WHAT YOU ARE TRULY EXPERIENCING DURING BODYWORK
The craft of being a bodyworker is a very dicey profession. Often times when I am working with people, I get one of three stories:
- I went to somebody and did not feel any results.
- I went to somebody and they hurt me and made me worse.
- I went to somebody and I got better for a day or two then right back into pain.
This is because when it comes to the pain industry there are two types of individuals – wizards and magicians. Wizards perform alchemy. They change the physical and the metaphysical. They can show their secrets to someone, but no one will be able to copy them. Magicians do tricks that FOOL the audience into believing they possess something above the audience. When the magician exposes his secrets, nobody is impressed and the magician loses both face and credibility.
When it comes to pain a drug “fools” your brain into thinking that the pain no longer exists. Just like a drug, a cortisone shot fools your central nervous system into thinking the problem no longer exists. Both of those scenarios get exposed by one thing and one thing only. Time!
Like Rocky said, “Time takes everyone out. Time’s undefeated.”
My statement to you is if your drug, shot, practitioner, therapist or body guru only takes your pain away for a while – he or she is a magician, not a wizard.
What people in pain fail to realize is that the body is a machine, but it is not a machine in the sense that your car is a machine. For instance, you cannot take a person’s body apart piece by piece like a car and then put it back together again and expect it to work just fine. You’ll look like Frankenstein. Problems in the body are mechanical in nature yes, but they cannot be fixed through an isolationist mindset. Back pain is not back pain, and knee pain is not knee pain. Pain in our body is a wolf’s cry for help. Something in your body hurts and your brain is trying to protect you. Pain IS protection. Where it sends the pain is a moot point.
To me back pain is an alignment problem first, a butt problem second, a hamstring problem third, and a neck problem fourth. Sometimes it can be all four at the same time. This is because (as I’m sure you have heard) our body contains a fantastic substance called fascia.
We know more about space and the bottom of the ocean right now than we do about fascia in the human body. In anatomy class we are told to cut the skin and throw away the fascia to expose the muscle, blood vessels, and nerves – you know the “important” stuff. It turns out that living fascia is much different than dead fascia so much so that without it our muscle tissue is considered a dumb piece of meat.
We used to think that it was the bone and muscle that gave our body structure, but it clearly is not. Fascia acts as a 3D web that provides posture and alignment from our nose to our toes, and from our core to our cuff. It is loose as a goose one second while we are laying down, then provides steel like rigidity to our muscles as soon as we stand up. We used to think that the brain told the nerves to tell the muscles what to do. We now know it is fascia that tells the brain to tell the nerves to tell the muscle how to hold the body’s structure. Fascia also:
- Is with you two weeks after you are conceived until the day you die.
- Is the only thing that cannot be removed from your body.
- Is the skin of all living tissue.
- Is made up of collagen fibers that have a disorderly attachment with no apparent logic as to how they fire.
- Is made up of 65-70% water.
- Provides uninterrupted transmission of energy to all structures down to the bone.
- Helps with circulation.
- Helps with proprioception and awareness.
- Helps with defense and protection by making cells of the immune system.
- Provides muscle with its “memory” or what we call its arrangement.
- Acts as a shock absorber.
The scary thing is that I’m convinced we know about .000001% of what fascia actually does in the body even though the Godfather of Osteopathy Andrew Taylor Still said, “We must first look to the fascia for the cause of all disease” in 1899! Ida Rolf, who can be considered the Godmother of Fascia said in the 1960’s, “In any energy system, no matter how complicated, structure is experienced as behavior. Structure is behavior” This means that your body becomes what you habitually do over your lifetime.
Human movement is never 100% correct. We sleep, sit, and stand in compromising positions. We compensate movement patterns daily whether it’s just picking up our groceries or a new PR on a deadlift or squat. Our machine breaks down from both action and inaction, and needs to be maintained on a regular basis. Enter the subtle art of bodywork.
Kinks in The Chain
Our body goes through hundreds of trillions of chemical reactions every second while at rest. Now imagine what has to take place as Patrick Mahomes is running 40 yards for a touchdown while dancing through and evading hungry linebackers looking for a kill. As a result of regular wear, tear and orientation of our body even at rest, there are several defense mechanisms deployed by the fascia to “shore” things up eliminating instability, overuse, and degradation, which ultimately lead to what we call pain.
Trigger points are small areas of wound up muscle impeding a signal the brain is trying to send. If you look on an anatomy chart there are many, many nerves in the human body. The truth of it all though is there is really only one nerve. If you obstruct a nerve you can get pain upstream, and downstream from the obstruction. This is what makes pain managers chase their tail treating symptoms.
Adhesions can be muscular and fascial. Muscle needs pressure and time to both grow and recover. Tax a muscle before it’s ready to perform again and your body has not finished the job of repair yet. It’s like trying to repair a cracked cement wall with more cement, when the first coat has not dried yet. It keeps cracking bigger and bigger, and your cement patch keeps getting wider and wider. Fascial adhesions can be down to the bone and acts like shrink wrapping. It draws itself down and feels like sand or grit on the bone as the collagen tubes dry out to create a super glue-like bond providing more stability for a joint at a subsequent reduction in the range of motion.
