Updated: Apr 1, 2019
Standing on two feet seems a pretty commonplace activity for us, and one that we take for granted. But it wasn’t always this way. Our two-legged posture is a relatively recent adaptation in our evolutionary history, following a much more significant stretch on all fours. Our transition to upright has, I think, been mostly a boon for us. Being upright gave Homo sapiens a great many advantages over our evolutionary predecessors and contemporaries. For example, scanning the savannah for predators or game enabled us to better survive and flourish and it freed our hands for other utilities such as throwing stones or signalling. So, it seems natural selection and our evolutionary development certainly favoured upright over all fours (although, it did just occur to me how my work posture as a massage therapist is more reminiscent of our distant cousin, the orangutan than my fellow Homo sapiens). However, as Yuval Noah Harari (2011, pg. 10) articulates in ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’:
“...walking upright has its downside. The skeleton of our primate ancestors developed for millions of years to support a creature that walked on all fours and had a relatively small head. Adjusting to an upright position was quite a challenge, especially when the scaffolding had to support an extra-large cranium. Humankind paid for its lofty vision and industrious hands with backaches and stiff necks.”
Our uprightness came somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago, so our adjustment timeline to our current skeletal structure is kind of like a newborn teething for about twenty years. Add stress, an injury, a sedentary lifestyle or a consistently repetitive and/or ‘unnatural’ bodily activity to your regular routine and you’re muscles are going to snap into protective mode. The various muscle fibers in a particular area start to stick to each other and become adhered, more commonly known as a knot. Or trigger points develop, creating sites of pain and vulnerability and conversely, remedial access beacons. Which are good things in the very short term, however, over prolonged periods of time these muscles will often require therapeutic attention to prevent longer term dysfunction as well as to provide immediate pain relief.
Massage therapy as a preventative measure can help keep your muscles healthy, pliable, and oxygenated (including many other benefits. See my blog articles: ‘Why Get A Massage’ and ‘Tactual Healing’). Amd massage is not only great for prevention, but can help relieve muscle pain and break up the adhesions that form, allowing your body to return to a more functional state. Left unattended, the original problem can spread, impacting other muscle groups in other areas of your body. Your body will compensate one area of weakened or overly tight muscles by using other ‘unnatural’ muscles, thereby creating more widespread and entrenched muscular issues and a potentially longer recovery time.
Something that I have discovered while working with people’s bodies is that sometimes my clients are not even aware of an existing muscular issue until they come for a massage. Or they will be feeling pain and restriction in one part of their body, while the origin and required treatment lay elsewhere. Through the healing craft of touch and the act of palpating one’s muscular terrain, a massage therapist can reveal dysfunction before a client is even aware. For example, an office worker may not be aware that their back muscles have for some time been compensating their shortened, restricted and therefore weak and tight upper chest muscles (pectoralis major and pectoralis minor). Sitting at a computer for extended periods of time (without effective self care) will significantly contribute to this condition.
If you too are part orangutan or a Homo sapiens still adjusting to your uprightness, make sure take care of your muscles. For, they are kind of holding you all together. Regular stretching and exercise is a really good start — for oxygenating and activating muscles. Getting your body serviced regularly will also go a long way to keeping your muscles in good working order. As you would your automobile or general health. It’s incredibly relaxing, emotionally releasing and feels amazing too.
Read more blog posts from Andrew Dib Massage & Healing here.