Muscle memory is responsible for more than making certain repeated activities like typing and riding a bike easier. Our brains learn to automatically fire muscles that are held in a state of tension for prolonged periods of time. If you sit with your head jutting out past your body’s center line (a phenomenon known as forward head posture), for example, the muscles in the back of your neck will be tense; if you sit this way on a regular basis, muscle memory will develop, meaning the muscles will be automatically contracted. The result is chronic tension, and this process can take place in muscles throughout the body.
Breaking the cycle of learned muscle tension can be accomplished by a two-pronged approach: posture training and self-myofascial release (SMR).
Changing the way you hold and move your body can make great strides toward eliminating back, neck and shoulder pain. Proper posture is achieved when the body is aligned and using only the appropriate muscles for a given task, whether you’re simply standing or moving around.
Posture training can be pursued in different ways. For some people, a commitment to be mindful of the body may be sufficient; training may consist of learning about proper alignment and remembering to do frequent posture checks. For others, more structure may be required; leaving little notes around the house and workplace to do posture checks may be necessary at first.
Education into ergonomics is a necessary part of posture training if your home and workplace aren’t set up with the needs of your body in mind. See www.osha.gov for tips on laying out an ergonomic computer station for starters.
If you want more structure to your posture training, consider pursuing the Alexander Technique. This intensive posture program can be pursued for free through self-study or through an instructor who works with you to achieve proper posture. See www.alexandertechnique.com for more on this.
While posture training goes a long way toward remedying a common cause of back pain, it may not be enough in itself. After years of poor posture, your muscles and the connective tissue surrounding them (myofascia) may develop knots that make it impossible for muscles to relax. If you have persistent muscle knots, SMR will likely be an important part of your treatment plan.
To perform SMR, you simply use a firm, round object such as a tennis ball between your body and the floor or a wall and roll along the knotted muscle, pausing on knots for at least 30 seconds to apply deep, sustained pressure. Over time, the knots will break up and your muscles can regain elasticity. Check out the guide to SMR exercises at www.ptonthenet.com.
Restoring elasticity to your muscles and eliminating tension-related pain require that you get rid of muscle knots and use your body correctly. Posture training and SMR are affordable and easily-accessible options for combating musculoskeletal pain.