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Stretching the Spinal Muscles


For many years, before rising in the mornings, I have stretched some of my spinal muscles, as described in the second edition of my book under "Spinal Stretchings." I learned that just as relaxing the spinal muscles by manipulation or heat relaxed the arteries, stomach, and intestines inside the body, so also gentle stretching of the spinal muscles relaxed internal contractions. Most mornings for many years I tried this method and watched the results before getting out of bed. It improved my pulse as gas passed out of the stomach in either direction. It reduced any excess tension from fatigue or cold and reduced the overload on my heart.

Stretching the neck muscles was also beneficial. Many mornings when I woke from sleep, my mouth was very dry. In addition to stretching the spinal muscles, moving the chin up and down very slowly and gently while lying on my back or side always improved the circulation in the mouth. The saliva flowed freely, and the dryness disappeared. I did not lift my head from the bed or low pillow, but after a few stretchings of the neck muscles, while the spine was straight, I bent (not rotated) the head to one side and continued the stretching, and then to the other side. This same stretching of the neck muscles must improve the circulation inside the head because it improves one's mental state. If done too hard or too long, however, this exercise will increase tension and aggravate symptoms.

When I stretched the spinal muscles which control the pylorus, gas was belched, followed later by some of the acid contents of the stomach. Very soon the acidity subsided in amount and character and became bland. This frequent experience would agree with the theory that normally when the acidity of the stomach reaches a certain intensity, the pylorus relaxes and allows the alkaline contents of the duodenum to enter the stomach and neutralize the acid. One should think of the value of such a procedure in the prevention of ulcers and many other disorders.

Effect of Treating One Side of the Spinal Cord

I learned that the muscles of the stomach, chiefly the pyloric end, are controlled from the right side of the spinal cord, and the blood vessels of the stomach are controlled more from the left side. These controls are not exclusively from one side of the cord, but chiefly. This divided control is one of the innumerable protective mechanisms in the body.

I learned these facts, both from the results of treating the spinal muscles and also from stretching the spinal muscles as an exercise. I frequently observed, first in myself and later in others, that if I treated the left side of the spine, the stomach would relax and become distended and was oppressive to the heart until after I had treated or stretched the spinal muscles on the right side. Then the gas would leave the stomach, the distention would subside, and the overload on the heart was relieved. Therefore, I always tried first to relax the pyloric end of the stomach by treating or stretching the spinal muscles on that side, or by treating the two sides simultaneously. I learned that the left side of the cord had a greater control over the gas formation, because it always required more treatment on the left side to reduce a gas attack.

I have noticed that, when taking the stretching exercises for the upper part of the back on the left side, there was increased oppression to the heart and considerable stomach distension. But taking the same exercises on the right side would liberate the gas from the stomach and relieve the heart. I therefore concluded that the left-side exercises relaxed the muscles on the left side of the stomach and increased the distention of the stomach, whereas the exercises on the right side allowed the gas to escape and relieved the distention. This agreed with previous observations regarding the effect of treating the two sides of the upper thoracic region. For this reason I have recommended relaxing the pyloric end of the stomach at the end of all treatments in order to be sure that the stomach was not distended.

Benefits of Exercise

Most people realize the benefits resulting from exercise—at least for other people!

To maintain the best circulation, one must keep the spinal muscles elastic. It is a fact of vital importance that if the spinal muscles become contracted, as they gradually do in most people, there is also an increasing tension of the arterial and gastrointestinal systems. This increasing tension of the internal blood vessels and of the gastrointestinal system retards the rate of blood flow through the whole body, night and day. Any kind of a local disorder may develop, or the extra work thrown on the heart may produce any cardiac symptom. Usually the local condition, or the heart disorders, receive all the attention, whereas they are simply the result of the increasing tension. This has been proved continuously for sixty years by the large variety of local conditions which have disappeared after the normal rate of blood flow had been restored, as discussed in The Control of the Circulation.

Some primitive tribes use spinal treatment to relax tension. This fact has been reported to me by missionaries. The methods, e.g., one person lies prone while another steps slowly on the spinal muscles, are not always suitable for people with sensitive nerves! The beneficial effects of such methods are immediate, as they so often are after spinal manipulations. If the contracted spinal muscles can be made to relax by any gentle method of stretching or manipulation or heat, the internal contractions—arterial and alimentary—relax to some extent at the same time.

