#PTonICE Daily Show – Tuesday, March 5th, 2024 – Physiology/physics

In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, Spine Division division leader Zac Morgan discusses the concept of viewing the human body as a vehicle or mechanical system versus recognizing the underlying physiological systems in place that make the human body adaptable & changeable. Zac encourages listeners to adopt loading a primary intervention as a way to cause physiological change in the body in a manner that could not be done with a vehicle.

Take a listen or check out our full show notes on our blog at www.ptonice.com/blog.

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

ZAC MORGAN
Good morning, PT on Ice Daily Show. I’m Zac Morgan. I’m a lead faculty here at the Institute with Cervical and Lumbar Spine Management, bringing to you all this morning some concepts on physiology versus physics. And I would say physiology greater than physics is the title of this episode. Before we dive into the actual episode, I kind of wanted to talk through some of the definitions of these two sciences. Do you think it’d be helpful to frame our conversation this morning? And before we even do that, I want to start out by saying that really using physics to describe why someone develops symptoms or why someone gets hurt, I think it could be maybe one of the most unhelpful things we’ve ever done as a profession. So let’s start out with definitions, and then I want to unpack that big statement that I just gave you. So from the physics perspective, let’s start there. Physics is a natural science. Its studies matter. It’s foundational constituents. and its motion and behavior through space and time. So that’s the definition of physics. When you think about physiology, it has a different definition. Physiology’s definition, it’s a branch of biology. It deals with the normal functions of living organisms and their parts. It’s the science of how the body and its parts work and function. Physiology covers a multitude of systems within the living organism, how cells, organs, and tissues work together and interact. The point here isn’t that physics are completely irrelevant when it comes to why someone develops symptoms. There is certainly a part of the puzzle. But the unipolar commitment to physics from whether it’s us as therapists actually understanding why someone develops symptoms or when we’re actually describing to someone why they develop symptoms, that unipolar commitment to physics, it’s devastating in the clinic.

AN OVERCOMMITMENT TO PHYSICS
So let’s start with why I think as therapists we tend to overcommit to physics. Physics, while on the particle level, are very challenging to understand, when you think of physics on the big picture level, they’re actually not all that challenging to understand. Humans, we tend to believe the things that we can actually lay our eyes on. When we can see something happen, when we can interact with it, we tend to believe those things as humans, and it makes sense because we can actually see them. And when things happen right there in front of us, it’s just so much easier to believe them. We can observe the physical universe. We can test these things on ourselves. You think about things like gravity. Gravity is a physics concept. It’s really easy to test gravity. You can take basically any object, drop it, and you can observe that object fall towards the center of the earth at a specific time or a specific speed. It doesn’t really matter the object. They all move towards the center of the earth at that same speed. we can observe that, we can interact with it. So it’s really easy to believe in gravity and it’s really rare that you would interact with someone who doesn’t believe in gravity. From a physics perspective that’s easy to observe. Now let’s extrapolate that more towards what we see clinically. I think a lot of times people will use these examples of things like vehicles. That’s a very common example for the body. People will compare the body to a vehicle or tires to joints. And you think about like tires, that’s a physical object and every mile that you drive on your tires, that tread wears out a little bit more over time. You can watch that happen. You look at the tread on your tires and you can see that it’s wearing out with each mile that you drive. Really the only way to avoid your tires wearing out is to not drive as much. So we know that that stuff happens because we can watch it happen, and so we tend to believe in that. So it’s so tempting clinically when you look at something like an imaging study that one of our clients comes to us with, and you can look at whether it’s an x-ray, CT, MRI, ultrasound, you name it, really any type of imaging, and we can observe those tissue shapes on that image. And when we look at those shapes, we can attribute pathology to the shape of those tissues. It’s really easy for us to observe that and say, hey, I bet if that gnarly looking intervertebral frame and that gnarly looking joint were to move through space, it would be painful because it looks really, you know, disrupted. It’s not smooth. There’s a lot of pressure or a lot of compression in that area. We can observe these things on imaging and then kind of extrapolate that out to the symptom presentation in front of us. And this is what’s so devastating in the clinic. While it is a piece of the pie in a lot of our clinical cases, it’s certainly not the whole pie. It’s only one small slice.

