Movements Into Ease – Decreasing Tension of the Nervous System

Movements into ease is a form of exercise to decrease tension within the nervous system. There are multiple reasons why movement in the direction of ease may be important when we are experiencing pain.

Do you recall the tickling example in the Stories and Metaphors section?

After tickling a child for a while, you have to stop to let them breath. Then if they think that you will tickle them again,  they will stiffen their entire body as an automatic protective mechanism. If you want to pick them up instead of tickling them, they will be very hesitant and will not let you place your hands under their arms. Also, you cannot just force their arms up because they will only tighten and resist even more. You must first put them at ease and then they will allow you to pick them up. Our body can react the same way during painful conditions. Forcing a body part into pain and more tension may lead to more pain and tension.

How do we put our body into positions of ease??

Let’s use a water hose as an example. Imagine yourself spraying the hood of your car to rinse it off, then you pull the water hose toward the rear end and the hose gets stuck under the front tire. If you try to pull the water hose, it typically will only get more and more stuck into the tire.  In order to unjam it, you must place slack on the hose in order to remove the tension. Then you can wiggle it free.

Nerves can be very similar. Stiffness in our body can be due to impaired nerve mobility and increased protective mechanisms. If you think about it, regardless of what ever is tight or stiff, whether it is muscle, joint, ligament, skin, or fascia, there will be tension in our nerves because nerves travel to every part of our body. Also, it is our nerves that will transmit messages to our brain to create any kind of pain or tightness.

In order to decrease stiffness and tightness in our body, we can stretch and try to elongate our body or we can place our body in a direction of ease.

Here is a question some of you may be asking: What is wrong with stretching into tightness??? Researchers have found that stretching can have the following negative effects:

1. Decreased performance
2. Trigger increased protective mechanisms
3. There is no difference between stretching and non stretching to prevent injuries
4. Effects of stretching is often short term

If stretching has been successful for you, please do not stop because there are many positive effects. Studies also show that you can improve flexibility and improve movement. The point that I would like to share is that for some people, stretching has minimal effect and can even increase pain. I would like to help you think about other options regarding movement and pain management.

So, here are some concepts regarding moving into ease:

1. If painful events increase pain sensitivity, movements without increasing pain, stiffness or tightness can promote positive stimulation within the nerves thus decreasing protective mechanisms.
2. The direction of ease, may actually be the direction of movement the body wants to go in order to decrease nerve tension
3. Movement into ease may help improve body awareness and promote ideomotion. Improving body awareness is linked to decreased pain.

You may experience the same 4 things while moving into ease as you may feel with ideomotion

1. Softening anywhere in the body indicating decreased tension or protective mechanisms. (remember that a child that you tickle will increase tension throughout the body to protect themselves and pain can function in the same way)
2. Warmth anywhere in the body due to increased circulation because there is decreased tension
3. It’s surprising that you can sense this movement
4. It is very easy to do

The links below consist of specific exercises into ease with explanations regarding decreasing tension within the nervous system. You can do this on your own with any type of movement as long as it in in ease. Each position is held for two to eight minutes.

Why hold a position for two to eight minutes? It might be the amount of time needed to stimulate the nervous system in a positive way to change it’s sensitivity to pain.

Imagine yourself banging your knee. One of the first things we automatically do is rub it, which decreases the pain response. Nerves that transmit messages regarding the injury to the spinal cord are slow conducting fibers. The sensation of light touch travels through fast conducting fibers to the brain. The sensation of light touch floods the brain and overwhelms it, then the attention to the injury and pain is decreased. The focus on movement into ease is to allow change of the slow conducting fibers.

(For health care professionals: C-fibers are traditionally described as nociceptors that are unmyelinated slow conducting fibers to the spinal cord. It has been found that C-fibers also contain receptors for positive feed back as well. To decrease tension and protective mechanisms that are triggered through nerve sensitivity of C-fibers, we must allow time for the nervous system to process positive feedback of these slow conductive fibers. )

By placing the body in ease, we are allowing the slow conducting nerve fibers to communicate with the spinal cord and brain. So to change tension of the nerves, we must hold the direction of ease for a prolonged period of time. This gives our nervous system time it needs to react and change in a positive way to decrease tension which may ultimately decrease pain.

Examples of Movements into Ease:

Arm Reach to Toes

Coming Up Next:

The Leg Reach

The Trunk Twist and Bend

References:

Bohannon RW, Gibson DF. Effect of quadriceps femoris muscle stretch on knee extension torque. Phys Ther. 1985 Mar;65(3):312-3. PubMed PMID: 3975280.

Bradley PS, Olsen PD, Portas MD. The effect of static, ballistic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching on vertical jump performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Feb;21(1):223-6. PubMed PMID: 17313299.

Lundqvist LO, Zetterlund C, Richter HO. Effects of Feldenkrais on Chronic Neck/Scapular Pain in People with Visual Impairment: A Randomized Controlled Trial with One-Year Follow-up. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2014 Jun 4. pii: S0003-9993(14)00408-0. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2014.05.013. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 24907640.

Lauersen JB, Bertelsen DM, Andersen LB. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Sports Med. 2014 Jun;48(11):871-7. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092538. Epub 2013 Oct 7. PubMed PMID: 24100287.

Power K, Behm D, Cahill F, Carroll M, Young W. An acute bout of static stretching: effects on force and jumping performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004 Aug;36(8):1389-96. PubMed PMID: 15292748.

Shrier I. Does stretching improve performance? A systematic and critical review of the literature. Clin J Sport Med. 2004 Sep;14(5):267-73. Review. PubMed PMID: 15377965.

Stephens J, Davidson J, Derosa J, Kriz M, Saltzman N. Lengthening the hamstring muscles without stretching using “awareness through movement”. Phys Ther. 2006 Dec;86(12):1641-50. Epub 2006 Oct 10. PubMed PMID: 17033041.

Winters MV, Blake CG, Trost JS, Marcello-Brinker TB, Lowe LM, Garber MB, Wainner RS. Passive versus active stretching of hip flexor muscles in subjects with limited hip extension: a randomized clinical trial. Phys Ther. 2004 Sep;84(9):800-7. PubMed PMID: 15330693

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