Living the WELL Life

A Physiological Margin for Error - by Ken Dill

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Do you have a physiological margin for error? I know what you’re thinking: what the heck does that mean?! Should I have one? Should I try desperately to get it or get rid of it? Sorry if I’ve increased your anxiety level.  Allow me to explain. First, yes, you should have one, and then you should try to make it as big as you can!

Let’s back up a minute. Our health is a continuum, not an either/or proposition. There are so many things happening inside us and if we tried to deal with everything at once it would make our heads spin. There are continual negative processes happening inside us all the time from cold viruses, to plaque building up in our arteries to cancer cells trying to start growing. Lucky for us, our body’s defenses/immune systems are working as hard as they can to counteract these problems. Usually our defenses do a good job and they would do a great job with a little help from us.

Let me explain using a slightly less complicated system; the musculoskeletal system. I probably talk about the physiological margin for error at least once a day with my patients. It usually goes something like this:

‘Mrs. Jones, your recurring neck and back pain is caused by a combination of tightness which leads to compression of the spine, and weakness which causes strain on the muscle/tendon/ligament complex. Then that strain adds to the pain which adds to the tightness causing you to decrease activity and exercise which leads to more weakness.’

As you can see, this is not the downward self-perpetuating spiral you want to be on.

So we reverse the scenario by first relieving tightness and pain, which increases range of motion and promotes decompression. Then we can gradually add strengthening exercises so you can handle your normal daily activities without straining or injuring anything. As we achieve this you should feel pretty good with your normal routine. If we stop there you’ll do well until… you attempt something heavier or something that requires more effort, which will create a new strain and may put you right back on the pain spiral. How do we keep this from happening? Increase your physiological margin for error!

By continuing your exercises, and gradually increasing them as well as getting regular body work you will increase your strength and your range of motion, and you’ll decrease spasms thus allowing you to handle more than your ‘normal routine’ activities. Yes, you guessed it, you will be increasing your physiological margin for error to handle the bigger jobs (picking up a heavy box, working out, cleaning the basement, yard work, etc.)

Try this visual. You have a bucket with a hole in the bottom and you start pouring in water. The water represents your activities, strains, and stresses of the day. When the bucket overflows you have pain. You want to keep that bucket from overflowing. Here’s how:

1. Decrease the amount of water you are pouring by decreasing the daily strains you put on your body.

2. Increase the size of the hole to let more ‘water’ run out the bottom. You can do this by increasing proper exercise, getting enough rest and using good body mechanics.

The lower the level of water in the bucket the greater your physiological margin of error. Thus the less likely you will get injured or have pain when you do more than the usual.

Stay with me now, let’s take this a step further and think of the body’s overall health/wellness. The more bad food, stress, and contact with pathogens you throw into the bucket, the more chance you’ll have of overflow, of allowing some disease to take hold (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.) The more good food you eat, the more stress relief you find and the more you stay away from pathogens the bigger the hole in the bottom of the bucket will become and the chances of overflow will decrease. Again, you’re increasing your overall physiological margin of error.

Our body’s defense/immune systems are remarkable. The more help you give it by choosing a wellness lifestyle, the less likely it will break down and stop you from living life the way you dream it could be lived. When you choose wellness, pain or disease won’t be able to keep you from all that you want your body, mind and spirit to accomplish.

Don’t be like most people, complaining about this problem or that pain and not doing anything about it. Take charge, and take the road less traveled, down ‘Increased Physiological Margin for Error Lane’, which leads to Health and Wellness-Ville. You’ll never look back!


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