Our modern day life is full of chronic ailments – body aches and pains, and also disorders of respiration, digestion, brain function, locomotion, and mood. Chronic illness now dominates healthcare because everyone is affected.
I’m sure you can relate to at least one of these ailments that I’ve described and believe it or not, they are all related.
Yes, your neck pain can be contributing to your poor digestion. Your back pain could even be a result of poor digestion!
Today we’ll take a whole systems approach (look at the whole body) and see how these seemingly fragmented symptoms are actually all related. By piecing together the fragments of chronic pain you’ll have a better understanding how to get out of it. You may just become smarter than your doctor 😉
Let’s move away from our symptoms and start the journey to find the cause of our chronic illness.
Chronic Illness – Modern Day human anatomy:
So how did we get this way? How did chronic pain become such a huge factor? Simple, we aren’t doing what our bodies were beautifully designed to do.
Back in the days of our ancestors (Pleistocene Era humans 250,000 years ago to 12,0000 years ago) is when our current anatomy and bodies developed. Our bodies were perfectly built for constant movement so that we could find, obtain, and prepare food. Paleontologists believe that Pleistocene era men and women were up and on the move throughout most of the day and would walk/run 10-15 miles a day (today we’re lucky if you get 1000 steps on your pedometer)
Architecturally we were built to initiate movement at our hip joints, your body’s natural pivot point and the most effective way to launch yourself into action. Our torsos were meant to be extended with your sternum held high to accommodate breathing to supply power necessary for movement.
We were equally stable and flexible for balance and maximum results for minimal expenditure of energy.
A true work of art
Now we are long past the days of hunting and gathering, but we still have a body structure designed for balance and efficiency, stability and flexibility. Today we sit for long periods of time, we barely move, and most of the time it’s for just a few minutes to an hour a day as a workout.
Our posture has changed as well. Nowadays we resemble cashews in our rounded forward, internally rotated, hip flexed states. I’ve written about this in more detail here: Anatomy of a Modern Day Human: Troll Posture.
Pick your analogy: Stooped over like a troll, or rounded forward like a cashew
Now how does this all relate to chronic illness? It’s simple: Space
Our modern day body’s structure integrity has been compromised and as a result has decreased the space we were designed to have.
Space to Move & Communicate
Your brain has one main motive and that is to keep your body (especially your head/itself) safe. When your body’s structural integrity becomes compromised or unstable, it will start to restrict motion at your joints to maintain stability.
Restricted motion means less space, less range of motion to move. When your body cannot move efficiently and has less space to move the things inside your body, like your organs, blood vessels, and nerves, also have less space to move and can become compressed.
Ex: Neck pain & Digestive disorders
Here’s where we learn how your stomach aches, gassiness, indigestion, etc can be directly related to your neck (even if your neck doesn’t hurt).
Your Vagus nerve is one of the most important nerves in your whole body. It originates in your brain, comes out of your skull, moves down into your neck and rib cage, and innervates most of your organs. It helps control damn near every function in your body.
[Left – the Vagus Nerve exiting your skull; Right – Organs innervated by the Vagus Nerve]
If your neck is stooped forward into cashew/troll posture position, what do you think happens to this nerve?
When a nerve is compressed it cannot communicate, or transmit neurotransmitters and messages, as well. The more room there is, the smoother the flow. The smoother the flow, the more efficient and effective the communications. The more efficient the communications, the more capable your body is to react and respond to shifting environmental conditions or opportunities.
How does your body maintain the space within for all the transmitters of messages and transporters of nutrients? By holding itself structurally as long and wide as possible!
This is just one example too. Compression can happen to your organs and generate referral pain. Other classic examples:
- Gall bladder can refer pain to your right shoulder and upper back
- Bladders and kidneys can mimic low back pain
Moving Past Chronic Pain
Modern day healthcare is largely specialized and catered towards critical care. Many doctors and practitioners are encouraged to seek out expertise in separate areas of concentration, hence the reason why chronic pain is so hard and confusing to deal with. Many treat chronic pain with shots, pills, or invasive surgery which only ends up causing temporary relief and more harm.
Doctors of all disciplines today are slowly but surely starting to look at the body as a whole in their treatment. The numbers are still few and for the most part right now in most doctor’s offices the symptoms rather than causes tend to get treated.
When you begin to approach the whole body, and see how each seemingly fragmented symptoms from back pain to indigestion are related, then you can find the cause and mitigate the pain.
In large part it honestly boils down to how you move your body or how your structural integrity holds up and how much space you allow for movement of your joints and internal structures like nerves, blood vessels, and organs.
The first step out of chronic pain is awareness and knowledge, you have that now. The next step is to bring your head back, expand your chest, and use your hips to move. (or find a movement doctor like a Chiropractor or PT to help you with that!)
This is the only body you get, you might as well use it in the way it was designed!
Strut around feelin’ good with your chest held wide and high 😉
For some space expanding exercises check these out:
- Fascial Implosion: Sternal Release
- Yoga for Headaches
- How to Sit
- Yoga For Low Back Pain
- Crocodile Bridge Pose
- Restorative Backbends to Alleviate Mechanical Stress & Back Pain
- Unlocking the Front Body via the Coracoid Process
- 3 Yoga Poses for Thoracic Spine Mobility