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The Problem with Bodywork – Pain & Posture Wellness Centre

Published on 31st March 2017

Common Misconceptions, Part 1:

“Things Hurt after Treatment – That’s Normal”

In this series we are discussing common misconceptions that we come across in our offices on a daily basis. Click here to find the introductory post to the series.

In Part 1 of this series, we will look at the common misconception that “it is normal for things to hurt after treatment with a bodywork method.”

We regularly hear our patients comment on their experiences after previous bodywork methods they had tried. What we frequently hear are statements like these:

  • It is normal for things to hurt afterwards. My body has just been worked on, after all.
  • I’m sore today but I had a deep massage yesterday, so the muscles are still working with what was done.
  • Of course things need time to settle / continue to work after a session of … (bodywork method)
  • The muscles and ligaments need to get used to being in a new position after a long time of having been held in the wrong position
  • I left here on Friday feeling fine. On Saturday morning it started up again but that’s normal because you obviously did some work on me on Friday.
  • I left here on Monday feeling fine. On Tuesday, my (neck, back, shoulder) hurt and that’s because you did that thing to my neck/back.

These comments are so frequent that we’ve decided to dedicate a blog post to them. Why is it that people expect pain after a treatment? Why is it considered “normal”? Why is it not normal? What’s going on?

Body mechanics explained the easy way

Most of these comments are based on fundamentally wrong assumptions about how the human body works. When it works, it just works. You basically feel nothing and your body doesn’t bother you. When things go wrong, you feel it. Think of your car: when does your car bother you? When it is making funny noises or is veering off to one side, right? When it just works, you don’t notice it. When it has a problem and you get it fixed, does the car have to “get used to the correction?” Do things still need to “rattle and veer off” for a while, until the issue settles? Of course not! Make the exact change that is needed to fix the original problem, and your car just works. And when your car works, you won’t notice it because it doesn’t bother you! The same is true for the human body. If everything runs smoothly, you don’t notice your body. When things stop working smoothly, you feel them. Let’s look at why and how this happens.

We have explained elsewhere that the human body is essentially a partially self-correcting machine. It can fix most structural-mechanical problems by itself, but not all of them. If bones in the spine go out of place forward, the body does not have muscles that pull in the exact opposite direction. It cannot fix things that get stuck forward. So if this happens, the body has to counterbalance in other places. In order to achieve this, other muscles kick in to pull other bones out of place on purpose. It is these muscles that get tight, stiff, and achy – the muscles that are working like crazy in an attempt to pull the body out of a stuck forward and mechanically unstable place into a more upright and stable position. The trouble is, they’re not pulling in the right direction and are actually causing the body to twist, tilt, and lean as it counterbalances. As a result, the body twists up like a giant spring.

Let’s look at a more concrete example:

  • Something causes bones in your lower back to get pushed out forward
  • The body can’t pull them back
  • It needs to compensate elsewhere
  • This usually happens in the neck. Muscles pull on your neck bones and become tight
  • Now your neck hurts

Where the body compensates is where it hurts. The aches and pains that everybody thinks are “just muscular” are, in fact, compensations for forward bones in other places. Muscles have far more nerve endings than bones do, so you feel the tight muscles more than the bones that are out of place; but these muscles are part of the compensation pattern, not the original problem.

How do bones get pushed forward? This is how:

  • Falls, accidents, and other instances of physical trauma.
  • Bad lifestyle choices related to sitting, standing, and sleeping.
  • Anything or anybody that puts you face down and pushes around on your spine. This includes people (adults or children) or pets walking or jumping around on your back; children riding on your back when you are their “horse”; getting tackled on the rugby pitch; and bodywork methods which put you face down to get your back worked on.
  • Certain exercises which include arching your back can create leverage which kicks bones out into forward directions. “Cobras” and “bridges” are classic examples of such moves.
  • Any seat that has you positioned with your knees higher than your hips. This includes most car seats, train/plane seats, bucket-shaped office chairs, and certain workout machines such as the leg press (and yes, being on your back with your knees up towards your chest counts as “knees higher than hips”!).

Barring fractures or infections, where things hurt is usually where the body compensates for a problem that it cannot fix by itself.

Wait, did you just tell me that my yoga moves or the massage I just had might have caused the pain the next day? Aren’t these supposed to be good for you because they fix things?

To answer this question we have to make a fundamental distinction between the following:

  • “fixing things”, i.e. true global structural-mechanical correction on a permanent level
  • providing temporary symptom relief in a localised area.

Today’s society usually calls “the elimination of pain” a “success”. And the faster this happens, the better. This is why painkillers are so popular, and why pharmaceutical companies are so powerful. Do painkillers permanently fix the underlying problem, however? Or do they simply temporarily mask the pain?

You can ask the same questions of any bodywork method. What is the intention behind the technique? What is your goal as a patient? Permanent structural-mechanical correction, or a quick fix to get rid of localised pain?

A massage, for example, or a session of physiotherapy usually attacks tight muscles and ligaments in a localised area. It offers localised relief to an achy area by working primarily on said localised area. You get an upper-back & neck session because your neck hurts, for example. A physio might throw in some stretches and exercises too. And it works. The pain lessens, the muscles feel looser, and you feel more mobile throughout your neck.

And then things hurt the next day.

But this is “normal”, right?

No, it isn’t.

Let’s go back to the above example.

