The human body is designed to move, but more and more people have sedentary lifestyles where they spend long periods of time in the same position, such as sitting in front of a computer. This lack of movement results in aches and pains and it decreases the functional capability of your body. You have probably heard the saying “use it or lose it,” well this is certainly true when it comes to movement and your body.
If you have a lack of movement or activity, your muscles and joints become stiffer and you eventually lose a significant amount of joint mobility. Frequently moving your muscles and joints through their entire range(s) of motion goes a long way towards helping retain your body’s functional capacity.
This movement doesn’t even need to be challenging exercise, as simply moving around regularly can significantly improve the way you feel every day. Of course, stretching is also very important, but this article focuses primarily on basic movement.
One reason muscle and joint problems occur is because most people don’t realize they are losing range of motion until after it starts affecting their daily life. Unfortunately, by this time a significant loss of range of motion and functional capacity has already occurred. Since most daily activities either require little motion or consist of performing the same movements over and over, it leaves many muscles or motions unused.
For example, your legs probably move forwards or backwards frequently, because this happens whenever you walk, but how often do your legs move in a sideways direction? My guess is that unless participate in a sport that involves lateral (sideways) movement, such as tennis, or you perform exercises specifically for those muscles (abductors), then your body probably rarely moves that way.
It may not seem as though it’s important to move your body in ways that you never really use in your daily life, but it is actually one of the keys to having a healthy and pain free body. Continuing with the above example, if you never move your legs laterally away from your body, you will lose flexibility in that direction and the muscles involved in performing that movement will become stiffer and weaker.
While this loss of flexibility and mobility is happening, your probably won’t even notice any change, unless you happen to do something that involves lateral movement. If you do move sideways, you might notice more stiffness than usual, but if your body rarely moves this way, you may not remember what the movement or your muscles felt like before, so you may not notice any change.
The real problem is not just the loss of motion, but rather the effect this has on the rest of your muscles. As you continue to lose mobility, the increasing stiffness in the surrounding muscles and joints eventually affects other areas of your body.
I will not go into physiological detail in this article, but as a general rule, stiffness or weakness in one area of your body often causes muscle and joint pain or dysfunction in other areas of your body. Once this happens, it means a moderate to severe muscle/joint problem already exists.
By moving your body through a wide variety of motions on a regular basis, you can help prevent a significant number of these issues from developing into more serious problems. In addition, if muscle or joint problems do develop, regular movement will help you identify the problems while they are still minor. This is essential, because it is much easier to correct a minor problem than it is to reverse a major/chronic muscle or joint problem.
While moving can provide great cues as to which muscles or joints may be developing problems, this information is only useful it’s correctly interpreted. Perhaps the biggest problem is people are not taught to pay attention to physical problems until they become severe enough to affect their everyday life. As a result, the early warning signs often go unnoticed or are interpreted as non-issues that will go away if ignored.
I cannot count the number of times I have heard people say things like “It’s not a big deal; it only hurts when I move in certain positions.” There seems to be a common belief that as long as you can find a way to work around pain or discomfort, then everything is okay.
I realize people don’t like to admit they have physical problems, but any time you make a statement like “It only feels uncomfortable when …,” it really doesn’t matter what comes next, because it means there definitely is a problem. It may not be a major problem, but without some type of intervention, it will probably get worse over time.
The other big thing that results in people not realizing they have developing muscle or joint problems is your body’s natural reaction to discomfort. When something starts hurting, the natural response is to avoid moving in ways that make you feel pain. This can be useful at times, but avoiding specific movements for extended periods of time does not help the healing process and almost always makes muscle and joint programs worse.
The important thing to remember is that just because you are pain free right now, it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have problems. It is very common for people to have problems and not realize it, because you won’t feel much pain or discomfort with your muscles unless you actually use them.
Since muscles and movements that cause pain are typically avoided or used as little as possible, the pain symptoms are often avoided as well, even while the problem may be getting worse. If a problem progresses to the point where your muscles or joints are hurting even when they are not being used, then you probably have a more advanced or potentially serious problem.
The reason I wanted to give you all this information is not to scare you, but rather to encourage you to move around more and try to avoid staying in one position for long periods of time. Ideally get up and move around every 15-30 minutes or so, just to keep your muscles and joints from becoming too stiff.
If you do notice an area of your body that is feeling unusually stiff, sore, or in some way uncomfortable, try moving those muscles as long as it does not increase the discomfort or cause pain. After you loosen up the area, do some light to moderate stretching for those muscles. Be sure not to stretch too hard, because stretching that is too intense can make the problems worse, while light to moderate stretching promotes faster healing.
14 years of experience and education in health and fitness