PHYSIOLOGY IS THE TICKET
When you think about what the rest of that pie is, it’s physiology. What environment that those tissues are living in. That’s really where the ticket is. I think because it is so easy to wrap our heads around this concept of physics, it’s so easy for us to observe it. We have tools that make it easy to observe. It’s easy to make a lot of attribution of symptoms to those concepts. And so this is really challenging to our patients. Like you think about what that does to a patient’s psychology, like it’s devastating. for those people. People don’t understand much about their bodies and so when we give them these descriptions they often catastrophize the symptoms or they catastrophize the physics. They worry that it’s going to be like what they’ve seen in their tires where every mile they run their knee ends up with a little bit more osteoarthritis but yet we know that recreational runners have less prevalence of knee osteoarthritis than sedentary folks. So it’s clearly not the same as our tires. That’s not a physical object, it’s a physiological object. It’s much, much different. So again, physiology deals more with the ecosystem that these tissues live in and that’s where we want to put our attention moving forward as a profession if we really want to have a chance at helping people conceptualize their body and and helping people feel stronger within their body and helping people understand the benefits of exercise.

OUR BODY IS AN ECOSYSTEM
So let’s talk a little bit about that. When you think of those examples like a tire or a vehicle, the big thing that those things lack that our body has are things like a vascular system. Like your vehicle doesn’t have a vascular system. It’s simply just built by engineers. And like I said, each mile that you drive is one less mile that you can drive in that vehicle. Sure, you can maintain the vehicle. You can rotate your tires, and that will make them last longer. You can change your oil, and that will make your engine last longer. But at the end of the day, shy of not doing anything in that vehicle, it’s going to break down over time. Our body is completely different. It has a vascular system. It has intra and extracellular fluid that are full of nutrients that are built to help your body adapt to the stimulus in front of it. It has an immune system that creates specific responses to stimuli that create a more robust underlying system. That can’t be said for a vehicle. So when we compare our body to a vehicle, our clients often don’t have that understanding that our body is actually full of a lot of adaptations that we’ve developed over a long period of time that are inherently built within us that help us continue to move forward. They help us build a more robust vehicle. That would be awesome if when you bought a car and you used it and you maintained it well, if it actually It actually lasted longer for every mile that you drove. That would be great. We would all want that car. But over time, cars break down. Over time, if our body has the right ecosystem underlying it, it builds more resilience. You think about like our MMOA crew, so Modern Management of the Older Adult, and you see some of these stories that they share where older adults start to put on so much capacity, so much strength, so much cardiovascular endurance over time. It doesn’t make sense. If our vehicle was an actual vehicle made of physical objects that we could interact with, it should break down over time, but we know the physiology drives function. And so when we put it in the right ecosystem, and when we allow it to adapt over time, we get way more out of it. I mean, think about it. Your tire, it doesn’t get nutrients from the fenders. The rims don’t provide it nutrients. The air within those tires don’t allow it to build more tread over time. Again, I would love it if that was the case, because we wouldn’t have to replace these things, But our bodies, they do have those things. The vascular system is built for that. The immune system is built for that. Our bodies are so much different than vehicles and when our clients leave our interactions and they have in their head that they’re going to break down over time, they end up opting out of activity and that’s exactly what we want to avoid. Like you think about if someone feels the that every mile that they run is one less mile that they can run on their knees, or every deadlift that they do is one less time they could pick their grandkid up, think about what that does to them psychologically. It makes them avoid those activities, and so they wind up missing out on all these physiological adaptations that would extend their quality of life and lifespan. That’s a huge mistake as a profession, and we need to move dramatically away from that over time. It’s easy to observe problems in people’s bodies. We can make attributions of the way someone moves with pain. You can look at those imaging studies and say, well, if that nerve root’s that compressed, then this person’s probably gonna be in a tough spot. But team, it’s not like that in the body. The body is so well built to adapt over time. I’ll never forget the first time I heard Jeff Moore say, back pain is not a tissue shape issue, it’s a tissue health issue. And it just hit so hard in my head when I heard him say that for the first time, because it is that. I mean, you can look at the Brzezinski study, you can look at the Nakashima study, that’s lumbar and neck kind of respectively, and you can see that people with no symptoms whatsoever have all sorts of physical deformities in their spines and yet they have no symptoms whatsoever. Over time, we’re seeing the same concept throughout the rest of the body. Like I said, the extremity crew does a great job of pointing out the inadequacies often of imaging studies throughout the rest of the body. And team, seeing that over time, it is becoming more and more clear that these physics examples, while they’re easy to understand both for us as clinicians, but also for our clients that we’re teaching these concepts to, while they’re easy to understand, they’re such a small piece of the pie, but they have catastrophic responses within people’s psychology. People tend to catastrophize those things. So we have to focus on physiology.

