What's It All About?
"The study of the mechanics of a living body, especially of the forces
exerted by muscles and gravity on the skeletal structure". (dictionary.com)
Why Is The Biomechanics Of Your Body So Important?
The founder of Osteopathy, Dr Andrew Taylor-Still termed the phrase "structure governs function" more than 100 years ago. This basic principle is as true today as it has always been and was influenced by the observation that if any mechanical structure is not properly aligned, balanced and stable, its function, performance and durability will be compromised.
Just as if one were to continue to drive a car with a flat tyre, or ride a bicycle with a bent wheel and a rusty chain, a human body that is mechanically out of alignment and off balance will become less efficient and more degenerate over time.
This is because the prolonged mechanical inefficiency creates increased stress and strain on certain parts leading to premature and unnecessary wear and tear and decreasing performance.
Let's have a look at a simple but very common example that I see in my clinic on a daily basis.
The Short Leg Syndrome
Most of us like to think and believe that we are structurally balanced and symmetrical, but according to research studies, structural symmetry is the exception rather than the rule. It is in fact relatively normal to have one leg shorter than the other and most of us are blissfully unaware of this. What's more important though, is to determine whether any imbalance is causing undue strain or is linked to any particular dysfunction or pain.
In the illustration below you can see
how a short right leg causes a compensatory change in the alignment of the rest
of the body. The nervous system is
constantly attempting to maintain the body’s centre of gravity over its base of
support and also to keep the eyes level with the line of the horizon.
This leads to what is known as a
functional scoliosis (lateral curvature of the spine) and the resulting changes in the
position of the head, neck, shoulders, spine and pelvis.
Typical signs of these compensations
include head tilt
and shoulder drop which frequently lead to neck and shoulder pain,
tension and headaches. Misalignment of the spine and pelvis often causes muscle
spasm, pain and restriction in the lower back and hips. Compensatory
changes in the position, alignment and function of the knees, feet and
ankles are also very common and will eventually lead to excessive strain and wear and tear in
these body parts too.
With a basic grasp of this concept, hopefully you can begin to understand how and why something as
common as a leg length difference can be a major factor in the development of
musculo-skeletal pain, dysfunction and arthritic degeneration.
Common Complaints Linked To Leg Length Discrepancy
In the illustration above, you can see some of the most common areas for painful symptoms related to leg length discrepancy and the body's reflex compensatory mechanisms.
The highlighted areas are all parts of the body where there is an increased potential for soft tissue strain and joint instability due to the amount of movement and muscular activity required for normal function. Unfortunately, for the majority of us, our repetitive and limited daily movement patterns create and maintain soft tissue imbalance and joint misalignments which inevitably lead to dysfunction and pain.
This type of biomechanical imbalance and strain can lead to any of the following conditions and symptoms:
- Headaches and Migraines
- Neck Pain
- Frozen Shoulder
- Shoulder Pain
- Mid Back Pain
- Low Back Pain
- Hip Pain
- Knee Pain
- Foot and Ankle Pain
How To Avoid Biomechanical Imbalance, Dysfunction And Pain
Let's revisit my favourite analogy of the car with a flat tyre or the bicycle with a bent wheel and rusty chain for a moment...
If, as the owner of the dysfunctional vehicle you weren't able to correct the problem yourself, I'm sure you would come to the conclusion that it's a good idea to take it to a professional who knows how to fix it...a mechanic who understands its workings and how to maintain and service such a machine.
In the case of the bicycle, the spokes of the wheel would need to be correctly tensioned to keep it straight and true, and the chain would need to be properly cleaned, lubricated and aligned to enable it to run smoothly over the cogs and through the gears.
There may well be other parts that need attention or replacement, but that would be a good place to start and the function and performance of the machine would be vastly improved.
But what about your body and its own mechanical workings?
Have you ever taken yourself to see a "body-mechanic" who specializes in assessing, fixing and maintaining the human machine?
If you have, then I'm sure that you are aware of the benefits of improving the way your body functions through better muscle balance, alignment, posture and stability.
If not, wouldn't you find it interesting and useful to know whether you are out of alignment or would benefit from better flexibility, balance, co-ordination and postural control.