Monday, September 26, 2011

Why are we afraid of health education?

If you knew what your iliopsoas was and what it does, you would cut your risk of lower back pain by 90%.  This is not a hypothetical suggestion; this is a fact.  I'll tell you what it is right now: it's your primary hip flexor.  It attaches to both your femur and your lumbar spine.  As it winds from the front of your leg to the back of your spine, it travels through your pelvis.  I bet you see the importance right now. Almost always, that pain you feel in your lower back is your poor, tightened, shortened iliopsoas pulling and sometimes spasming on you.  Solution: stretch the front of your leg.  Go into a lunge, bend your knee and grab your ankle behind you, whatever.  If you understand the muscle, this makes sense.  If you don't, your first impulse will be to stretch forward, thinking you're stretching your back.  However, that's only going to make it worse.

As a yoga and Pilates instructor, I'm frequently horrified by how little people know about their bodies, but I shouldn't be.  If I hadn't pursued a certain course of training, I wouldn't know these things either.  They weren't taught in schools, my parents never talked to me about the muscles of my body and for all of our civilization's emphasis on how our body looks, we are woefully neglectful about how our body functions.  That, as I have seen, is the real reason why yoga and Pilates exploded in popularity: even if the instructor doesn't quite understand function, if the exercises are taught with proper form you'll still get into the muscles other forms of fitness neglect.  I'm not the only instructor that has seen revelation on a participant's face as they move their body through their proper range of motion for possibly the first time.

But my knowledge is limited.  At the end of the day, all I did with a client or class is work with their muscles and their heart, lungs and, occasionally, brains.  Those are big deals but they aren't everything.  To be sure, many hold that certain movements and postures will get into your kidneys, liver and reproductive organs, but I never taught a class with those in mind.  It wasn't my area of expertise.

I wonder now if I should have done it anyway, especially with my childrens classes.  It's not like they were going to get any of that anywhere else.

I read this morning that about the amount of unsafe sex young people are having.  Not surprising considering the amount of sex education they're not getting, but still terrible in the 21st century.  (Or do I just need to adjust my ideas of what the 21st century should look like?)  I know that some people believe that sex education will somehow give children a license to have sex, but it has been my experience that knowledge only helps you make better decisions; it doesn't make those decisions for you. 

I'm doubly angry because sex education is a part of health education, and the kids aren't getting it.  Forget about your reproductive systems; a lot of people grow up without knowing where their lungs and stomach are- I am not making this up.  They don't know what their kidneys and spleens do, and most would be surprised by how important their liver is. 

It's true- you can stop someone from using some of their reproductive system to the fullest.  However, there is nothing you can do to stop someone from using the majority of their other organs.  So why make it so difficult for people to learn what exactly those organs are doing?

As far as I'm concerned, health education is Public Health 101.  We're going to be fighting preventable diseases and infections for a while if we don't teach people what their bodies do.  Chronic back pain is just the tip of the iceberg- would that everything else were as easy to remedy.

Deb in the City

PS Here is my piece for the JP Patch about why I'm supporting Felix Arroyo for City Council, inspired in no small part by his advocacy for Boston's youth.

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