About Spineworks

Bones do not move by themselves.
Muscles move them.
Muscles do not move by themselves.
Nerves tell them.
Nerves do not give the instructions by themselves.
The brain tells them.

What is Spineworks?

Spineworks is a complete and comprehensive physical therapy which focuses on the soft tissue. As I implied in the words above, it is the muscle that is the most important single structure in the body. The soft tissue makes up about 65% (depends who you ask!) of your body weight. It is what gives you your shape and how people recognise you. The most dynamic part of the soft tissue is the muscle, totally supported by tendons, ligaments and fascia (or connective tissue). Together these connect the entire body together, literally ‘from head to toe’.

Soft tissue gives you both form and function. It supports the structure and gives you movement.

Contrary to much common thought the human is not a compression structure built around the solidity of the skeleton, much as I was taught as a child. It is much more akin a tensegrity structure (a term coined by architect Buckminster Fuller) where the bones act as spacers, anchors and levers while the muscles bind it together, support it in upright stance and make it move.

In treatment, Spineworks focuses very much on this soft tissue – muscles, tendons, and fascia to address what we may call non-specific pain (of the back and other places).

But Spineworks also includes skeletal alignment, including the spine, completely without force. Often, once tension in soft tissue is released, the space is there for the structure (skeleton) to find its own way back into alignment. If it doesn’t we help it with encouragement by using (for example) gentle vibration and muscle energy techniques.

Many of my personal clients have been in chronic pain and “tried everything else” - allopathic, complementary and alternative. In the majority of these cases Spineworks has helped to clear their pain.

 

So, why do I call it “Spineworks”?

" Spineworks - does more than it says on the tin"

Because of its role as protector of the Spinal Cord (Central Nervous System), the spine is probably the most important postural section of the body and has a critical involvement in many problems. Tension within the back and spinal muscles can influence pain in many parts of the body as well as the back itself and many seemingly unrelated symptoms and illnesses.

The picture to the right illustrates the enormous importance of the spine as protector and the huge functionality of the spinal chord which controls everything we do. If tight muscle is affecting one of these nerves then it will have an affect, which we may not be able to define, on some major function of movement or an organ.

 

Why is Muscle Tension so Important?

For the rest of this article I shall use the term “muscle” to cover all of the soft tissue. Since fascia is a continuous structure throughout the body it is fairly safe to assume that it is involved in every musculo-skeletal problem.

Also if we note the inter-connectedness of muscles and how they all work co-operatively, with any muscle release there will be a potential knock-on effect. If we can ease the (internal) stress in a muscle that pulls downward across a joint then we will release the (external) stress of the corresponding muscle that pulls across the same joint in an upward direction. Thus effects of muscle relaxation can almost ripple along a series of connections.

I will just recruit the writings of some better-known authors to demonstrate my case.

Jan de Vries has written[i] “Tension as we know it is muscular in nature whether it is produced by cold weather, when we automatically tense ourselves, emotional stimuli or something else. Tension, inner conflict, emotional upsets and so on are the causes of most functional disease, and these factors, when they persist, actually precipitate soluble calcium from the blood stream into the joints. Call it by any name - it all ends in visceral motor tension. The results are arthritis, rheumatism, lumbago and other similar afflictions. This is called the negative miracle.

It is worth noting that the sympathetic nervous system reaches all organs and controls blood circulation to all parts of the body. We should also remember that the nervous system controls all muscular effort, … .

Muscle spasm draws the tendons, ligaments and bones out of alignment. Just replacing or correcting a misaligned bone is merely a palliative move; these corrections never stay put for long. We should understand that muscles pull the bones or vertebrae out of place; bones do not suddenly get misaligned by themselves. No matter what the complaint, be it lumbago, slipped disc, rheumatism, torticollis or female complaints the release of muscles in a spasmodic state is of prime importance.”

Dr Paul Sherwood[ii] (focussing on back pain) says, “Intermittent back pain is debilitating and a person with a bad back often suffers from a number of associated conditions such as tiredness and headaches. More than that, I have come to the conclusion that many complaints, including ME, migraine, indigestion and even stomach and duodenal ulcers are often caused by back problems. By treating the root cause in the back these complaints can usually be cured.”