Gentle but thorough stretching movements maintain the best muscular tone. At the beginning, exercise should be mild, as when an athlete "warms up" before a contest. Violent use of muscles otherwise may cause spasms or cramps. For this reason some movements are suggested later in this chapter.

Behind all muscular problems is the nervous system. Systematic, moderate physical work, as on a farm, develops the strongest nervous system. Violent athletics do not build up as stable a nervous system as that developed by a farmer.

All tissues of the body remain well if there is a good rate of blood flow. Just as health requires constant care in regard to getting proper amounts of food and rest, so also something should be done systematically in regard to exercise which helps to maintain a good circulation.

Any system of exercise may be beneficial, but some body-bending exercises may leave the spinal muscles, especially the lumbar muscles, more contracted instead of more relaxed. This is one reason why it is an advantage to take the stretchings while lying on the back. The weight of the body is eliminated. Usually it is the contraction of the lumbar segments of the body, inside and outside, which throws most of the extra load on the heart. Therefore, with heart disorders, if all attention is focused on the heart, it may be directed a foot away from the cause of the trouble.

Stretching muscles, if properly done, puts them into a better condition for exercising. It relaxes the tissues, and the blood can flow through more freely. Therefore, stretching should always be done slowly and gently, but thoroughly. Sudden or violent movements of any kind may irritate the nerves and increase the tension. After stretching one set of muscles allow them to rest and stretch other sets.

Any stretching may be continued as an exercise, but one should use as little mental effort as possible because mental effort adds to the tension of muscles. On the other hand, a gentle, alternate contracting and relaxing of the spinal muscles as automatically as possible will relax the contractions of the stomach and intestines and arteries inside the body. But if the nerves are very irritable, the harder one exercises the spinal muscles, the less they will relax.

Incidentally, since many of the external muscles run from the spine diagonally to the ribs, hips, or elsewhere, it will be noticed that these also relax. They relax in a regular sequence: first, the spinal muscles; then the muscles on the side of the body; and then those attached to the ribs in front. This observation cannot be made unless the exercise is done without irritating the nerve cells controlling the muscles.

Gradually the curve in the lumbar spine (just above the hips) will relax and flatten or straighten out and touch the bed, instead of remaining tense and curved as it is in many people.

The immediate improvement in the circulation produced by such movements is often enough to cause one to go to sleep. To this end, it is sometimes a help to keep the eyes closed while taking the easiest of these exercises, in a very gentle, rhythmical way.

All stretchings are to be done while lying on the back.

First Stretching

Lying on the back, extend one arm out from the body as far as possible. Then very gently twist or roll the arm as far as it will go backward and forward. If this is done very gently, it can be done at great length. It will improve the circulation of the whole body because it moves the gas from the stomach and exercises a number of muscles including one that goes from the arm to the top of the hips. Repeat on the other side. Next, one arm and then the other may be extended toward the ceiling, and the same twisting action followed.

Second Stretching

Take one slow, deep breath and at the same time fill the lower part of the lungs and arch the lumbar spine. Continuing the exercise, fill the upper part of the lungs and arch the upper part of the spine by elevating the chest. These two archings may be continued simultaneously and stretch the whole spine. Do it slowly and relax slowly. If the body is arched a little to one side, this movement will stretch the muscles on one side at any desired point.

Third Stretching

To exercise the neck, lie on the back and turn the head once as far as it will go to the right. Maintaining this position, move the chin up and down five or six times. Then move the head toward the left and raise the chin up and down. Repeat the two movements several times. The friction of the side of the head against the pillow helps to divert blood from the brain. The effect of this exercise may be increased by the following manipulation.

Reach as far down the back as can be done easily. Keep the hands on the skin on each side of the spine, and gently move the skin up and down with each hand alternately. The hands may next be moved out a little toward the shoulders, and then treat the neck muscles similarly but more gently. Too much pressure on neck muscles may dilate cerebral blood vessels and irritate the brain. Gentle treatment or exercise of the neck muscles reduces the pressure of blood in the head. If the pressure of the hand is extremely light and the hand is moved frequently from one place to another, the movement may be continued until the neck and upper thoracic muscles relax, sometimes entirely.

