Where’s the Manual

 Photography by pll www.freeimages.com

Photography by pll www.freeimages.com

Most people don’t read them anyway but when you need to find out how to take care of something you own it is nice if it comes with a manual on how to fix the thing. Too bad our bodies don’t. The good thing is that there are a lot of different ways to take care of the mechanical problems our frames encounter. The bad news is that most of us don’t really know what they are or how they work.


In the next few posts I will be explaining some of the techniques used to help the human mechanical structure work better and how these techniques fit into the context of helping our ability to handle imbalance. Let’s get started.

Like any repair manual we will start with the parts list –

Bones –

These pieces provide the hard parts to do movement – they are the levers so you can actually get things to move through space. There are around 210 of them in an adult human; the exact amount varies by age and individual. The places where the bones meet are called joints (or fulcrums if you think of the bones as levers.) The bones do a lot of important things beyond just providing levers but we are going to keep it simple here.

Ligaments –

These are the tough cables that keep the bones connected to each other. You don’t want one end of a bone sliding off its contact with another bone if you want to get anything done. Sliding the end of a bone off of where it should sit on another bone is called a dislocation and is very painful. Why? Because you had to damage the ligaments in order to give the joint enough slack to let things slide. When you damage a ligament the injury is called a sprain.

Tendons –

These are the fibrous tissue that holds a muscle to a bone. They are made mostly out of the same material as ligaments and contain a lot of little sensors for sending information to the brain about how much force they have through them and other information to help your brain know what is going on in them. When someone “tears” or “pulls” a muscle it is often in the area where the tendon and muscle are joined. In some places the tendons are long cables like the ones going down your forearm and wrist to your fingers and in other places they are very short and broad as in the attachment of your quadriceps on the front of your thigh to your thigh to the middle of the femur is sits upon.

Also note that tendons and ligaments aren’t just attached to the surface of the bones but they have fibers that go into the substance of the bone itself. As a result it is not uncommon to actually pull a piece of bone off when a tendon or ligament gets pulled on too hard.

Muscles –

These are the guys who get all the press coverage for doing the work. And in a strict physics sense they do. Muscles can generate force but only by actively making itself shorter. That’s it; a muscle cannot make itself longer once it has shortened. Once you bend your elbow with your biceps muscle it cannot push the forearm back out to straighten the elbow. In order to make the elbow straight the biceps has to quit working (relax) and then you have to use other muscles like the triceps to pull the elbow straight. Because the biceps is attached to the bones above and below the elbow it will get stretched out when the triceps moves bones to get the elbow straight but the biceps is coming along for the ride, it is not helping to lengthen itself. That is why stretching can also be a strengthening exercise because you have to contract one muscle to stretch another. Hatha yoga is a good example of this.

Here is the big thing to remember about what muscles do – they only pull on things, usually bones. This idea is often forgotten by trainers and therapists to the detriment of their client.

Important as they are, muscles are useless without the other parts. If you just had muscles you would be a quivering mass that slowly flopped through the world. Or, as the creatures with bones would call you – lunch.

So, the brief summary of the hardware is

Bones, which are stiff and hard, are connected to each other and kept in the correct relationship to each other by Ligaments. Bones also have Tendons attached to them and on the other end of a tendon is a Muscle which can shorten itself and thus pull a bone through space and stretch out the muscle that moves the bone the opposite direction.

When people have a mechanical problem with moving it is usually because one or several of these components are damaged or the coordination among the parts is out of whack so things are not in the right place at the right time to create the needed movement. Interventions like massage, Muscle Energy, manipulation, myofascial release, and many others that do not begin with the letter M, all aim to change how one or more of these components functions and/or the coordination between the components. In the following posts I explain some of them for you.