And “… all non-specific back pain has its root in an old injury, caused by a fall, perhaps, or some hard jolt or twist that disturbed the spinal column. The back may remain symptom-less for years. Often only a minor episode … may spark off trouble. The pain may come and go but the basic trouble remains, as do the symptoms of the other complaints … .”

Years before, Carl McConnell[iii], a leading osteopath in the early 20th century, wrote  “ … osseous misalignment is sustained by ligamentous rigidity. This rigidity is incepted by way of muscular, fascial and tendinous tensions and stresses. Every case portrays a uniqueness … Remember, I am speaking of the solid biological background of individual pathogenesis, the veritable soil of pre-diseased  condition.”

In other words, muscles pull the skeleton out of alignment and keep it there.

 

 

Someone has calculated that it takes 200 muscles to take a single step!

In practice it probably uses every muscle in your body.

 

In a BBC Radio programme[iv] in 2006 it was noted that the government has just announced proposals for reducing the £12.5 billion spent every year on incapacity benefit to people who can't work because of illness.

Back pain is the biggest single medical cause of time off work - accounting for nearly half of all sickness related absence from the workplace in all ‘western’ countries. In the UK that's just over 50 million lost working days every year.

But back pain doesn't just cause time off work - as many as half of us will suffer from at least one episode every year, and around 5 million people will end up at their GPs.”

Why is it then that there is no medical specialism in muscles, connective tissue or fascia when just about everything else has its own specialist department? It is definitely the poor cousin of modern medicine.

Muscles are the agent of both movement and stability. They are by far the greatest energy user of the body. They are also one of the primary sources of pain, discomfort and disability. Once muscle becomes tight it has potentially serious health effects in four ways:

  1. Energy Stress – Muscles use energy. And when they are contracted they use more. And when they are in continuous spasm they consume excess energy. So, just sitting there reading this you are using more energy than you need, just to survive.
  2. Nerve Stress - Spastic muscle impinges on nerves by trapping them between tissue. This affects the messages that run to and from the tissue itself and may also affect the functioning of some organ or motor function. And pain is often the result.
  3. Circulation Stress - Spastic muscle ceases to be an effective muscle pump for the blood flow thus impeding circulation and causing a build-up of lactic acid. The need to remove the excess lactic acid to the liver, can also lead to problems such as a build up of plaque which could result in stroke or heart attack.
  4. Orthopaedic Stress - Spastic muscle pulls across a joint thus compressing the capsule or the spinal discs. This will reduce mobility or cause discs to bulge and can even pull joints out of alignment.

The answer to all of this is simple – release the spastic (ie tight) tissue. This means not only muscle tissue but also fascia (or connective tissue) and tendons.

It is not rocket science! Mostly it is applying common sense with straightforward logic and mechanics; combined with an open mind and readiness to be surprised.  Although it is of course possible that there are other problems involved in the total health (or rather sickness) of a client, the simple releasing of the spasm in the muscle will ease all the above causes of pain and so allow the body to commence true healing.

Diagnosis

Spineworks does not attempt to diagnose, ie to define cause and effect because, a) it is not necessary for a successful treatment and, b) there is rarely (if ever) any way of knowing with 100% certainty. And c) in the UK at least it is illegal for anyone not medically trained.

Much of our anatomy studies and diagnostic systems treat the person as a collection of parts. This is useful for intellectual study and even to target specific problems. But you did not develop in parts. You started as a single cell and slowly over time, what we now recognise as you, was created – not part-by-part but as a whole.

So we use our natural tools; speech, of course, by asking the client about their pain and history, eyes and most importantly our hands. I also refuse to give clients a “label” which allows them to pass responsibility for their condition away from themselves. I would rather encourage clients to accept that their current problem is the summation of their history.

All the nerves of course come from the spine and if there is any interference with nerve function then it either starts from the spine and causes distal problems or starts distally and causes spinal problems – on some level. In other words there is ALWAYS a spinal component to the problem. There is also always an emotional, mental or energetic component and too much diagnosis will ignore this.

Again, let me recruit some help:

In the BBC Radio 4 programme mentioned earlier the guest expert was Dr Steve Longworth, a GP with a special interest in back pain. When asked what causes “common or garden back pain?” (99% of his cases) he replied, “Well that's a very interesting question because surprisingly and frustratingly we cannot say for certain where most, what we call, mechanical back pain, actually originates. At different times it probably comes from the joints, the ligaments, the muscles and the discs in the back. But for any one individual patient on any one individual occasion it's difficult, if not impossible, to actually say what the source of the pain is.”

