The main cause of stiffnes and chronic pain
The key to understanding the causes of chronic muscle and joint pain is in the role of proprioception. Proprioception is the sense of self-movement (of muscles and skeleton), it is self-perception and self-awareness; it is about being alive. Every muscle and most of the body tissues have sensory cells (neurons) with receptors which detect information about what is happening in and around the body and transfer it to the brain.
If our proprioception functions the way it should, we feel right away if a muscle becomes tense and shortens, or whether it relaxes and lengthens. The sensory cells are also in our joints, and they inform us about the joint pressure, they help us determine the position and the angle of a joint. Our skin, myofascia and muscles are continuously sending sensory data, and our internal organs have tiny nerve endings that convey information about the state of the organs to the brain. The entire central nervous system, from the body sensors to the sensory part of the brain, is involved in proprioception. The sensory part of the brain is connected to the motor function part, so the sensory information becomes the guiding information for the movement instructions. The sensory-motor system is designed so we cannot feel without the movement, and we cannot move without the feeling. When we move, we should feel the movement straight away, and we always know what we are doing and where we are due to the continual feedback. And this perpetual exchange of feelings and commands enables us to live and learn.
For example, when we wish to pick up and hold a cup of coffee we are not tipping a cup and spilling coffee by doing so; and this is possible only because the sensory neurons in muscles, skin and joints instantly and perpetually inform the brain about the position of the hand and at what speed it moves. Sensory-motor feedback enables our movement.
Problems occur when we are gradually losing the ability to feel oneself and feeling our movements; thus our movements become rigid and clumsy as we are losing coordination between the lengthening and the shortening muscles which enable the move. Consequently, the ability of sensory impulse into the conscious part of the brain to weaken the motor signal from the nervous system for the muscle to relax is decreased; hence, the muscle gets ever more tense, short and rigid. The conscious part of the feedback loop of the sensory-motor information is reduced and interrupted when the muscles stiffen, and we become less aware of particular body parts and muscles because of that. This condition is named the sensory-motor amnesia; the SMA makes us forget how to move correctly, how to tighten or relax specific muscles and muscle groups. For example, one day, we try to turn our head, and we realize our neck is no longer flexible as it used to be. Reaching this point – when we get stuck - means that we've lost the primary control over the movement of our bodies.
And that is not good for us in the long run but necessary to live trough painful part of our life (especially childhood)
To understand what proprioception is, try this:
There are five cardinal lines of the body. The first one stretches from the top of the head to the tailbone, the second one is the long line of the spine, and the last four are both legs and arms. Lying still on our backs on the floor, observing our bodies – in the most basic form, we feel something similar to the pictures drawn by children when they want to draw a person. Most of us won't feel that in full but only some parts of that, usually we can fell how uneven we are if we turn our awareness into body awareness
A long line of the spine, two short lines for arms, two lines for legs and circle for the head.
If we direct our attention to our feet, we will feel whether they are warm or cold, whether they are pointed upwards, whether they are both in the same position etc. If we focus on our knees, we will feel how much gap there is between the back of the knees and the floor; if we pay attention to our head, we will determine whether it is tilted to the left or to the right; focusing on our eyes, we will probably notice the tension in them...
Thus, we familiarize with the senses in a way that we don't use in our everyday life when we function on autopilot. It's about being aware of oneself, of your own body and movements. It's the essence of the proprioception.
Most of us are illiterate when it comes to proprioception.
People are very good at observing the world and what is happening around them; however, we are not so good at feeling ourselves. These relations are already established in our early school years. We teach our children to sit still, to pay attention to what's written on the blackboard and to listen to the teacher, or else they would be in trouble. We gradually teach them about perceiving the world around them, but we don't teach them how to be self-aware. So, the children gradually lose touch with themselves, which is usually very strong in the first years of their lives.
A child spends the first three or four years exploring his abilities, tests himself, learns from failed attempts and rejoices new movements. Walking, coordination of neck-eyes movement, crawling, how to roll over on a stomach and back on a back – this is not something a child gets used to doing, it something a child learns to do through direct experiences.
The body starts to degenerate later on in our lives when we gradually lose the ability to learn from direct experiences due to the lack of (or even zero) self-awareness and paying too much attention to our surroundings. One of the main reasons for that is that shops, commercials, TV, smartphones etc. want us to give our attention to them. But we limited amount of attention. And we take away from the body.
We are beginning to lose the abilities we are no longer using. We are focused only on the outside world, and we are not exploring anymore, not observing and analyzing ourselves, not reviewing our condition. There's no time, we're in a hurry, and we have so much to do. We have to observe and be familiar with our outside world, of course, to be able to survive. But unfortunately, the need to survive is the main reason why our lives become just a struggle to scrape by, we vegetate because of the fast pace of the modern life and time rationalization that make us focus on the outside and, away from our proprioception, hence leading to the loss of the central and conscious control over ourselves.
However, the sensation and control over our bodies are crucial for regaining the rational use of our energy, thus enabling us to avoid the patterns caused by daily stress. We must not forget a man was 'formed' through his struggle for survival caused by the lack of energy and not because of the lack of time.
Aleš Ernst, teacher of the AEQ method level 5