Did you know, musculoskeletal disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and in people over 50 years of age in developed countries? Additionally, musculoskeletal disorders account for more than 50 percent of all chronic conditions.
Of these musculoskeletal disorders, joint pain is one of the largest complaints as it can often disrupt everyday activities including sitting, walking or sleeping comfortably, and can also lead to other problems such as insomnia, fatigue or muscle pain, as occurs in fibromyalgia. Any one of the joints is susceptible including the neck, spine, hips, knees, elbows, shoulders, wrists, hands and feet, and symptoms can include recurrent pain, stiffness, dull aches, muscle spasm pains, weakness and swelling.
Are you one of these statistics?
Typically, risks for developing joint problems are influenced by age, type of occupation, lifestyle behaviors, body weight, and the nature, frequency and intensity of a physical activity. For instance, running for long distances frequently can lead to severe wear and tear on the knees. Heavy lifting or sitting for long periods in the same position may add to degeneration of the back.
Osteoarthritis, bursitis and tendonitis can all occur with overuse, injury, or even from being overweight. Symptoms can also be influenced by what you choose to eat, since foods that tend to provoke inflammation are more likely to trigger joint aches, especially if you are predisposed to having them. Studies show that when individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disorder) ate a vegan, gluten-free diet, their symptoms improved.
It is evident that what you eat, how much you weight, and how you move your body have a marked affect on your joints. When you eat processed foods, gluten and other nutrient deficient substances, you provoke the inflammatory response. The same is true if you live a sedentary lifestyle, do not get adequate sleep, over-exercise, or are obese. You probably know much of this information but still don’t change your lifestyle. Instead, if you are like most, you continue doing what you have always done and pop a few ibuprofens every day, which can in turn to lead to digestive and other stomach issues.
But maybe if you understood the bigger picture of how your joints function, what their purpose is, what they need to function best and what they may be telling you about your state of health, you might make some different choices?
Do you ever consider how hard it is not only to stand upright, but to also move, walk, stand on one leg, bend over or jump? Your skeletal system, which includes bones, ligaments, connective tissue and cartilage, enables many functions that allow you to survive not only because they give you mobility and flexibility, but also because they provide you with support, nourishment and protection.
Eastern Medicine believes that the state of your body reflects the state of your mind, your attitude in life and how in tune you are with the flow of your life. If your musculoskeletal system is healthy, the belief is that you are able to move through life with ease and flow. When unhealthy, you are more likely to get stuck in routines or in persistent negative thinking, you may lack purpose or direction, and this can be reflected in a sore and stiff body. Conversely, when you have a supple and open attitude towards life with solid core beliefs and a sense of purpose, you help your body stay more supple, strong and flexible.
According Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), if you are having problems with your joints or muscles, you might also be struggling with your sense of purpose or may feel that you are in not the right place in your life. You may be feeling frustrated, stuck, unhappy, unsupported, or lost. You may also tend to hold back, lack assertiveness or confidence, be critical or judgmental, or too disciplined or worried to make a move. Perhaps you are scared to make changes or you are grieving the loss of a loved one.
Indeed, according to the ancient healers, thoughts, beliefs, and emotions are deeply intertwined with physical issues, including those affecting your joints. Problems with the joints, like problems with the lungs, may be pointing toward issues related to loss, beating oneself up (especially in the case of an autoimmune disorder) or lack of self-confidence.
I have discovered this to be true many times.
Several years ago, I was in the midst of moving homes. I had spent weeks packing up my house, getting everything ready for the movers to come. I worked non-stop and remember feeling very frustrated that I was doing everything alone and had little help in getting everything done. Being a highly driven and efficient person, I worked in my office, went straight home to lift weights and pack, slept very little and ate for comfort. I also worried, because the move was going to cost me a fortune.
The day before the movers were supposed to come, I discovered I needed more boxes and drove to my parents’ house, where I knew they had a few extra. As I stepped into their foyer, I suddenly experienced a sharp stabbing pain in my lower back that knocked the wind out of me and literally brought me to my knees. I collapsed on the floor, unable to move, except to speed dial my friend to come over.
Not only did my friend come support me, but also called in the troops, including one friend who is an acupuncturists/massage therapist and my mom. They spent the next 24 hours taking care of my move and I, while I lay in bed having a conversation with my back.
You see, I asked my back while in a meditative state, why it was in pain. It told me, “I feel frustrated. I am not supported. I am alone.” I pointed out to my back that recent events would prove to be contrary to that belief. Who, after all, was dealing with my movers? Certainly not me.
It was then that I realized that this sense of distrust, that I was alone, unsupported, not loved, that I had to do everything myself–it was an old belief. One that was false.
The minute I realized, not just intellectually, but fully embodied the realization that I was truly loved and supported, the pain eased. I was up and mobile the next day with no heavy medication needed.
I find that my patients learn a lot about themselves, their beliefs, their desires– especially how they truly relate to challenging experiences– when they examine their body’s symptoms more closely, especially musculoskeletal symptoms.
So I ask you to take a pause. Ask yourself, why am I in pain?
Examine your food intake, your daily activities, your sleep habits and also your thoughts and how they relate to your state of trust and ability to flow in your life. Do you trust that you are loved and supported? Do you trust that you have what you need? Are you frustrated? What are you scared of? How do you feel about yourself–do you tend to value yourself or criticize yourself?
Ultimately, you want to enhance your sense of feeling safe and secure within yourself and your world, so that you move through life with more ease rather than disease. You may need to seek support, work on discovering your purpose, develop better strength and flexibility in your body, find time to rest and meditate to understand the feeling of ease, and nourish your body with foods that help you thrive.
Stop and ask yourself, “What kind of support do I need to give to myself to thrive?” Then give it.