I have a student right now who’s working to get past a really NASTY case of tennis elbow that has completely put her out of business for months on end. Physical therapy has helped a little bit, but not enough. One of the strategies we’re pursuing is helping her to “Re-route” her movement so that she can lift her arm from a surface by bending her torso (in any direction) or slide her hand along her thigh, thus allowing her elbow to get bent, rather than trying to use the muscles of her forearm to bend the elbow all on their own. We need to use the “big power” muscles at the center of our bodies to generate force, and the little muscles to refine that force. Pain is not actually damage: it’s a signal to us that we’re doing something improper that requires attention (the “pay attention” part is why chronic pain is so exhausting). That pain can in many cases go away if you can learn to move your body in a way that isn’t causing the injured place additional damage, and that recruits muscles differently. “Nerves that fire together, wire together.” If you change the muscular recruitment pattern, you can diminish the risk that pain levels you. There is a tremendous difference between allowing your shoulder blade to move while you bend your elbow, and not allowing it to move! Tai Chi is full of examples of learning to move from the center of your body, and my upcoming book Klutz Therapy will have several specific examples of how you can add these habits to your daily life so as to get the majority of the benefits that tai chi players get from their art*, at no additional cost to your daily schedule. *of course, if you’re learning tai chi to fight, rather than for health benefits, that’s a different kettle of fish and a lot more work.
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