There are many similarities that exist in most of the people I work with, much of the population, and in myself as well. Knee pain, lower back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, sciatic/SI pain. Sound familiar? Knee pain, lower back pain, and neck pain have affected me on and off for years — largely due to my scoliosis, but not entirely. Any guess what makes them feel better? Nailed it. Exercise. But not just any exercise; deliberate, methodical strengthening of the muscles that are being neglected.
All skeletal muscles — the muscles that attach to tendons that attach to bones — have these four things in common:
- They have an origination point — a bone where the muscle starts.
- They have an insertion point — a bone where the muscle ends.
- An action — usually shortening (contracting) and pulling on the insertion point towards the origination point.
- As a simple exercise, flex your biceps while placing your other hand on the inside of your flexing arm’s elbow. Feel how the contraction of your bicep pulls on the tendon inserting into your elbow?!)
- Generate load-bearing force (concentric, shortening) and tensile force (eccentric, lengthening).
Where do springs and brakes come into this equation?
Let’s think about how our body moves. We are constantly putting pressure on our bodies with almost every movement. Even when doing something as basic as walking, we are putting an estimated 2.5 times our body weight on our tibia — the bone in our lower legs.
Knee Joint Forces: Prediction, Measurement, and Significance
Looking at the table above, and reading the study linked in the caption, it’s no wonder knee pain is so prevalent.
Yes, weight certainly matters. But our body has natural brakes, springs, and even force dissipators. Jumping is one of the best examples. When we jump, our body generates a ton of force to lift us off the ground. These are our big, Type IIb muscle fibers — our springs. When we land, our muscles need to absorb and dissipate the force throughout our body to spare our joints from feeling the impact. These are also our Type IIb muscles, but now they have to stabilize us — our brakes. Our Type IIb muscle fibers are important.
However, this is where it gets problematic and why I’ve spent so much time on this philosophy. There are two massive antagonists fighting against our type IIb muscle fibers:
- Muscular imbalance — Brought on by things such as sitting, playing sports and instruments,
- For example, in the Huberman Lab episode with Maya Shankar (referenced in 2024: What We Take with Us), she describes how playing the violin as a kid has given her mild scoliosis making one shoulder sit higher than the other.
- Aging — Sarcopenia
- Once we turn 50 years old, we begin to lose an estimated 1-2% of our muscle mass each year. The bulk of this muscle loss is in our Type II muscle fibers, and more specifically, our Type IIb fibers.
We all know sitting too much is bad for us. In 2020, the Mayo Clinic said, “Sitting is the New Smoking.” While the comparison seems like quite the stretch, the impact of sitting too much on our physical body is profound. In short, sitting creates significant muscular imbalances which impair joint function and cripple our springs and our brakes.
Take most lower back pain. The illustration below (made by yours truly) shows how sitting creates an ecosystem of muscular imbalance.
The muscles affected by sitting too much become significantly impacted in their load-tension balance by either over-shortening or over-lengthening.
What happens to us as we age? According to Andy Galpin, Ph.D., one of the most renowned exercise physiologists in the world, the hallmark of aging is the atrophying of our Type II muscle fibers. And Peter Attia, M.D. has this to say about the importance of maintaining strong muscles:
“If you are 65 or older, and you fall and break your femur or hip… your twelve-month mortality after that break is 15-30% higher… You are ten times more likely to hurt yourself stepping off something than stepping onto something…”
While sarcopenia is not necessarily reversible, it is very possible to slow its progression. Moreover, it is possible to still build a significant amount of muscle mass and strength if you are below your body’s threshold.
One of the best exercises for our body is the deadlift — our ability to hinge our hips while load-bearing. If you’re approximately 50 years old or older, a great way to tell if your body is near your threshold is this: Can you deadlift your body weight? If yes, can you do it ten times? If the answer is no, you still have a lot of room for muscle and strength growth. If you can, then you need to maintain it.
The Springs & Brakes philosophy is nothing new and is entirely based on our body’s natural mechanics. It is simply more concentrated to help us avoid getting hurt, maximize our strength, and enable us to do more.
One question for you is this: If you have any joint pain, even minor, what do you do every day that utilizes your springs and your brakes? And how do you build strength in your springs and your brakes? If you don’t know, please contact us to learn more.
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