What we all call muscles are actually bundles of thousands of muscle fibers. When we pick up our keys, we use only a small number of these fibers because that's all the job requires. When we lift a gallon of milk, we use many more fibers because it weighs eight pounds. But when we help lift something heavy like a piano, we recruit as many fibers as we possibly can.
What's amazing about our muscle fibers is that they know how to take turns doing the lifting. This allows tired fibers to rest and recover while their neighbors take over. When the neighbors are spent, other neighbors pick up the slack until it's time for the first fibers to go back to work.
However, when the work never ceases and the fibers come to realize they are unfairly overworked and underpaid, they rebel. Their rebellion can be as obvious as a cramp or charlie horse. More commonly, it's a subtle tightening or "splinting" of the offended fibers. If the offense never ends, it's as if the muscle fibers finally say to their employer, "Fine, if you don't want us to work as sophisticated elastic motors, we'll work as crude cables." In other words, they give up their ability to skillfully contract and relax and become simple, non-elastic ropes or straps.
Tom has had a bad neck for years. It's almost always tight and achy and he can't even back out of the driveway safely without twisting his whole body to see if a car is coming. His MD gives him muscle relaxants and PT's, chiropractors and massage folks have brought him relief countless times, but his stiff neck always returns.
Spine shape analysis revealed an exaggerated thoracic or upper back curve that encouraged Tom to look downward most of the time. His constant need to hold his head uprightly so he could see where he was going forced neck muscle fibers to work to exhaustion. They were so tired of chronically pulling his head rearward to prevent its falling they had already begun making the vengeful transition from dynamic muscle team to leather strap. No wonder Tom's neck was so uncomfortably stiff.
Fortunately, an aggressive posture and neck rebuilding program (see previous blogs) improved the shape, stability, and mobility of Tom's spine as well as the mobility and comfort of his neck. Over many months of hard work, he eventually achieved the recovery he had wanted for years. No type or amount of passive treatment could possibly have cured his neck stiffness as long as the cause of that stiffness remained unaddressed.