Fibrosis is created when muscle gets so tight that two things become infinitely impossible. You can’t get nutrients in to repair the muscle, and you can’t get toxins out from muscle energy production. The nerve-muscle complex essentially goes into hibernation and can be equated with a rusty rattling bar on a handrail. It’s there doing something, but not 100% safe.
Most of the people I see usually have a mix of all of these problems going on – very rarely is it just one or the other. When correcting these dysfunctions, the body even more rarely corrects itself in a positive manner. To understand this crucial point, we must turn to the realm of Thermodynamics.
THE LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS
Ilya Prigogine, a Russian-born Belgian theoretical chemist won the Nobel prize for Chemistry in the field of thermodynamics in 1977. Now, I know you would really think of thermodynamics when you think of getting rid of pain but I promise if you hang on and listen to what I’m about to tell you you’re going to be fascinated just as I was when I made the connection.
Thermodynamics is the science of heat dynamics, which is the relationship between mechanical energy, or work, and heat. During the early study of thermodynamics scientists found out that heat and work can be converted into each other. However, no matter what engine you look at not a single one can ever yield as much energy as it consumes. In every type of energy exchange some energy is lost to the system.
This is because of the fact that in every machine, or system when the energy is being converted into work it becomes increasingly disordered. Keeping with the example of the body as a car, the friction between the moving parts of the car, and the sliding filaments in let’s say a muscle tissue create more disorder the more they move. The cars part gets loose, rusty, then need an overhaul just like your elbow gets rusty from years of whacking a tennis ball.
Unless energy is added to any system it will continue to break down until chaos takes over causing said system to cease functioning altogether. This idea is called the second law of thermodynamics, which states: In any energy interchange, there is a decrease in the amount of energy available to perform useful work. This law applies to everything in the Universe – even the Sun.
This second law is also called the law of increasing entropy. I was first introduced to entropy in the book The Quantum Universe and apparently, we are on a course to exhaust all entropy which will result in the decay of the entire universe, but not for a while so keep your money in the stock market. Entropy is the tendency for all heat in a system to be evenly distributed. It is also the measure of the amount of chaos it contains. The more orderly a system, the less entropy (read heat, read friction, read chaos) and the more disorderly a system the more entropy. If you are in pain your body is in a state of high entropy or chaos. Makes sense, right?
As the molecules of a chaotic system (and all systems are chaotic) become more disordered they collide more and more randomly with each other where they eventually reach a maximally random state called heat death where there is then a tendency for the machine or system to start becoming more…… ordered. Ever have a pain for a couple weeks and then have it completely disappear? For instance, a pain on the bottom of your foot disappears then a couple months later it becomes a pain in the knee. Then a couple months later you have a pain develop in the hip and the knee pain goes away. Order turns to chaos, turns to maximum randomness turns to more order. But unlike a water pump busting in your car engine, your body’s only outlet is to compensate a movement pattern and send the pain somewhere else.
Pain in the human body does not go “away.” It goes somewhere else in the body. These moments where pain is eliminated are what I call “Periods of latent potential” and it works both ways. In the absence of bodywork your system becomes disordered – moves the pain, then becomes disordered – moves the pain again. In the presence of bodywork moments of more pain is how your body restores order by requiring you to rest. More on this later.
So, what is actually happening when systems and machines go from chaos to randomness to order? This is what Prigogine and a few other scientists found out using probability theory and chaos theory. His answer was that order arises because of chaos, not despite it. All the order in life emerges out of chaos, not against it. This takes us into the world of systems.
Prigogine realized scientists were only applying the second law of thermodynamics to closed systems, which was a mistake. Closed systems are self-contained and already at equilibrium with the outside environment. Examples would be a brick, a park bench, or a mailbox. These things don’t exchange matter or energy with their environment. They are just there. Technically there are no truly closed systems, just a lack of interaction some things have with their environment.
Open systems are living. They exchange energy, and matter with their environment, and are always in motion adapting and changes to the things around them. Open systems grow, change, reproduce, and are a flow of constant energy. As a living system you are a constant flow of information looking for equilibrium. You’re hungry and you eat, and then you go to the bathroom. You exercise, breathe oxygen, release carbon dioxide, create heat, then your body cools down through sweat. You are constantly flowing with life’s stimuli, and to put it deeper – you are flow itself.
Open systems have to be adaptable. Every so often in your life you will reach a stimulus greater than you have experienced and in the chaos your system will have to rearrange and increase its tolerance. This is the point in body work where the pain changes. It doesn’t matter if its less pain, or more pain – it’s the change that’s good. Open systems are very hard to deal with because there are literally an infinite number of variables to deal with. Not every person will react the same to a knee surgery, a pill, or an injection, and bodywork is no different. This is what makes this profession so hard to succeed in. Everyone is different, but the same. How your shoulder problem developed may not be how mine did, but we will use the same tactics to get better – pressure and time.