LOADING CHANGES THE UNDERLYING PHYSIOLOGY
And team, I think our treatments, what we choose to do with clients reflect this. When you think about, if you haven’t taken the extremity course, you have to because they do such a wonderful job of framing things like tendinopathy. From a physics perspective, sure, you could look at a painful tendon, you could look at a histological study, you could look at an ultrasound sometimes, and you can see that those collagen fibers are disrupted from a physics perspective. But going in and physically stimulating those things isn’t what creates adaptation. It’s not cross friction massage, it’s not those things, it’s load. And why does load work? You take a relatively poor vascular supply, but still a vascular supply, and you force angiogenesis to that region, you get that tendon to adapt over time. You change that underlying physics. Vehicles don’t do that. So we have to get our heads wrapped around how these things are different so that we can start to push our patients forward and help them work through a little bit of discomfort, which is a big part of tendinopathy management. People need to know that they’re going to be okay and that their body is built for these stimuli and it responds in a way that is tremendously different from a lot of the other things that we can observe in the universe. It’s so cool that our body is built for that. You think about spine management. We talk a lot about this on the weekend. Often a nerve root is in a really unhelpful environment. There’s a lot of concentrated inflammation in the region and the person’s reporting a lot of distal symptoms when that’s going on. We do things like repeated motions or spinal manipulation or some sort of treatment to intervene on that region and we draw a lot of fluid in there and drop that concentration. Team, that is so amazing that our body can do that and that the person can leave feeling centralized and feeling so much better. But we didn’t push the jelly back in the donut. It wasn’t a physics issue. It was a chemical soup bathing that region. And when we draw fluid into that region, it feels better. The person feels dramatically better.

ENGINEERING VS. BIOLOGY
Team, We have to change our perspective. We can’t keep comparing our body to a vehicle. Vehicles are built by engineers, and they’re really well built, and they’re built out of physical materials that we can all observe in the universe put together, and they all have specific wear rates. There are things you can do that might slow that wear rate down, but at the end of the day, they do wear out over time. Our bodies are biological. They’re physiological vehicles, and within those, they are well built. They’ve been built over thousands of years. to heal, to move forward. They’ve been built for the one specific purpose of survival. It’s what makes us so different from everything else in the universe and it’s why a huge part of what we do is address this underlying physiology. It’s about the ecosystem that the tissues live in. We have to move forward as a profession and this is why things like fitness forward care make so much sense. Because it goes so much far beyond that local tissue, like you think of the environment and you think of when you do address this fitness forward method of care, now you’re improving metabolic systems, cardiorespiratory systems, you’re improving all systems team. And at the end of the day, that is a huge deal for us.

SUMMARY
I just want to point you all in the closing moments here towards a couple of upcoming lumbar and cervical spine courses if you are looking for them. A few here in March for cervical, we’ve got Kuna, Idaho. That one’s filling up pretty quick. And then same deal for so that one’s March 9th and 10th over and that’s close to Boise, Idaho. March 23rd and 24th Longmont Colorado also filling up so if those are on your list make sure you jump in those pretty soon. Casper Wyoming has a few seats left as well. If you’re looking for lumbar spine management Brookfield Wisconsin that’s right outside of Milwaukee at Onward Milwaukee. to see you on the road. We love having these conversations in a lot more depth on the road, a lot built into those spine courses, but have a good rest of your Tuesday. We’d love to interact with you all here on this thread if you have any questions or thoughts to add to today’s podcast. Thanks.

OUTRO
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