Movement is Medicine

Have you heard the saying “movement is medicine”?

If you haven’t, here’s some background:

Regular daily movement can be defined as “an act of changing physical location or position or of having this changed”. When we move daily we cause physiological changes to the joint cartilage provoking the cartilage cells to produce synovial fluid which lubricates the joints and allows the tissue to slide. Think about joints like riding a slip n’ slide. If the slip n’ slide has water, then it is easy to slide, but may be difficult to control the actions of the slide. When the slip n’ slide is dry...well...ouch! The same theory happens in the joints. When we are immobile for long periods of time, synovial fluid production in the joints severely decreases, muscles atrophy, and organ tissue receives decreased blood flow. When we are in motion, with consistency, synovial fluid in the joints increases production substantially, muscles gain flexibility and strength, and organ tissues receive constant new blood flow full of nutrients (3). This cartilage sliding is referred to as “shear forces” and can be the best medicine for your joints, your muscles, and your cardiovascular system.

Now, you’re thinking “Yeah, sure, but some movements hurt” or “my doctor told me not to do [insert motion here]” or “I’ve had a bad back for ages”, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. It may be true that doing certain movements improperly repetitively or under heavy loads may be more detrimental than helpful and may cause incorrect shear forces to the cartilage. These aberrant stresses on the tissue may result in arthritic changes to the tissue. However, tissue injury, tissue overuse and under recovery, and poor lifestyle habits may decrease our movement availability. This decrease in movement availability begins to eliminate extreme ranges of shear force that can positively affect synovial fluid production to the cartilage. Resulting in arthritic changes and sometimes pain. And the cycle continues. Tissue injury → pain → decreased movement → poor healing → under-educated tissue → injury.

The misconception that exercise and movement are inner-changeable leads to more people avoiding “working out” than is healthy for our community. Exercise is movement, but movement is not only exercise. We move when we clean, we move when we dress, we move when we grocery shop, we move when stretch, and we move when we cook. Movement is everywhere in our day. Movement causes pain only when we’ve neglected to take care of our bodies. For example, what do you think synovial fluid is made of? WATER! We must be hydrated for good synovial fluid production. When do you think our tissues regenerate? SLEEP! We must sleep well in order for our tissues to regenerate. What feeds our tissues? NOT SUGAR! Eating a balanced diet, free of inflammatory foods keeps our tissues healthy. All of these factors play into our synovial fluid production, our tissue and brain function, and our ability to heal well.

It is recommended by the American Heart Association to increase heart rate through movement 7 days per week for a minimum of 60 minutes. So how can we fit more movement into our days to keep us healthier for life? Instead of coffee or lunch with friends, go for a walk. Instead of sitting to read a book, listen to the audible version on a walk. Schedule 20-30 minutes in the morning to stretch and or follow an exercise video.

Aside from exercise type movement, let’s discuss movement variability. If we have endured an injury previously, sometimes we don’t regain our full ranges of motion because we haven’t re-educated our tissues on how to do it. Maybe we experience some discomfort in these end ranges so we avoid them. In order to make movement more safe, we need to increase variability throughout the day. For instance, when we bend over to pick something up we experience low back discomfort. Instead, try crawling to pick up items off the floor. Another example is sweeping and mopping with the opposite arm. And still another example of increasing movement variability is brushing your teeth on one foot.

Movement is a space for creativity. It is a space for exploration. Pain is a signal and when the signal has been around for a long time, sometimes it’s like the constant annoying buzz of a broken radio that just needs to be unplugged. This is where hiring a specialist is important. In the meantime, move well, be creative, and challenge yourself!

Move well my friends!

  1. The Effect of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs on Tendon-to-Bone Healing: A Systematic Review with Subgroup Meta-Analysis Kyle R Duchman 1 2, Devin B Lemmex 2, Sunny H Patel 1, Leila Ledbetter 1, Grant E Garrigues 3

  2. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2017 Apr;49(4):633-640. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001172.

Effects of Ibuprofen and Resistance Training on Bone and Muscle: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Older Women

Whitney R D Duff 1, Philip D Chilibeck, Darren G Candow, Julianne J Gordon, Riley S Mason, Regina Taylor-Gjevre, Bindu Nair, Michael Szafron, Adam Baxter-Jones, Gordon A Zello, Saija A Kontulainen