Repetitive immobility, replicated on a daily basis, leads to chronic, postural overload and adaptive shortening of the muscles and fascia. This shortening of the myofascia exhibits itself as stiff joints, decreased flexibility, loss of fluidity, muscle pain and poor posture. Fascia, according to Cailliet, “envelops individual muscle groups that separate each group from adjacent muscle groups. There is a fluid between the fibers of this fascia that acts as a lubricant to permit freedom of movement of each adjacent muscle group.” (2)

Muscles are meant to move. The advancements of modern society have made your life more efficient and more stressful. While modern man can communicate and travel great distances, the methods require very little movement on the part of each traveler. D. Zacharow wrote, “compared to primitive man living an outdoor life, civilized man has become a standing-around and a sitting-around animal rather than a running-around one.”(1)

Today, when someone says they’ve been running around, it usually entails driving in a car, standing in an elevator, standing in lines and sitting in waiting rooms – basically being busy without being active. None of these activities actually challenge the muscles to move through their full range of motion.

When you continually stress and tighten a muscle group, the fascia and muscles will adhere together, restricting their range of motion and creating postural imbalances. “What most of us think of as balance is this sort of a state of contraction, of holding things together so they will not fall apart. Over time, this sort of posture becomes habitual, and it results in chronic rigidity,” explains Joseph Heller in his book, Bodywise (3). The goal of any athlete, when looking to correct musculoskeletal restrictions, is to embrace those strategies which will help the body regain balance and reduce this chronic rigidity.

When a body is out of alignment, there exists an unequal pull of gravity upon all the body parts. Ida Rolf recognized this years ago and addressed the relationship between gravity and posture. She noted that “man is an upright animal, and if that upright body is out of line, then the rules of the game say that the gravity is pulling unequally.” (4) If you, as a student of your body, wish to realign the spine and balance the muscles, for the better, then you must recognize the relationship between the body and gravity. As Ida states, “you must find that pattern in which your body can be aligned so that gravity can pull symmetrically.” (5)

Anyone who is intent upon the restoration of their own health should observe their standing and walking posture. You must look for instability and restricted movement. In Posture and Pain, Kendall notes that “normal joint range for adults should provide an effective balance between motion and stability. A joint which is either too limited in range or not sufficiently limited is vulnerable to strain.” (6) Testing and observing your full range of motion, from your head to your feet, will reveal the results of habits and patterns which may have begun in infancy. How will you attempt to correct those postural imbalances? And once there is improvement, what do you plan to do to maintain that balance?

One major strategy that is often overlooked is a stretching program. Most people have sedentary lifestyles, and lack of movement is their primary activity of the day. Their favorite excuse is that they don’t have time to stretch or exercise. Stretching should become a habit, done regularly, just like brushing your teeth. Without stretching, you continue to promote a pattern of restricted movement and muscle fatigue. Guyton points out that muscle fatigue comes from a prolonged and strong contraction of a muscle. It is the interruption of blood flow, due to contracting muscle tissue, which leads to muscle fatigue, due to the loss of the nutrient supply and the lack of oxygen. (7)

You must recognize that inactivity is going to create postural imbalances, with muscles that are both tight from contraction and weak from being over stressed. One local irritating factor or metabolic abnormality of muscle is that pain and other sensory impulses can be transmitted to the spinal cord which leads to a reflex muscle contraction. (8) This means that influences such as overworked muscles, lack of blood flow or severe cold will promote continued muscle contraction. Interspersed within the muscle fibers are stretch reflexes which serve as sensory feedback for muscle fiber length. (9) One set of reflexes, when sensing muscle stretching, will work in opposition to keep the muscle from overstretching. A different set of reflexes, sensing muscle contraction, will work to oppose the continual contraction.

Stretching regularly helps to overcome the body’s natural tendency to move towards imbalance. “Balance is not a static condition,” states Heller, “but is a process of constant flux, a fluid expression of wholeness and ease.” (10) You must know that frequent movement is necessary for good spinal and muscular health. Vertebrae, when properly aligned, have a natural fluidity. This fluidity is lost, however, when the soft tissues are in constant holding patterns, influenced by tension, stress and pain.

A stretching program does not require a lot of time, nor should it be done only at the outset of pain or stiffness. Any program can be successful if it is done consistently and with purpose. Most muscles need 20 to 30 seconds to begin releasing tension, but up to 1 minute is recommended. You should have a set of basic stretches for your back which include the four directions of movement; flexion and extension, rotation, and lateral flexion. These back stretches should be done daily. Some people use the stretches to help wake up in the morning while others prefer to stretch at night. Anytime is acceptable as long you do the stretches slowly and gently, although warmed up muscles are going to stretch more easily.

Some stretching may be accompanied with mild discomfort. This is normal. If sharp or moderate pain occurs while attempting to stretch a muscle, you should stop and see if you are stretching correctly. If you resume the stretch and the pain persists, stop and consult your health care provider.

Please remember, this is not a chore that you have to do, but rather a mini-vacation for your muscles to relax and release any built-up tension or restriction. People of all ages and in all occupations have benefited from having a regular stretching program.


  1. Zarcharkow, D. Posture: Sitting, Standing, Chair Design & Exercise. Springfield, IL; Charles Thomas, 1988
  1. Cailliet, Rene M.D. Soft tissue Pain and Disability. F.A. Davis Company, Philadelphia, 1984. p. 9
  1. Heller, Joseph & Henkin, William Bodywise. Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles, 1986. p. 42
  1. Ida Rolf Talks: About Rolfing and Physical Reality, Harper & Row, New York, 1976. p.87
  1. Ibid. p.87
  1. Kendall, Kendall & Boynton Posture and Pain. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, FL, 1985. p.167
  1. Guyton, Arthur M.D. Medical Physiology. W.B. Saunders Company, New York, 1986. p.133
  1. Ibid. p. 617
  1. Schafer, R.C., D.C., FICC Clinical Biomechanics, 2nd Edition. Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, 1987. p.155
  1. Heller and Henkin, Bodywise. Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles, 1986. p.43

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