When I started my training as a complementary therapist, one of the most perplexing questions I used to ask myself was why many patients experienced a recurrence of their original injury after they had attended a course of treatment and were 'fixed'.
The human body is extremely adaptable. One only has to look at body-builders to see how the body can adapt to regular strength training. However, our daily work routine and lifestyle is simply conditioning our bodies in different ways, albeit at a lower intensity than body-builders. Whether we do heavy physical work or do light work in a office, we all follow the same routine for 8 hours a day, 360 days a year.
Our bodies structurally adapt to the physical stress from our lifestyles. It make no difference whether the lifestyle is physical demanding or not. It may surprise you to know that light work such as sitting at a desk is taxing for the body as our bodies have to use muscles to hold us in a fixed position for a long period of time.
It also an unfortunate circumstance that as we get older, our strength and flexibility decreases. If you look at the spine of a 3 year old child, you will observe an almost perfect 'C' shape wheree all vertebrae in their spine move in perfect synchronization with maximum flexibility. In a 7 year old child, some of this innate flexibility is already lost. By the time adulthood is reached, the spine has become significantly more rigid. This decrease in flexibility applies to the whole body – not just the spine.
Most people's lifestyle have become more sedentary, which accelerates a decline in our flexibility. In addition, the work routine stresses our bodies in the same way every day. This causes our bodies to change its structure to adapt to the demands placed on it every day.
Most people who experience insidious pain in their lives do so when they reach the age of 40 years old and beyond. Usually it is related to a specific action such as doing the gardening at weekend. This specific single act is usually blamed for doing the damage. However, in reality, it is the person's decline in flexibility and general adaptation over an extended period of time that has set up the mechanism for injury.
Pain is usually the trigger for seeking treatment. Soft tissue massage / mobilization perhaps with appropriate manipulative therapy, can be very effective at returning function to the body and relieving pain. An experienced therapist will be able to palpate the restricted areas in the body and return most of all of the lost range of motion. This usually takes a course of treatments.
Once the range of motion is returned through therapy and the patient becomes pain free, the patient is usually discharged. The problem with this is that the patient returns to their work and lifestyle routine. Slowly but surely, the therapy is undone as the body re-adapts to the same work and lifestyle routine that contributed to the 'injury' in the first place.
Regular stretching is a very effective method of maintaining and increasing flexibility. It also has the advantage that it can be performed at home with minimal equipment (a yoga mat) and it is safe as long as it is done appropriately and properly. The problem with most flexibility routines is that they are not balanced in terms of stretching most of major muscle groups in the body.
Yoga can offer a balanced top-to-toe stretching program that is both effective and safe when learned from a teacher. It has the advantage of offering specific asanas (or poses) to target movement of the spine in its 4 principal movements: Forward bending, backwards bending, side bending and rotation.
My experience has shown that yoga, when used in conjuction with a tailed physical therapy program, can accelerate the recovery time over just having treatment alone. In addition, patients that regularly practice yoga rarely suffer a re-occurrence of their pain. Yoga is an extremely effective tool that can empower the pain sufferer to manage their own pain. All it requires is a little bit of free time each day.