And what  about the medical technical tools we have available? The most common are x-rays and, increasingly, magnetic resonance image scanning (MRI).

This again from Dr Longworth, “Well x-rays are very insensitive tests and there's a very poor correlation between people's symptoms, the seriousness of what's going on and anything you might see on an x-ray. The difficulty with MRI scanning, which is the most modern form of imaging for back pain, is that it's too sensitive, it shows us absolutely everything, which is great but it also shows up lots of irrelevancies.”

Dr. Sarno[v], a New York orthopaedic surgeon, found that X-rays don’t always tell the truth. In his book he cites studies on normal people without a trace of back pain that have spinal abnormalities on X-ray. Other studies have shown that some people with back pain have normal spines on X-ray. So, Dr. Sarno says, “there is not necessarily any association between back pain and spinal X-ray abnormality. However, if a person happens to have back pain and an incidental abnormality on X-ray, they may be treated surgically, sometimes with no change in back pain, or worsening of back pain, or even permanent disability.”

So even these really don’t help us determine the root cause of the pain. And we must also remember that diagnosis from these systems rely upon the expertise and bias of the person interpreting the reading. Ask a surgeon and they will most likely recommend surgery, ask a complementary therapist and they will most likely recommend their therapy.

It is my experience with just scoliosis, that the level of pain is not determined by the magnitude of the curve. I have seen people with a small curve yet in almost constant pain and others with a large curve who did not even know they had scoliosis and certainly did not complain of pain.

What happens in a treatment?

Spineworks is a client oriented therapy and so the approach for each individual is unique nor is there any recommendation for the number of treatments that anyone may require. Given that it has usually taken many years for a body to get to its current state it is rare that a single treatment will give a permanent result even if it does remove presenting pain. It is also important at this stage to manage the expectations of the client – if it has taken 50 years to get to this place it is likely to take several treatments. But do people with non-specific pain need any treatment?

Dr Longworth again – “fortunately most people get better spontaneously and this is the good news about mechanical back pain because even though we don't know precisely where it's coming from this doesn't actually matter for the majority of patients because we can recognise the pattern of symptoms and physical findings in someone who's got back pain and we can recognise when it's not serious and we can be really positive about managing this for our patients …”

Unfortunately, this is the approach that so many in the medical profession take and that so many sufferers accept. “It will just get better”. How often have you heard that – especially when a child? I completely disagree with this attitude. This, in my opinion, is where the health services lose out by largely ignoring the benefits of soft tissue work and more globally the complementary therapy field. The only bit that I agree with is that it does not matter for the treatment that we do not know the cause of the problem.

Being “client centred”, using Spineworks the therapist will always ensure the client is fully involved during each treatment and throughout the series of sessions. During the treatment the therapist will always be asking for feedback and ensuring that the comfort zone of the client is not exceeded. After all, it is the client who is the only one who knows exactly how it feels!

Usually, the first treatment will examine the spine:- the straightness of the whole structure including major curves and vertebral shifts and the muscles close to the spinal column as well as more distal muscles. This examination also starts getting in touch with the body as well as softening, loosening, toning and releasing muscle spasm. Also during this phase the therapist will be looking at the body; seeing what muscles look tight, looking for imbalances, making special judgements – and without any attempt to diagnose or reach some conclusion.

From there the session could look at the specific problem the client came to resolve or it might take a look at the pelvis or neck. This of course will depend upon the case history and what happens during the spinal examination. Even during the examination phase there will be a positive healing effect.

Subsequent treatments may or may not go back to the spine but at some time there will be a return to check and see how it is changing.

And, one more thing. The client will be asked to do some movement! Special movement (exercise) is part of Spineworks and every client I treat is asked to do something that is appropriate for their problem and ability. The movements are usually very focussed and often will not take long. Giving an exercise once more gives the client responsibility for his or her own health and recovery and also has a positive effect in between treatment sessions. Those clients who do their exercise will improve faster than those who don’t.

A Personal History of Spineworks

In 1994 I was walking through a crowded hall in Victoria (UK, London, SW11) when I bumped into a friend. Andy and I had met when we both attended a course for men called The Sword and the Song, and run by Chris James. Since then we had been swapping treatments, I giving him Shiatsu and he giving me Rebirthing. Neither of us had any idea that the other was attending the Mind, Body, Spirit exhibition that day so our meeting in the crowded hall was pure chance.