Through an experiment Prigogine actually found that as an open system you can take chaos and dissipate it through your structure creating more order. A brick, or a steel rod cannot do this. More pressure on a brick and it shatters; more strain on the steel and it wears down. We as human beings are self-organizing and can take outside energy and use it to create more order in our own energetic environment. Rather than going to the mechanic to have a part replaced, the chaos of a Pso-Rite, foam roller, or accurately placed elbow will create and stimulate our system to repair itself with one caveat. The more complex a structure is, the more entropy it must dissipate to maintain its structure. This is why most people need several sessions along with some self-care at home.
THE CONCEPT OF THRESHOLD IN THE BODY
Being the open system that we are, you cannot continuously rearrange, and reorder on an infinite scale. Your joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, all have a level of tolerance at which they will break. Until that happens there are an infinite amount of other possibilities that may take into effect.
A conversation I had with a couple of colleagues led us to believe most people have between 13-16 pains their body is dealing with at any one moment, but most people come for just one serious issue. This serious issue is what is known in Thermodynamics as a bifurcation point – a point of no return where the system builds up so much entropy that it starts to crash to a halt. It you have ever been bedridden by a back injury then you have experienced a bifurcation point. As you rest in bed your body reorganizes the chaos and your system becomes more coherent until you can get up and move again. As a result, your body has built up a new threshold that allows it to get rid of chaos at a faster rate than the old system as your brain creates new understandings that allow you to deal with a situation that previously overwhelmed you.
The principle of threshold works the same when you are healing. I talk about this in my book The Back Pain Bible – about how we do not heal in an ascending line. In bodywork there truly are no setbacks. As long as the pain is changing you are on the right track. With the infinite amount of possibilities for your body to rearrange itself back into a higher order who are we to judge that what the body is doing is wrong. Let’s look at this example:
Your back hurts and you find out that you have a really tight hamstring and glute on the same side. You roll on the hamstring and glute and the next day you feel better – great! The next day you do the same thing, but wake up on the third day in more pain. Wait. What happened? Well you overwhelmed the system and your fascia, brain, nerve, muscle, and tendon need time to rearrange and relocate – they need to make sure you don’t try to pick up 400 pounds, or do multiple wind sprints of 200 meters before it has everything figured out. We go back to my previous statement of pain being protection.
REVERSING THE DAMAGE
The human body has absolutely no obligation to make sense to you. Let me say that again. THE HUMAN BODY HAS ABSOLUTELY NO OBLIGATION TO MAKE SENSE TO YOU! You need to understand I had the same frustration as you when I first started doing mobility exercises and especially bodywork to get rid of my pain.
When I first started, I couldn’t believe how painful everything was to press on, and initially when I did my foam rolling and smashing with lacrosse balls, softballs, and baseballs my pain did subside and I could actually lift weight, run, or bike with a lot less pain. But when I woke up the next day the pain was right back to normal and in some cases worse! I did this for over a year until I figured that there must be something I was doing that was wrong and it was my knowledge of physiology that saved me along with being in tune with my body, and my ability to feel energy.
I realize not everybody has those gifts, but if there’s one thing you can do it’s being more aware of your body. My suggestion to people is when you start out, do so in a quiet area free from distractions so you can sense things better. When I started to reverse the damage in my body I did so in my bedroom without a phone, without music and without a TV and you should too.
As you start your bodywork routine you have one mission and one mission only: to make the pain change. Remember, you are trying to use chaos (Pso-Rite, roller, or therapists’ elbow) in a chaotic area (the site of pain) to overwhelm your body’s system into order. As long as the pain changes, you are on the right track. If the pain is less the next day great – find something else in your body that is more painful than what you worked on previously. If the pain is worse that means you really opened something up and your body is telling you to slow down. This doesn’t mean you skip doing the work or take a rest day. Mobilize lightly or for however long is tolerable or cut your time in half. If the pain is the same then you have to look somewhere else. This is often where people get most frustrated and start to feel that what they are doing is not working. I can assure you – if you are rolling in an area that is painful something is happening, there is just not enough chaos or randomness to push it to a threshold.
When you do push the system to a threshold that is when the pain changes and the extent of the change is going to either give you more pain or relief which in my opinion is a moot point. The score here is getting the pain to change. Ultimately this is the sort of timeline we are looking at when trying to get better:
Notice the cycle. We get better, we get worse, we stay the same. We get better, we get worse, we stay the same. At the beginning you want to look for movement week by week. Sometimes it may take a little while longer than that depending on your stress levels, nutrition, quality of sleep, and exercise regime. Another important factor is hydration. Our muscles, tendons and ligaments start to dry out at age 30. Sitting and a ton of alcohol, soda, and fast food will accelerate the issue. I recommend to each of my clients to get a structured water filter, or at the very least get hydrogen tablets for their water.
To close off part 1 of this post I’d like to remind you that in the world of the mind, everything is changing all the time. The brain is putting out more fires per second than we can even conceptualize. Realize that pain in most cases is impermanent, and it is your attitude that will truly determine whether you succeed or fail. And lastly, don’t take your pain too seriously – it’s an illusion created by the mind to protect you and help you live your best life.