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Donncha Phelan: Why your body is like a car – it has many different parts … and a driver

Treat your body like you treat your car - look after it regualrly

The opportunity to write this column is one I am delighted to take and with it I hope to give some insight as to how the body works within itself and offer different perspectives on how we can get ease from trouble and keep ourselves healthy.

I’ve always been a fan of solving puzzles and in practice this has led me to want to solve ‘Why?’ a patient’s body is breaking down or getting injured. The ‘What?’ tends to be the easy bit once we have solved the Why.

In this week’s article I’m exploring the make-up of the body, and the causes of irritation within it which lead to the symptoms which I meet in clinic on a daily basis.

I find I use the analogy of a car to best explain how our body is put together.

Much like a car we have a chassis which is the framework as such. Within our bodies the Chassis is the Musculoskeletal System, i.e. the muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, discs etc. It is because of unease in this area that most people present to clinic looking for help, symptoms such as e.g. neck pain, back pain, knee etc.

However in a car there is also an engine and the equivalent of this in us are our organs. Like the car this engine or organs is/are attached to the chassis. These connections are very influential on how both the organs and the Skeletal system function.

Understanding these connections often give a big clue as to where an injury or complaint is coming from, particularly if there hasn’t been an incident where the patient remembers hurting themselves.

The car also contains a computer which in us is the Nervous System. This is the part that controls all our actions and tensions and ultimately our posture. People spend a lot of time giving out to themselves about their posture, as if they are lazy, unfit etc. etc.

However it is the nervous system that controls how we hold ourselves when we are not specifically paying attention to our posture. If there is unease within the organs, e.g. digestive issues, the body will change its tensions to try to help that area and by that change the pull on the structure which can lead to trouble in the corresponding joints. (I hope to dedicate an article to posture from this point of view in the coming weeks)

Finally there is one more part to this picture – it’s the driver of this car, and that’s the you that lives in there. We are all different, unique, brilliant, which is why we all have very different experiences living in what is essentially the same body. It hasn’t changed much for quite some time.

As humans we tend to see ourselves in such a way as that our legs take us where we are going, our arms, for the most part, do what we are doing when we get there and finally we throw some grub into the tank a few times during the day to keep it from growling!

The body, however, sees it the other way around. It’s not so concerned whether you stay in bed for the day, go to work, exercise or go on that sun holiday. Its focus is on protecting and maintaining the part that keeps us alive – The Engine AKA our organs. We see this in the study of embryology, where it is apparent that the structural and nervous systems are in place to provide support and communication for the organs to maintain us throughout our lives.

Our health and well-being is dependent on all four parts interacting together in a balanced way. Disruption to this balance is what causes unease e.g. pain, stiffness, headaches, digestive issues, gynaecological irregularities, anxiety, depression etc. These disruptions can come from any part of our lives and all be placed under the umbrella of what we commonly call Stress.

Stress is not a word I like, I’ve been using it for almost 14 years now and I still don’t like it. We don’t have a better alternative so I find I keep using it. What I like to do is break stress down into different categories – Physical, Mental, Emotional and one or two more.

  • Physical stresses on our Body are falls, thumps, car crashes, too much training without proper recovery, and too much physical graft without rest etc.
  • Mental stresses tend to be found in work, mortgage, finance, college, school, exams etc.
  • Emotional stresses exist in relationships, bereavements, family etc.
  • Another area may be one that doesn’t appear in much literature which I class as day-to-day Life Shite (excuse me). We all have it. It’s there. It’s made of the little bits and pieces that trip us up or frustrate us during our day. Some days we pass by them seamlessly and other days they can cause us to be fit to be tied.
  • Others such as food intolerance and allergies must also be taken into account.

Any of these stresses can cause tension and unease within the body. Sometimes it’s one particular episode or incident that leads to trouble and sometimes is a combination of a few.

The body usually can take a certain level of strain before breakdown, but if the load becomes too much it can’t continue to function normally and this leads to any number of symptoms from Muscular or Joint dysfunction, Digestive irritation and so on.

The body is quite resilient and will try to solve its own problems but sometime its needs some help to get itself back on track. Over the next few articles I will be looking at some particular complaints and different ways we can help the body to deal with them.

Thank You for reading, I hope you enjoyed it.

Take Care of Yourself. Donncha.

SEE ALSO – Noel Garvan: The toughest physical challenge of my life



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Donncha Phelan is an Osteopath in the Active Body Clinic which is situated across from the Garda Station in Portlaoise. He has been in practice since 2004 and has worked with everyone from very young to the Young at Heart and from elite athletes to those for whom exercise is just occasional.