Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sensation: The Language of Your Body

There is a need for a basic, fundamental shift in our thinking as a society surrounding the issue of having a well-functioning body.  Our bodies are physical.  The language of our bodies is called SENSATION.  The body doesn’t care about talk.  It doesn’t care about terms like “frozen shoulder,” “tendinitis,” “TMJ syndrome” or “fallen arches.”  Our bodies care about sensations like ‘heat,’ ‘pain,’ ‘tension,’ ‘electrical charge’ and ‘stiffness’ and about mobility and stability.  It demands balance and without it, will ask for it using it’s language.  Usually this request for balance is sensed as PAIN.
Many people will come to see a doctor with a physical complaint.  As an example, lets say the complaint is that they have pain in their shoulder when they make large arm circles. Many medical doctors will ‘diagnose’ this problem based on talking.  In other words, the client will describe the issue, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this,” and the doctor will then come to some conclusion. For example you may hear “you have bursitis.”  The next step is often a prescription of medications or cortisone injections or maybe even surgery.
There are many things wrong with this scenario.  First and foremost is the issue of the fact that we are talking about a physical problem, not an intellectual problem. Did the doctor even touch you? Did the doctor who prescribed this procedure (be it medication or surgery) have any physical contact with your body?  How can someone even begin to understand a physical problem without using physical touch? If you went to a mechanic and were complaining of a strange noise coming from under the hood when you drove, how much would you trust this mechanic if he started recommending treatments without even starting the engine? 
Secondly, the treatment being suggested is not addressing the problem, it is addressing the symptom.  If there is pain during movement, this indicates an issue of a physical nature.  In most cases, it will be an abnormality in the mobility of the musculo-skeletal system.   This can be caused by improper body mechanics which can lead to muscle imbalances and/or overuse of certain tissues. Injections and medications only address the symptom, but do nothing about the cause or the root of the problem. 
And thirdly, the suggestion of surgery is often taken very lightly, when it is really a risky lottery. Sometimes the problem may be temporarily abated through surgery, but if the cause of the issue is not addressed through proper education of proper care and use of the body, it will typically come back within a matter of months. And in some cases, the client will get no relief at all from the surgery, but still have spent many months recovering and spent lots of time and money. In most cases, surgery causes a great deal of collateral damage by cutting through healthy tissues, which simply trades one problem for another.  It may be removing whatever offending tissue is hindering the movement, but it does nothing for the long term. In Shmuel Tatz’ Body Tuning office we see and help many people who are struggling to regain ease and functionality after a surgery.
A fourth issue here is the complacency we tend to feel once something is labeled.  Rather than dealing with this problem in terms of sensation (mobility, heat, pain, etc.) we explain and name things (this is ‘frozen shoulder’). This naming can trigger a sense of resignation to the inevitable.  I’ve heard many people say “I have frozen shoulder.” or “I have flat feet.”  They are, in effect, saying that they are helpless against their pain and discomfort because they are afflicted with this horrible sounding condition. Once we accept this ‘diagnosis’ we are at the mercy of the doctors. 
So what is the answer?  The answer is to use the proper ‘language.’  And to only see professionals who are using the proper language. What I mean is... let’s say you are complaining of a mental problem, then you should expect a lot of talk.  Talking is the ‘language’ of your mind.  Thoughts and ideas are expressed through talk. But if you came in with a complaint about your body, you should expect to be using the language of sensation.  You should also expect to be touched.  The professional should be palpating and mobilizing your body and listening for sensations. 
You will know that you are dealing with the appropriate health-care provider, when they ask you about what you are sensing right now.  As contrary as it may seem to what most people are used to, there is not a lot of value to your ‘story.’  It does a competent physical therapist very little good to hear about how your knee always aches when it snows or that you have a headache whenever you eat garlic. The truth is that your body will be giving a much clearer and more precise picture of what’s going on.  But it must be touched and moved.  This is how we listen to our bodies. 
I find that when someone comes to me with a simple and clear pain complaint, it is much easier to help them than it is to help someone who comes to me with a neat little term like ‘epicondylitis.’  The latter is a great way for doctors and surgeons to sell you on surgeries or even more complicated and impressive-sounding things like ‘non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.’ 
So the bottom line is, if you have discomfort in your body, you should insist on being touched.  And if your health-care practitioner dares to ‘diagnose’ your issue without speaking the language of sensation, you should quickly find someone else to help you.
One final point I want to make is that in order for you to enjoy recovery from physical pain, you almost always need to make a change in how you are using your body.  You should be receiving advice on how to move differently, how to hold your spine, how to walk more efficiently, how to lift things, etc.  If you’re not getting this kind of prescription, then you will probably not only continue to experience this pain/discomfort, but you can count on it getting worse until you do start implementing a change in your body mechanics. 

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