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    Muscle Matters - Pain Free at Your PC

    Excerpted from
    Pain Free at Your PC
    By Pete Egoscue

    My work has given me enormous respect for the intricate yet fundamentally simple resilience of the human body. From spry old ladies to strapping young athletes and agile kids, I've closely examined the musculoskeletal system and how its rugged design allows us to function in direct response to the demands of harsh, unforgiving environments-even the harsh, unforgiving environment of a software programmer's cubicle at three o'clock in the morning.

    Our earliest ancestors didn't go to work in cubicles-work came to them on all fours, in all four seasons, and from four points of the compass. The musculoskeletal system we inherited is proof of that. The body's arrangement of muscles, bones, joints, and nerves enables a hungry man to reach over his head to pluck ripe apples or to bend down to dig through the snow and into the earth for edible roots. He can run from danger, climb a tree, and throw a spear (and make the weapon with his own hands as well).

    Did I say he? I may use the masculine pronoun from time to time, but she is just as capable. Male or female, our distant ancestors embodied lives of motion.

    Consequently, there is no fixed limit on our stretching, bending, climbing, or running. The reason for that is the almost constant demand for motion that came humankind's way from an always-challenging environment. In short we were designed to do what we can do-move-and do it over and over again, depending only on individual strength and stamina. Simple fatigue and exhaustion, not pain or musculoskeletal damage, are the natural circuit breakers. We are designed to rest or go to sleep, and return to work-return to movement-refreshed and stronger.

    Think about that. With time off to recharge, along with adequate food and water, our human apple-picker, root-grubber, or spear-thrower made the Energizer Bunny look like roadkill. Motion is the price we pay for muscle. The more we use muscles, the more they strengthen. So do the joints. Our batteries are designed to run up rather than run down. In terms of evolution, it is the adaptable who survive. This musculoskeletal amplitude is one of the mainstays of human adaptability. Without it we wouldn't have lasted for more than a few centuries. The first drought or plague of locusts would have done us in

    Luckily, though, we have a nearly flawless musculoskeletal system. Nearly. The flaw is that our environment is no longer harsh and unforgiving. We tamed it by eliminating most of the constant working motion And before you shout hurrah, let me point out that that's what's causing your wrist to hurt or those other symptoms attributed to "computer pain syndrome." The correct term should be "environmental pain syndrome." If motion is the price of muscles, pain is the price of lack of motion and muscle. The computer is not guilty!

    Home on the Range

    Muscles don't need to be bulging and rippling and hamlike to be strong; true strength is a matter of tone, accessibility, and function. Are they fully capable of responding when you need them? The test is their ability to meet your requirements. It's not a matter of conquering Mount Everest. If you are a postal worker, can you walk your route without a struggle? If you are a pizza-delivery person, can you climb a steep set of stairs? If you are a researcher, can you operate a computer keyboard? If not, it doesn't matter who you are or what you do, without this readily available underlying muscle strength, your health is doomed to be weak.

    Being pain free at your PC or any other tool is all about strength, motion, and health. It comes in one package.

    A few pages earlier, I noted that we are designed to do what we can do, and do it over and over again. The reverse is true too-we cannot do what we cannot do. By that I mean we can't live upside down, fly under our own power, swivel our heads 360 degrees, survive without food, water, or oxygen, and so on. There are limits, rules, requirements. As a species, we have known this for several million years and have rarely violated the design limits of the body except by accident or sheer folly. In either of those events, the consequences are instantaneous and drastic. The offender either stops what he or she is doing or perishes.

    Do you think there's a bit of evolutionary logic involved here? Seems likely to me.

    By establishing what our bodies can't do, we form an instinctive awareness of our range of motion-what we can do. We know that we can stretch, bend at the waist and knees, rotate the torso to the left and right, grasp and release with the fingers and hands, and-well, you get the picture. A picture of motion. We start this process as infants. It's both no big deal, and a very big deal.

    But this picture of motion (and muscle) is misleading because we feel it more than we see it; over time it's more a product of remembrance than reality. We remember that we can twist and turn and stretch, but when we do not frequently call on our muscles to perform those actions, they lose the ability to respond. Initially-perhaps years go by-this escapes our attention. Yet the memory of our full range of motion is there, and when we do call on it, confident of an instant response, the answer is pain.

    Let me tell you why. The hitch with range of motion-ROM-is that it comes in two forms, design range of motion-DROM-and individual range of motion-IROM. Think of the first as what the body is capable of doing, and the second as what the individual actually does with his or her bones, joints, muscles, and nerves. There is an enormous disparity. For instance, many people hardly ever reach straight up over their heads. The function is there as part of DROM, but IROM is not utilizing it. Over time this function becomes increasingly inaccessible.

    Almost all of us-there are very, very few exceptions accounted for by rare birth defects-started out with the same design range of motion once we got past infancy and toddlerhood. Aside from size and some minor bone surface variations, all the musculoskeletal parts are the same and operate in an identical manner. This forms the platform or foundation for the familiar functions like stretching and bending that I've been discussing. If you'll stand up, I will demonstrate what I mean.

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