Neck muscles have many relations to the whole body in general and to the head in particular. Extremely gentle pressures or other manipulations of the neck muscles have relieved mental distress, caused the stomach to contract, and moved the gas by belching. Extremely gentle manipulation of the neck or other muscles may be continued indefinitely with increasing benefit by treating different areas frequently.

Nerves which have acquired an increasing irritability for years cannot be controlled by a sudden movement. It can make the condition permanent; such a method of treating the nervous system is punitive rather than therapeutic. Force, whether mechanically used externally on the peripheral end of sensitive nerves or internally by medication, cannot be successful.

Fourth Stretching

Place the hands on the back of the neck and gently arch the whole body, putting the weight entirely on the back of the shoulders and gradually on the back of the head and the heels, with ankles flexed. Begin very gradually. The spinal muscles can be stretched without actually arching the body. The movement obviously will pull the most on the tightest muscles. If pain is produced, stretch more gently or use the easiest exercises first. As soon as one can arch the body, even slightly, gently sway the body from side to side. If this exercise is too strenuous, only part of the spine may be arched.

Fifth Stretching

Lie on the back with knees raised and feet on the bed. Lift hips from the bed until the whole spine is stretched. Gently and slowly return to the first position. Repeat and rotate these exercises.

Sixth Stretching

To stretch upper spinal muscles, curve the body toward the left side with arms folded. With face toward ceiling, with arms folded, and right hand and left elbow pressing against the ribs on the concave left side, give a gentle thrust with the right hand and left elbow against the ribs. At the same time shrug the right shoulder up toward the ear. This will stretch the muscles still further on the convex side. After a few of these twitches or pulls, curve the body to the other side and repeat. By inhaling gently each time, the ribs are pulled up on each side, the chest is elevated more and more and acts like a ratchet, holding the spinal muscles to their full length. This exercise may be practiced while standing also.

Seventh Stretching

To stretch the lower spinal muscles, lie on the back, arms folded and legs parallel. Gently thrust the feet alternately toward the foot of the bed. Do not bend the knees or try to lift any part of the body off the bed. The movement should be gentle and with the least mental effort. If the nerves to the muscle are very irritable, the effort may be reduced to the minimum by contracting the muscles slowly, but not enough to move the bones.

Eighth Stretching

A more active method of stretching the lower spinal muscles is as follows: While lying on the back, bend the knees and draw them toward the chin by pulling up with the hands. By keeping the knees at about the balancing point, very little effort is required to sway them so as to stretch the spinal muscles gently.

Ninth Stretching

Draw up the knees, with feet on the bed, and alternately push the hips towards the foot of the bed, without trying to lift any weight off the bed.

It will help in the stretching of some of the neck and spinal muscles if each arm and leg is slowly stretched as far as possible in any direction from the body. When the arms are fully extended, they should be rotated. One may have someone gently pull first one arm and then relax it, and repeat on the other arm. The same may be done with the legs.

If one is in good condition, five minutes of stretching and relaxing he spinal muscles will improve the rate of blood flow, but it may be necessary to take these exercises in rotation, briefly, perhaps for 15 ninutes or longer. This may include much resting between the movements.

Usually during the stretching of the spinal muscles, the pulse and blood pressure improve, gas begins to move, and subjective symptoms improve.

It is a mistake to use the stretching exercise on the upper left half of the spine first. It will relax the left end of the stomach first and may oppress the heart, until the pylorus is relaxed by stretching or treating the right upper half of the spine. Making these movements with the spine straight or when curved to either side enables one to stretch different sets of muscles.

If one's spinal muscles are elastic, more vigorous exercises while standing are in order. Holding the shoulders back greatly helps to strengthen the spinal muscles and straighten the spine.

There are innumerable systems of exercise, and one system may be better for one person than another, according to his age or condition.

It should be emphasized that while most people benefit by anything which relaxes the spinal muscles, there is a minority which are injured by the same methods, because their arteries are already too relaxed. All hot baths, sun baths, and other heat treatments, all manipulations and all sedatives add to this handicap. Stretching of the spinal muscles is injurious to this group. See The Control of the Circulation, second edition.