Andy mentioned that a man called Tarpan, a friend of Chris, was giving taster treatments on Chris’s stand. He said that he thought I would be very interested in his work and methods.

I went to meet him and after a chat did have a short session with him. I don’t know how it affected me but a couple of weeks later I found myself on the first course in Spineworks that Tarpan had run in the UK, somewhere in Notting Hill. This was a taster type course – in those early days Tarpan was not too concerned with planning the content of his courses so they could be a bit random!

Shortly after that I attended a series of evening sessions based on his ideas of a movement system and not long after that his second course in London, which I think was somewhere in Kentish Town, north London. At the end of that course I did something I have not done before or since; I asked Tarpan if I could practice on him.

After that first taster course I found that I could access my yoga postures more easily so thought that there must be something in this Spineworks idea – and at that time it was not much more than ideas.

Tarpan had learned barefoot Shiatsu and Structural Integration (deep massage) when he was with the guru Osho in Poona, India for some years (Tarpan is his given Sanyasin name). On his return to Australia he had set up a practice in Byron Bay but gradually became dissatisfied with his work. Firstly, it was wearing him out, second, the deep work was painful to clients and third, results were not always permanent. He decided to take a break and travel - maybe he would find something that would resolve these three problems.

After meeting people and sharing ideas he eventually felt he had the germ of a system and started to practice and teach his ideas in Australia. When Chris James came on a visit to the UK in 1994, Tarpan decided to come with him. And that lead to our meeting.

Tarpan’s reaction to my request was a delighted, “yes”. And so started our work together. I would travel to his home which was not far away from where I lived in London and would give him Spineworks treatments and receive feedback and sometime he would give me a session or try something new. Later that year, he asked me if I would like to assist on his courses and so I started out by being the demonstration body on the courses which we ran in several London locations.

Over the years we had many heated debates about the course content and the rudimentary manual he had at the time. In those days we did a “Level 1” over one weekend and a “Level 2” over a further two weekends. I well remember long discussions late into the night with a glass of wine after we had done a course. Tarpan is something of a free spirit and could not see why he had to teach the same thing to each new class so we had students on the Level 2 courses from different Level 1 classes where he had taught different things.  I rewrote the manual and we worked together on making the courses consistent. In those days I was still working as a computing and management consultant so my ideas of consistency and order were driving me.

Then, after working on some new ideas we did the first Level 3 Practitioner course in July 1996. I was both, body, assistant and student on that one. It was held at Tarpan’s home in the Pewsey Vale and I remember the other attendees, Sue, Bob, Jean, Julie, and Karen and I am still in touch with the latter three and occasionally bump into Sue. As we did more courses, students started asking me questions and I found myself becoming by default a tutor. We were still developing both the system and the courses and I rewrote the manual several times (a task I continue to this day!). In 1999 I ran some courses by myself for Shirley Price; by that time I, also, had left London and was living quite close to where Shirley had her centre.

We continued running courses together until mid 1999 when Tarpan decided that he would rather be in Australia and so packed up and returned.

Our communication has been somewhat sporadic over the years since and Tarpan has travelled around but in 2010 we re-established our contact through Facebook – so it does have some good things going for it.

Since Tarpan left, I continued to develop the system as I learnt things myself but always with the same ethos, no force, no pain. So there have been some new techniques and ideas added by myself and several generations of manual! Now, it is a fairly stable system but I do continue to add things once I have proven them in practice.

 

 


[i] Jan de Vries - Inner Harmony (isbn 1-84018-062-5), Chap 12 Stress/Tension - Relaxation (p 118)

[ii] Paul Sherwood, Your Back, Your Health (isbn 0-09-946802)

[iii] Carl McConnell, Osteopathic Institute of Applied Technique yearbook 1962, London

[iv] Case Notes on BBC Radio 4 on 24/1/06, extract taken from the transcript on the website

[v] J Sarno - Healing Back Pain: The Mind Body Connection. 1991. Drawn to my attention by Gary Null Ph. D. of The Nutrition Institute of America in an article entitled “Death by Medicine” in Nexus Magazine (vol 12/1)

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