Vail Daily health column: Look to a tree for muscle function lessons |

Vail Daily health column: Look to a tree for muscle function lessons

Sharon Hollis
Special to the Daily
Sharon Hollis

The human body is similar to a tree. A tree has roots, which hold it firmly in the ground. The other job of the roots is to hold up the tree trunk. Our body’s roots are the large muscles in the hips. These muscles hold up our trunk, which is the spine. A tree has branches that grow off of the trunk. Our “branches” are our arms and legs.

If a tree does not have a solid root base, this makes the tree susceptible to increased sway in the wind. The top of the tree will sway more than the middle or the bottom of the tree. If our hip muscles, our roots, are weak, then our spine, the trunk of our tree, could be unstable. The spine supports our head. If the spine is unstable, this could cause “excessive sway” or instability of the head on the neck. The relevance of this information can best be demonstrated with a patient example.

J.P. woke up several weeks ago with a kink in his neck, and it would not go away. He booked a few massages to help loosen up his neck. The massages felt great and his neck did loosen up, but the stiffness stubbornly remained. He was also using heat and stretching, but the stiffness did not abate. J.P. saw a physician, and he was referred to physical therapy. Most of the therapy was directed at the painful area in the neck. The pain diminished, but did not dissipate completely.


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Our body, just like a tree, is an integrated system with each part having an effect on every other part. Recalcitrant neck pain, as in J.P.’s case, could be the result of instability in the middle part of the spine. Remember the spine is our tree trunk holding up head. If the therapy he received only addressed neck pain and not the instability in the middle of the spine, that could be a reason his neck pain did not clear up completely.

Branches of a tree need to be solidly connected to the trunk so that they can withstand a storm. Our arms need to be solidly connected to the spine and this is done via the shoulder blade muscles. If there is instability in the spine, the shoulder blade muscles will not have a solid foundation. Shoulder pain could be related to spinal instability. Another patient example can demonstrate this situation. M.R. was a 16-year-old athlete with complaints of right shoulder pain. The first three visits were dedicated to the shoulder and shoulder blade area but the pain was not decreasing. On the fourth visit, abdominal muscle function and strength was addressed and by the fifth visit, the shoulder pain was eliminated.

Instability in our body can be a result of loss of muscle function. Muscles need to be “woken up,” “activated” or “rebooted.” Physical therapists regularly address the loss of muscle function, which can lead to instability and pain.

Sharon Hollis has a master’s degree in physical therapy. She is a certified hand therapist and is the only muscle activation technique specialist in Summit and Eagle counties. She practices at JointWorx Physical Therapy in Edwards. Call 970-569-3883 to schedule an appointment or request a free injury screening.

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