Movement is critical to health – good health depends on freedom of movement, and freedom of movement is a strong indicator of good health! We often talk about “movement” as a general concept, but it’s worth understanding that the picture is actually a bit more nuanced than this…
The chiropractic view of Movement
Ask most people what a chiropractor does and they’ll tell you that we help people with back pain – actually, what most people will probably say is “they crack bones” – but that’s ok, the sentiment is the same.
Fundamentally this is true, chiropractors do help with back pain – but more importantly, we help with movement. After all, most back pain only flares up or becomes bothersome when we try to move our spines, so rather than visiting the chiropractor perhaps you could remain motionless?! When we see a new patient, one of the first things we try to understand is their health goals – almost without fail, the first thing out of their mouth has something to do with movement, the pain may be bothersome, but its difficulty getting through the day at work, having their exercise impacted or being unable to pick up a grandchild which ultimately brings them to our clinic. Movement isn’t just critical for physical health, we now understand that good movement is also critical for (and in itself, helpful for improving) mental health.
So, chiropractic is very much about movement – and restoring movement to those who have had it restricted, often by pain, but also by stiffness, injury or even just poor posture and bad habits. Chiropractors, therefore, spend quite a bit of time thinking about movement and how movement itself works.
Levels of Movement
Movement itself can be understood on three different levels, these are segmental, regional, and whole body.
Segmental movement is the foundation of spinal motion – segmental movement describes the motion that happens between each set of bones in your spine.
Regional movement describes movement in the four primary regions of the spine – these are the cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back), lumbar (low back), and sacral (tail bone) regions.
Finally, Whole body movement refers to your ability to combine the segmental and regional movements of your spine with the movement of your extremities – this is called whole-body motion.
Like many things in life, the order matters here – it’s impossible to have good regional movement without dependable and pain-free segmental movement, similarly, good whole-body movement won’t be yours unless each of the regions of the spine (and their underlying segmental movement) is as it should be. Additionally, whole-body movement is only optimal when the other major movement structures of the body (hips, shoulders etc.) are also functioning well.
Unfortunately, this does mean that even a single issue at the segmental level can throw the whole body off of optimal – If any of your joints aren’t moving properly, it’s going to be difficult to move through your entire range of motion safely and painlessly. Does this mean a single point of discomfort in the spine destroys the ability of your body to move? Of course not – however, when any number of joints aren’t moving properly, that usually means other joints have had to compensate, which means they may become overloaded, which puts you at an increased risk for injury. The body, especially the spine, is tough – life can be rough on the body sometimes and if you participate in regular exercise it’s inevitable that you’ll pick up small injuries along the way, the body can and will compensate for this. When we ignore small issues for a long time, however, or allow multiple problems to build up – then we can start to see whole-body issues, such as that much-hated non-specific “everything hurts” kind of pain.
What can I do?
By reading this weeks blog, you’ve already taken the most important step when it comes to maintaining truly free movement – understanding that all movement is based upon segmental health is the critical point since it’s hopefully now obvious that the solution is to take small issues early. This does not mean you need to run down to the chiropractor every time you have the slightest amount of back pain, but it does mean that if you have a small but nagging pain in the back which hangs around for more than a few days, or crops up while you’re exercising or working it’s time for a visit. Tiny misalignments and issues in the spine can usually be corrected with just one or two adjustments allowing you to keep moving optimally.
 How Simply Moving Benefits Your Mental Health. Harvard Health. 2016.