Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.
The 3rd Greatest Disease
Researches have found that the greatest diseases in Australia can be prevented or minimized. While most people are able to guess cancer and cardiovascular disease as the first two (19% and 15%), the third greatest disease is relatively unknown except to the most astute health professionals. (The burden of disease is a statistic that health organizations use to calculate the impact of a disease on the population’s health by how many years of life it takes away from you directly or indirectly. In other words, it shows people which diseases most affect their health). If you guessed musculoskeletal and rheumatological disease (12%) then you guessed right. This includes chronic pain, arthritis and other soft tissue injuries.
The 3rd Most Neglected System
Since most of these conditions can be minimized, this also makes the neuromusculoskeletal system the 3rd most neglected system of the body. In fact, 26% of the population actually have some type of neuromusculoskeletal disease. That’s 1 in 4 people. If that many people walking around with the black plague it would be declared an epidemic. Alas, it’s seen as ‘normal’. Another number that illustrates is the cost of treatment of back problems alone. In Australia it was $4.79 billion.
If back pain was eliminated and the costs for its treatment redistributed to every Australian, everyone would all be $10862.10 richer. Fancy that as a nice salary bonus.
Statistics often have a way of making great problems impersonal. To make it more relatable, think about how we experience and deal with pain. Now pretty much everyone will have had some experience of lower back pain in their life, but most people will shrug this off as a normal part of everyday life. So it is something that gets largely ignored. What people don’t realize is that pain is our bodies’ warning signal. If your smoke alarm went off, it was because it was designed to alert you to the presence of fire, not to beep for two weeks and become a normal part of your life. Is it any wonder that the alarm malfunctions? However, when our bodies do this, sadly the initial reaction is one of inaction until it is too late.
Inflammation is the body’s house fire, set alight by the stress of overuse, meeting its inevitable end by the steely embrace of the surgeon’s scalpel.
The Consequences of Neglect
Now if our smoke alarm continued its blare for 2 weeks every day, would you still think there was a fire or would you start to suspect something else was wrong? Well it could be that the (extremely slow) fire had not been put out yet or that was time to check the batteries. This is what happens in chronic pain. You can actually ignore the body’s signals for so long that its reactivity becomes a dysfunction in itself and it can no longer respond to threats properly. So when our body responds by giving us the experience of pain, many people let it go even after two weeks, believing that all they have to do is to sleep and the next day it will all be better.
If nothing is done, this cycle of pain continues, eventually chipping away at each part of the body, leaving a writhing, limping, crippled and wobbly shadow of what we once were, forever stuck in the cave of pain. Too often I have met people at this point and their response is one of bewilderment, “how did this happen to me?” I then have to begin the painstaking process of explaining that their problem started long before the pain. Sound familiar? I have just described osteoarthritis.
If our musculoskeletal health affects our bodies so immensely, perhaps we owe it to ourselves and others to do what we can to prolong it.
I am not proposing prolonging one’s health for the purpose of vanity. After all, the beautiful die just as the plain. But we ought to prolong our health in order that we can maximally contribute what is good to society and not become an unnecessary burden, draining the support of those whom we ought to support.
For the sake of others we should evaluate the competing interests we pursue over the health of our soft tissues. Is having the money to for your next vacation worth having over the smile of your child as you lift them into the air?