In this second episode of Wednesdays With Will, Dr. Harden explains the medical philosophies of Western vs Eastern medicine.
He breaks it down to Newtonian and Einsteinian ways of thinking and how this knowledge can help your health care professional find what ails you and the curative approaches.
These special episodes will be a reoccurring series with Dr. Will Harden, chiropractor, creator of the Dr. Will Bar, and health and fitness guru. He will discuss health, fitness, nutrition, and chiropractic issues that have the potential to improve your health and life. Dr. Will Harden has been a chiropractor for 26 years. He graduated first in his class from National College of Chiropractic in Chicago, IL and moved to Portland, OR in 1989 and owns a practice called the Corbett Hill Wellness Center.
The listener question of the week is from Mary from Camas, WA. Mary asks, “what is your favorite exercise for the back, and why?”
Will discusses the psoas muscle as being a common contributor to low back pain and shares how to keep the back strong without causing more pain to that fragile area.
As Will answers this week’s listener question, he describes a perfect crunch.
The perfect crunch consists of laying on a firm surface such as a floor with a thin pad, knees should be bent with the bottoms of your feet flat on the floor. The crunch phase will be contracting the abdominal muscles until the shoulder blades come off the floor. That is all there is to it. Lift your upper back off the ground/floor/mat, hold for a second or two (or more) and slowly lower back down. Repeat this as many times as you can while maintaining good form, but you should be able to do 10 to 20. If you can’t, keep working at it.
This image of the psoas muscle is to show the muscles that work when the feet or lower legs are confined. If you use your legs to do a crunch or a situp, the psoas muscles are doing most of the work and pulling the lumbar spine out of alignment.
The Bottom Line
Using your legs to do sit ups or crunches will hurt your back.
Will: In consideration of various medical, if you will, or medical care approaches, I think it’s wise to question what are the basic philosophical tenets of one approach versus another. What is the thinking behind this approach? I want to answer that in a way that might sound somewhat complex but it actually breaks it down to bare-bones. Western medicine is based on Newtonian thinking. Newtonian thinking says the whole is nothing other than the sum of the parts. And it was in fact founded on this principle which said if we want to understand how the human body works, let’s break it down into its individual parts: cells, tissues, organs. Let’s study each one of those. And if we understand each of those individually, we’ll understand how the whole thing works.
In fact, let’s take it a step further. Let’s break ourselves down into specialists who just work on one part. So that if someone is having a breakdown, they can go to that specialist to work on that part that isn’t working properly. It would be kind of like looking at an old fashioned pocket watch that wasn’t working. If it wasn’t working, chances are you could take off the back. With a scope or a magnifying glass, you could study of all of the parts of that pocket watch. And I’m talking about a pocket watch made 1940 or earlier where you wind a spring which turns a screw, which is attached to a sprocket which turns other sprockets. And if that clock wasn’t telling time, chances are you could study all the parts and you can go look at there’s a tooth missing from that sprocket or there’s some rust on that one. And it’s not turning in proper time. That’s why it’s not working so you take the sprocket out, you put a fresh one in it and it works.
The chiropractic approach is based on Einsteinian thinking. Einsteinian thinking says the whole is much bigger than the sum of the parts. And you sometimes cannot figure out why the whole is or is not working just by understanding the parts. In other words, it’s the coordinated action and perhaps even the movement of electrical activity or energy through the parts working together that makes the whole function. But if something goes wrong, in truth, sometimes it’s like looking at a modern LED watch. If it wasn’t telling time, you take off the back. You’d look at it under a scope and you go “What? I can’t make heads or tails out of that. If it’s the battery, I can’t tell if the battery’s working. And there’s a circuit board and I can’t look at that so it looks fine. I don’t know what’s wrong with this watch.” It regards the energy moving through those parts as an integral part of the function of the whole.
So when we adjust the spine, we’re not just putting the parts right. We’re trying to create a change in the parts to stimulate improved flow of neurological and nervous system energy through the whole to stimulate the healing process.
I think that I can’t get any more concise than that in explaining a basic philosophical difference in one versus the other. But one thing is clear, when one goes to a medical doctor – unless you are going for surgery or trauma care which in modern day medicine is nothing short of incredible, that is the capacities of modern medicine to address trauma, internal bleeding to use MRIs to make diagnosis, surgical techniques to bypass clogged arteries, if you will, surgical techniques to remove tumors or impediments to normal blood flow. Nothing short of remarkable. But the truth is 80% of people go to the doctor not for one of those things. They go to the doctor because of symptoms.
