Muscular Amnesia is Proof We Need to Undomesticate Our Lives

Last year I underwent  months of physical therapy sessions for recovery from knee pain while running. These injuries were due to muscular imbalances. Essentially, some of my muscles and tendons became strained trying to compensate for other muscles that were weak from disuse. This is a problem colloquially but aptly known as muscular amnesia. This disuse arose because the muscles were and are pretty much unneeded in my physically undemanding, modern life. Unfortunately, this is a problem that plagues most of us in modern society today.
As I performed my clamshell exercises on the clinical table and watched others on similar recovery journeys exercising with colorful exercise balls and resistance bands, I pondered the ridiculousness of it all. I, and most others there, were not suffering from acute injuries. We were there to exercise muscles that we had forgotten, muscles that had atrophied from mere lack of use. Much money was being spent to remedy an entirely modern problem: muscular amnesia. How, I wondered, do we as a society accept without protest a lifestyle in which we use some of our muscles so little that it becomes a medical problem that has to be corrected with rote exercises? Why do we wait until we are in pain to engage in movements that could have prevented the pain in the first place? Why is keeping our bodies mobile  and pain-free not the priority from the start? And why should regaining full use of our bodies once lost be reserved for those privileged enough to be able to afford regular physical therapy?
Shortly afterwards, I came upon the works of biomechanist Katy Bowman, movement therapist Aaron Alexander, and rewilding expert Daniel Vitalis. It was a revelation. They finally gave a voice and a language to the thoughts and feelings I’ve had throughout my life about the intelligence and holism of the body but could not articulate because there was previously little discourse around it in the mainstream. Encountering these experts validated my own experience in the world. Moreover, the knowledge they shared revealed other ways modern living can wreak havoc on a person’s functionality, in addition to muscular amnesia.
A large part of the problem is that this situation has become normalized. It is normal to not be able to move your body to its fullest potential or even a fraction of its fullest potential. Our lifestyle today–replete with desk jobs, cars, and other movement-saving conveniences– demands very minimal ranges of motions, which results in muscular amnesia. We lose these ranges of motion because we are not using them. Sadly, we do not realize we have lost them until we throw our backs out bending down to play with our kids or injure our knees while running to catch a bus. By the time we realize that we’ve lost that range of motion, we are resigned to it. We attribute it to simply getting older. After all, it happens to everyone we know as they get older, so it must be the inevitable decline of aging, right? But the seeming ubiquity of it all is masking the more insidious connection to bodily dysfunction, that of our modern, industrialized, technologically advanced, sedentary lifestyle. Everyone in a sedentary society is declining severely as they age because everyone is subject to the same lifestyle that practically necessitates sitting constantly while eliminating all need to squat, kneel, walk, run, crawl,  pull, or reach. The omission of those movements from our lives on a large scale is normal to us, and therefore, so is biomechanical neglect, muscular amnesia, and, ultimately, injury.
The normalcy of this cycle of disuse and injury is disheartening to me, all the more because most people do not even realize it is occurring. But at the same time, it makes me feel optimistic. I too once attributed my decreasing mobility to aging, but as long as it is primarily a lifestyle phenomenon, I have the power to stop it. It means having to go against the grain, doing what is completely abnormal in modern American society and forcing myself to move frequently and in diverse ways (I’ve been changing positions the whole time I’ve been typing!). It may appear odd to others or be inconvenient at times, but I think it is worth it to keep my body functional for decades to come. Don’t you?
It was this epiphany about movement that led me to start questioning things we take for granted about our lifestyle. While we see ourselves as taking advantage of all our modern society has to offer, in many ways it is also a cage that is shaping our lives and our health without our even being aware of it. It is for this reason that I am on a quest to undomesticate my life. This means consciously choosing the parts of modern life that contribute to my health and well-being and rejecting those that do not (or at least being fully apprised of the costs of those choices that may not be conducive to health… Hey, I’m not perfect!). This blog will serve to document my journey of examination and my attempts to get more grounded in life’s essentials, including preparing real food, moving, and building community. I hope it will be of some help to you too.
If you want to learn more about how a modern lifestyle can affect the body’s biomechanics, check out some of my favorite resources, all of which include rehabilitative exercises: Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman, Deskbound by Kelly Starrett et al, and Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry. I will also share what I have learned from my research and experiences, so stay tuned.
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One Reply to “Muscular Amnesia is Proof We Need to Undomesticate Our Lives”

  1. […] discover two years ago that some of the pain I was experiencing during physical activity was due to muscular “amnesia,” muscles that  had been unused for so long that I no longer knew how to activate them. All the […]

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