well. That’s what needs to be treated.”
No one would blame you for thinking this. I once did as well. We can sense the body region where the restriction and pain are, and we feel there is a musculoskeletal problem, so that’s where we assume the intervention needs to be. It’s a very rational analysis based on the observable data, and it’s the backbone of conventional orthopedics (yes, pun intended).
But the body just simply doesn’t work like that. It’s not a machine that can be cleanly deconstructed into its components. The muscles, ligaments, joints, and fascia of the musculoskeletal system do not operate in a vacuum, and we can’t ignore all the organs and tissues that they’re connected to (both physically and functionally). Those structures need to move too, and they do get restricted- often without us knowing it. (After all, when was the last time you checked to see how well your liver was moving?). When the organs get stuck, they are going to have a drag on the mobility of the musculoskeletal system.
Here’s an example: our kidneys lie deep in our abdomen. They are connected to our hip flexors, low back, and ribcage. If restricted, they can be responsible for limiting our hip and low back mobility, our ability to reach overhead, and can even put pressure on the nerves coming out of the spine in the low back. A gentle technique to stretch the tissues surrounding the kidney can dramatically help free the body from these “joint problems”. This is to say nothing of the kidney function itself- according to the osteopathic school of thought, structure relates to function. That is, an organ with good movement, free of mechanical restriction, will physiologically function with greater vitality. Health is movement, and movement is life.
There are many common relationships between joint motion and organ motion. The stomach and the left shoulder, the large intestine and the sacroiliac joint of the low back, the uterus and the lower extremities. Everything in the body is connected, and everything counts. It’s time for us to let our musculoskeletal system out of its “silo” and look at things holistically to be our best selves and live life to the fullest.
About the author:
Tim Newton, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMM and a board-certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist who specializes in manual, osteopathic techniques to help pain and movement dysfunction. His expertise is in visceral manipulation, gentle spinal manipulation, and craniosacral therapy. He is the owner of Inspire Movement Physical Therapy in Columbia, MD.