How many times have you heard the phrase “no pain, no gain”? Or “pain is weakness leaving the body”? These phrases are sometimes said to push a person beyond their normal capability. But is this optimal for a person who is stiff and in pain? If you have a tight muscle, you might be told to stretch it to improve flexibility. As a physical therapist, our usual protocol is to move people into painful positions in order to gain motion, improve flexibility, help with posture and alleviate restrictions. All of these actions are with a goal in mind: returning people to normal activities.
But is there a better way? After practicing physical therapy for nearly 15 years, I began to wonder if “working the painful side” was truly helping heal my clients. Was stretching an already painful shoulder healing or hurting? Was there a method that could balance the body in a way that would ease pain while healing the affected area?
Thankfully, the answer is yes! Through research and study, I found a treatment procedure that transformed the way I practice. In 2007, I attended a Level I course in total motion release (TMR). This class began with my instructor (founder of TMR) challenging our thinking about pain, movement and rehabilitation. What he taught me over the next two days was nothing short of amazing. The results themselves were undeniable — so much so, I enrolled in Level II and III training soon thereafter.
This new technique has proven to be the most life-changing treatment approach that I have discovered in my career. TMR takes a nontraditional but highly effective approach to movement and rehab. It is based on the simple principle of moving the body into positions that are easy, pain-free, loose and moveable while avoiding tight, painful and restricted motions in order to alleviate pain and restrictions in the body. If you are skeptical like me, this may seem like a nonsensical or even ridiculous concept. But as a physical therapist, I have seen one successful result after another, and the benefits are undeniable. Getting people out of pain before furthering their treatment has been both a phenomenon and a joy.
To explain how this works, think about when you have had an ache, pain, stiffness or tightness anywhere in your body. What does the body naturally do to protect itself? It compensates for that compromised area. This causes muscles to be overworked or underworked when compared to normal function. This causes other areas of your body to function in abnormal ways. Take for example a sprained ankle. Have you noticed how people who have a sprained ankle walk? Typically, they will limp and take shorter steps on the sprained side due to pain. Overall, their walking pattern is compromised. Now, think about what is happening to the opposite side of the body. The ankle, knee, hip and low back will be forced to absorb more weight than normal due to compensating for the sprained/injured ankle. Also, the shoulders will not move as fully as normal, and the trunk will not rotate normally. As you can see, a sprained ankle has a direct effect on the entire body, from the ankle all the way to the shoulders. It is amazing how pain and injury in one area of the body affect other areas of the body. This compensation causes an abnormal or “out of balance” condition, whether it be right to left side imbalance, front to back, or top to bottom, when compared to normal.
When I use TMR, it helps me identify and treat the imbalances caused by these compensations. By simply testing and comparing motions in the shoulders, trunk and hips, physical trainers can identify imbalances.
Four Simple Tests
The four simple tests I use to determine imbalance are the arm raise, trunk twist, leg raise and sit-to-stand activities. With each, I compare right side to left side. When I find the area of biggest imbalance, I “treat” the better side of that motion first. Once that is treated, I then look at the original symptoms or compromised area to see if there is improvement, no change or worsening of symptoms and proceed from there. I have found these simple activities have a profound effect on people’s symptoms. Pain is often eliminated, abnormal motion improves and my clients generally feel much relief. Once all the imbalances in the body caused by our natural compensations are eliminated, the body quickly responds to further treatment and symptoms minimize overall.
During the years I’ve been practicing, I have seen such amazing things happen when a person avoids straining and paining his or her body. As a physical therapist, I find nothing more enjoyable than witnessing people being relieved of their symptoms and getting their life back. If you do try the exercises above, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what happened and what you felt. I look forward to hearing from you!
By Dean Volk, PT
Owner and Senior Therapist
Volk Physical Therapy