A symptom is nothing other than an indication that’s something isn’t working right or attention is not properly being given to a need. For example, the person who drinks four sodas a day, goes through a drive-through every day for lunch, might begin developing the symptom of GI discomforts, excessive gassiness, abdominal pain, maybe some kind of bleeding disorder. In which case, we would say that giving you something to reduce gas or reduce pain or to stop the bowels from contracting in the case of someone who’s got diarrhea would be actually ridiculous. And yet typically, that’s how those things are treated. That is the patient whose got heart burn is told, “Oh you have too much stomach acid. Here, were gonna give you a pill to make you stop releasing acid.” That’s very Newtonian. And it’s pain heed only to the symptom rather than the cause of that symptom.
So the goal is ultimately… No, the goal should be ultimately to find the cause of that symptom. Correct that whether it’s lifestyle, structure, the nature of the patient’s works, inadequate water consumption, poor sleep, excessive stress, et cetera, et cetera. Fix that. And then see what happens to the symptom.
Glenn: That’s awesome, Will. You know I have a listener question for you. You wanna answer one?
Glenn: This is from Mary in Camas, Washington. She says, “What’s your favorite back exercise?”
Will: Favorite back exercise. Wow. That’s a tall order to ask for just one. I’m gonna have to say since lower back pain is so incredibly prevalent, my favorite back exercise is not even a back exercise. It’s abdominal crunches because a really tight, tensed, overworked low back which often causes back pain is almost always associated with a tight, excessively strong, deep low back muscle called the Psoas. By the way, that’s spelled P S O A S. Should anyone care to Google that, it’s a really fascinating muscle. It’s the primary hip flexor. And when that muscle is tight like it is in high proportion of cases of people, it causes the low back to overarch. And that overarching of the low back, basically jams the low back and can cause chronic low back pain. Classic signs of a tight Psoas are that when you get up out of a chair, your tendency is to go “Oh boy!” And you want to lean back because your low back is so tight. Prolonged standing in one place like shopping, waiting in a line, waiting in lines out of an amusement park causes your back to get achy. That’s classic indicator of a tight Psoas.
The antagonists to that muscle, the muscle that battles the Psoas and has the potential to negate, to wipe out its tension are the abdominal muscles. So if your abdominals are weak and your Psoas is strong, your back is really gonna overarch. If your Psoas is tight but your abdominals are really strong, you can deal with that and your abdominals can keep your Psoas from excessively tightening.
But I really open up a Pandora’s Box of confusion by even suggesting that because in the gym, I often see people “strengthening their abdominal muscles” but they’re actually strengthening their Psoas muscles. For example, if you lay on your back and with your legs straight, you do leg lifts, floor, point the feet towards the ceiling then back down to the floor; if you do old fashioned sit ups where your feet are pinned under something and you come all the way up to your knees with your chest; if you lay on your back and you do bicycles with your feet going down and outward; in fact, you’re strengthening your Psoas primarily. Your abdominals are only assisting.
So the only way to really strengthen your abs without strengthening your Psoas is to do abdominal crunches where there is in fact no movement at the hips. That’s an odd concept. So really what that means is to do a proper abdominal crunch – you lay on your back, knees bent, tilt the pelvis. By that, I mean push your low back arch flat against the floor and hold that position the entire set of exercises of reps with the hands behind the head and neck keeping the face parallel the ceiling and using your hands to hold the weight of the head. Lift the head, neck, shoulders up off the floor until your shoulder blades leave the floor. And then you head back down to the floor. And going nice and easy at one one-thousand, two one-thousand pace. In 15 reps, your abdominal muscles will be at least initially somewhat screaming at you. Three sets of those ideally in the morning and then in the evening. And then one week, you’ll feel a difference in your low back. They’re remarkably effective if at the same time, you’re not strengthening your Psoas.
I know Glenn you asked a really simple question, I gave you a really complex answer.
Glenn: I think it’s great to give a thorough answer, Will. It’s not a problem at all. And I’m gonna have either some images or a video of a proper crunch on the Show Note’s page. So I’ll make sure to put that on there. Well, thank you once again, Will. I will talk to you again next Wednesday.
Will: Right on. Let’s do that. This is fun.
Listen To This Episode About Medical Philosophies Here
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