People often ask me to give them a Pilates exercise to help strengthen a particular part of their body, or an exercise to relieve pain or stiffness in a certain area. When they come along to their first session with me they are puzzled when we work on a completely different area of their body. The same thing happens with my Bowen therapy patients too. We spend at least 20 minutes going over health and medical background, maybe I’ll find out that this patient has chronic neck pain and then I start my treatment…on the back of their legs!

The thing is, our body is not an assembly of component parts. It’s pretty obvious really when you think about it. Our body interconnects throughout the whole of its muscular and fascial system, the skin and the adipose tissue beneath, are part of the whole.

Like the circulatory system around York, if there’ s a blockage on Fishergate the whole of York knows about it. This is an interconnected system. Something called Fascia wraps around the bones, muscles and just about everything else in the body.

If you have ever skinned a chicken you will have encountered fascia. Veggies and vegans, use your imagination. This fascial encasement, slides and pulls against itself: movement messages are transmitted via muscle along the fascia (periosteum) of the bone and along to the next muscle and so on. Where a muscle crosses over a joint and ‘attaches’ to a bony bit such as over the joints of the spine, the pull which is exerted on the muscle is transmitted through the fascia of the bone, and taken up by the adjacent muscle. Muscles further down the chain realise that they have to pull back a bit harder to keep the body from falling over. Or maybe sometimes you do fall over. For example, that chronic neck or shoulder pain, is something causing this person to hold their head too far forward from their body and so the muscles in the back of the neck to have to overwork and strain?

Perhaps this person’s head is placed too far forward of the body because, say, they work at a screen all day, or they have a baby to care for or they wear bifocals, or are worried about tripping on the pavement or have bunions or feel self conscious or…lots of reasons. The average head weighs 14 pounds in an upright position. More when its poked forward but that’s a physics equation you can Google. This isn’t just going to affect the muscles at the back of the neck, the whole of the back will be involved as the brain tries to redress the balance. Like a dog straining at the leash, something else has to pull back with an equal and opposite force and those straining muscles start to ache.

As a body worker, I’m looking for the root of the problem. Neck hurts? Maybe it’s because of your ankle!

- Patricia Issitt is a movement therapist and Pilates instructor based in York.