  • A bone in the low back gets pushed forward
  • The body compensates up in the neck
  • Now the neck hurts

In this example, the neck pain was a compensation for a lower-back problem. Until the lower-back problem is fixed, the neck will continue to have to compensate. Massage or stretch the muscles in the neck and it will temporarily feel better in that area – and remember, that’s the area that bothers you. So your neck feels better and it’s a “success”. But the pain keeps coming back days or weeks later, so you go for more massages or physio sessions, or you put heat pads on and rub cream onto the area to provide temporarily localised relief again. If you want pain relief and this works for you and you are happy with the results, then stick with it.

But what does working on the neck do to the rest of your body? Does it fix the lower-back problem? Most likely not. What else does it do in terms of how your body works globally? Since it most likely put you face down to get your neck and upper back worked on?

Up to now, nobody had actually looked into the question of whether a treatment method can make you feel better and provide localised symptom relief while at the same time making your body structurally-mechanically worse. It’s just something that had not occurred to people to even investigate prior to the arrival of Advanced Biostructural Correction™. The simple answer is, yes, it is entirely possible to make a change to one area of the body (and provide symptom relief there) while messing up the body in other areas in terms of how it works mechanically. For example, that upper back and neck massage might achieve the intended goal of loosening up your neck muscles but now it’s harder to breathe. But because nobody is looking at your breathing, and because you are focused on the neck pain, nobody notices the change to your breathing.

A change to one localised area ALWAYS affects the entire body. And the resulting changes can be either good or bad. The trick is to be on the lookout for how your body responds to any given change. Did it make the body globally better or worse?

The reason why things can hurt after a bodywork treatment is that something got shifted during the treatment, and now the body needs to re-set a new compensation pattern elsewhere to account for this change. This new compensation pattern is what you feel as the “achy muscles”.

If a true structural correction of the underlying problem had occurred (instead of a localised approach), you wouldn’t feel it at all. If a correction is made, it works. There is no “getting used to” it; there is no “it still needs to work/settle for a while”; there is no “it will take time”. Make exactly the correct necessary change, and you won’t notice it at all.

When we treat our patients with Advanced Biostructural Correction™, we are constantly on the lookout for global changes. We do something and observe how it affects the entire body. Then we do the next thing and observe again. We know we cannot work on one localised area – we constantly have to take the entire body into consideration.

We are responsible for how you leave. You are responsible for how you return

In our introductory post to this series, we said “we are responsible for how you leave, you are responsible for how you return”. Let’s look at this statement again. We are responsible for leaving you in a position where your body works better in terms of structure and mechanics than it did when you arrived for a given visit. We are looking for your body to be more stable, more upright, we want you to feel bright and clear in the head, and we want to see some of your symptoms change during a given visit. To achieve this, we make exactly the specific changes that are needed on a given visit, and we observe after each change how it affects the entire body.

So when you leave and you feel fine, we would expect you to return feeling the same. If that’s not the case, something happened to your body outside our office that caused a new forward shift in mechanics. Let’s go back to the examples from above:

  1. I left here on Friday feeling fine. On Saturday morning it started up again but that’s normal because you obviously did some work on me on Friday.

We made the exact correction that your body needed on Friday. You left feeling fine. On Saturday morning it started up again. This means that overnight something happened to make your body mechanically more unstable, and now it has to compensate in a new pattern. Here’s a couple possible scenarios:

  • you are in a “forward unwind”. We would have advised you of this on Friday, explaining that “hours to a day” from then you might be feeling old symptoms again. This is because your body is currently working on unlocking and healing an old injury. To unlock/heal it, it needs to lean into it. Mechanically, this means it temporarily has to lean more forward. Symptoms are common but normal in this phase. It may not be fun but it’s a necessary part of the healing journey. Mechanically, it means your body untwisted a bit more overnight and got stuck forward at the next level, which it now cannot fix by itself. You come back for your next visit and we get you through this phase more comfortably.
  • You are in a “backward unwind”. We would have expected you to come back feeling the same at your next visit. Since this is not the case, something messed you up overnight. Most likely, the culprit is your pillow or your mattress. The fact is: you went to bed on Friday night, feeling fine. You woke up on Saturday morning not feeling fine. The culprit is likely your bed! Let us help you by setting up correct pillow height to make things easier!
  1. I left here on Monday feeling fine. On Tuesday, my (neck, back, shoulder) hurt and that’s because you did that thing to my neck/back.

Again, let’s look at possible scenarios for this:

  • Sometimes some of the manoeuvres we have to carry out can be a wee bit uncomfortable. We will usually warn you of this.
  • If pain is caused by a manoeuvre, you will feel it immediately. We will advise you of what just happened and will work hard to get you out of the temporary discomfort by the end of your visit. Sometimes it may not be possible to get the discomfort down to zero and we will advise you to come back later the same day or the next day.
  • If things are fine when you are leaving the office and the pain flares up the next day, it was not caused by any of the manoeuvres we did. It, again, was most likely caused by an area of lifestyle related to sitting, standing, or sleeping. Let us know when you first felt it after leaving the office, what you were doing at the time, and what position your body was in. With a bit of teamwork and playing detective we will find the culprit and can work on fixing the issue so it won’t bother you the next time!

99% of the time the culprits behind flare-ups are lifestyle habits. It’s teamwork to get these sorted out.

Now you know much more about why it is not “normal” for things to hurt after a bodywork treatment of any kind. Now you can ask all the right questions of your practitioners and of yourself: what is the intention behind the method used? Will it provide global structural-mechanical correction of an underlying fault? Or will it provide temporary relief to a localised area? What are your goals? Short-term symptom relief? Or long-term structural-mechanical correction of the underlying root problem? This will help you choose the best treatment option for your case and your goals.

If this post made you curious, why not schedule a free 20mins consultation with one of our practitioners to see how Advanced Biostructural Correction™ can address your aches and pains!

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