SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE

Barrett L. Dorko, P.T.


"Stress means you're living someone else's life."
--Sam Keen

          Some of the services offered at a "wellness" clinic near my office include: Swedish massage, deep tissue work, polarity therapy, aromatherapy, Pilates exercises, trigger point therapy, guided imagery, craniosacral therapy, sports massage, herbal counseling, Trager, ortho bionomy, acupressure, Shiatsu . well, you get the idea.

          All of this is offered by a single massage therapist, and, I'm told, every therapy "might help relieve backache."

          A lot might be said about such an eclectic practice, but "a consistent philosophy of care" wouldn't be part of it. I'm guessing that the proprietor has more belief than knowledge, and more faith in the experience of others than in his own.

          For me, the prevalence of chronic spinal pain in the general public implies a failure of rehabilitation professionals' attempts to discover its origin or prescribe effective remedies.

          I'm going out on a limb by suggesting that we try looking at this problem from a different perspective - as a problem that involves a lack of unique and authentic self- expression.

          Imagine you lived in a culture where verbal expression was strictly regulated. Speaking was encouraged, but only with words that were readily accepted by others. Anything outside of the accepted norm, anything said that sounded unusual or did not contain a sentence perfectly logical to everyone else was prohibited.

          While it might be possible to live in such a place without conflict, most of us would occasionally say the wrong thing. After being corrected, we'd be restricted from moving our mouths and our words would not reflect our thoughts. The muscles that drive speech would receive one message that would conflict with the message interpreted by the cortex. As a result, the muscles of the throat and jaw would be in persistent isometric contraction.

          We all know people for whom this is a reality, whether at home or work (or both). These people need some place to go where their words can be spoken freely, where their throats will soften after the movement of their mouth is congruent with their desire to express something. They find these places, and cherish them.

          Is it possible that we've created a culture where movement of the body is prohibited in some way? Has our admiration for erectness and precision produced a kind of care that insists upon these qualities even when they are more cosmetic than healthful?

          If this were true, there would be an epidemic of chronic discomfort and a vast industry devoted to its relief. The general population would display increased isometric muscle tone for no apparent reason. There would be a long list of treatments we might try and clinics devoted to their application.

          Sound familiar?

          It's generally agreed that most stress is a major contributor to chronic pain. But it is not normally defined as succinctly as Sam Keen (above) describes it. Maybe it's possible that people with chronic pain live other's lives with their bodies, and they need a safe place to express their own selves freely and completely.

          I think if our profession continues to reject expressive movement in favor of that which is imposed, the epidemic of pain will grow, and so will the list of alternative methods for its relief.