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Postural and Emotional Influences on Musculoskeletal Dysfunction

Did you know that emotional changes are mirrored by muscular changes? The use of a body as a metaphor for emotional feelings is well documented. Emotions of fear, anger, excitement, anxiety or depression are known to produce altered muscular postures and patterns. What happens to our musculature when we are stressed or afraid? It twitches and shakes! There is a close relationship between habitual tension patterns and posture, and psychological attitudes and conflicts. 

Muscle 'armouring' is a concept that states that the emotional disorders of a person are reflected in their body structures. For example, those with repressed feelings commonly have hard, rigid and permanently contracted muscles in certain areas of their body. Such rigid musculature is likened to the amour of a medieval knight, hence the term 'armouring'. While the steel armour of the knight had the purpose to protect him against physical aggression, the muscle armour serves to protect us against emotional aggression. Not yet convinced that muscles may have their origins in how we feel? Think about this - have you ever observed yourself become tense when you are apprehensive? What about when you are a tease-ever felt your muscles in a relaxed 'blissed out' state? When we sense pain and experience fear of 'attack', our muscles automatically tense to protect or 'armour' us. Often we do this when we hold our breath too.

What we have described are normal and automatic body reflexes designed to diminish the expected feeling of pain. At times we use the same mechanism if we want to diminish feelings for other reasons. Think of an infant who does not want to be separated from its mother - they tense up and hold their breath, their muscles may shake and they may turn blue from lack of oxygen. 

If we are exposed to repeated fear responses (often stemming from the mind), the muscles that tense may gradually become permanently contracted! Our muscle armouring becomes stronger and stronger with advancing age because we tend to repeat our set behaviour patterns over and over again. This then forms our distinctive facial features, our body structures and our increasing rigidity. There are, of course, other factors that contribute to shaping our body and making it more inflexible, such as heredity, nutrition and occupational muscle use, but we can learn a great deal about a person by looking at their face, appearance, and gait. 

Source: Remedial Essentials, Remedial Massage Therapist workbook.