December 18, 2020

Why Your Joint Pain Might Not Actually Be Coming From Your Joints

Have you ever experienced any of the following: neck pain, shoulder pain, elbow pain, wrist pain, upper back pain, lower back pain, hip pain, knee pain, or ankle pain? If you're reading this, chances are you've experienced at least one of these pains. But what if we told you that the joint pain you're feeling might not actually be coming from your joints?

The Science Behind Joint Pain

It's a common misconception that joint pain is caused by the joints themselves. However, the truth is that the pain you're experiencing is actually due to the tissues that support your joints. When we move, we put force into these supporting tissues, and what they're able to do with this force dictates whether we can move freely or feel pain. It's important to note that joints themselves do not have nerves in them. The articular cartilage, which is the surface in joints that allows them to move smoothly, has no ability to send signals to your brain. So if you're experiencing joint pain, stop blaming your pain on your joints and start looking at the tissues that support them.

The Importance of Posture

One way to give these supporting tissues a jumpstart on doing their jobs and absorbing force correctly is through posture. Yes, posture might seem like a dirty word that brings to mind rules, etiquette, and work, but let's think of it as position instead. Position refers to the angles in which we move or hold our limbs. Although every human being has the same basic design in our bones and muscles, when we put our limbs at different angles, we use our muscles differently. However, the musculoskeletal system is designed to work most efficiently in one position for absorbing or creating force in any movement. That's why coaches emphasize lifting with consistent and proper form.

The Problem With Poor Position

The problem with position doesn't start in the gym; it starts at your desk, in the driver's seat of your car, and lounging on your couch at home. Our brains are constantly learning from the information being sent from our muscles, including what length and tension muscles should be held at to support us and allow us to do what we need to do. So if you sit at your computer all day and roll your shoulders forward and hunch, the balance between the length of the upper back and the length of the chest and shoulder muscles are thrown off. This means that when you get to the gym to do upper body exercises, your brain believes that the crumpled up posture you've been in all day is the normal position it should maintain. This misinformed posture causes muscles to become overly fatigued in certain areas or simply unable to keep up with the demands of your workout, resulting in pain and restricted movement.

How to Help Yourself

So, what can you do to help yourself? The field of study we're touching on is called biomechanics, and as a general rule, the more right angles and straight lines we can keep when standing, sitting, moving, and lifting, the closer we'll be to functioning how our muscles and skeleton work together best. To get a little more specific, here are two tips that will likely provide the best effort-to-result ratio:

Neutral Pelvis Position

  • Stand with your feet hip width apart, feet parallel with each other and equal pressure between balls of feet and heels as well as between insides and outsides of feet.
  • Keep a very slight bend in your knees.
  • Use your hamstrings to tilt your pelvis so that your pubic bone is in line vertically with your sternum. (note, this should not involve much forward or backward motion of the hips, mostly tilting.)
  • This should make you feel as if you are standing very tall and upright.
  • The same concepts can be kept when sitting or lying down.

Elevated Sternum Position

  • Engage your lats (latissimus dorsi) to lengthen your pecs (pectoralis major) and your traps (trapezius).
  • This muscular action should not move the spine, it should move the scapula.
  • An elevated sternum position does NOT involve arching the back.
  • If you stand with your back against a wall, pulling your shoulder blades back and down to flatten them to the wall will accomplish elevating the sternum.

It's essential to maintain these two key positions, especially during extended periods of time, as they will help your muscles and skeleton work together at their best. By focusing on your posture, you'll be able to give your tissues the jumpstart they need to function correctly and absorb force, which will ultimately lead to less pain and restricted movement.

Remember, these changes don't happen overnight, but small steps each day can make a big difference. Try incorporating these tips into your daily routine, whether it's at work, driving, lounging at home, or during your workouts. Your body will thank you for it, and you'll notice a significant improvement in the way you feel and move. So let's ditch the blame game on our joints and start taking responsibility for our posture and the way we move. By doing so, we can reduce pain, improve our overall health, and live our lives to the fullest.

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