The term “Wellness” has become more and more prevalent in the past 20 years. Many fitness centers, massage clinics, chiropractic clinics, and doctor’s offices have been renamed Wellness Centers. We have corporate wellness, environmental wellness, and the National Wellness Institute. It has become so popular that in some cases “Wellness” has become a marketing catch phrase to capture the attention of the consumer. For example the terms “Sports Medicine” and “Ergonomic”, although they are legitimate, have been used as marketing catch phrases with great success. Consumers see these and immediately feel as if they are getting higher quality. Over the past 25 years of practicing in the medical field I have come across hundreds of patients that decided on a their health care practitioner because the sign above the door said Sports Medicine. Medicine is Medicine whether you injure your knee on the football field or in the garage; medical intervention is almost always the same. There is specific sports nutrition and specific sports rehabilitation but I have yet to understand what Sports Medicine is. The term “Ergonomic” gives the consumer the idea that the device they are buying has been constructed to fit their body and decrease the physical stresses associated with a specific task, position, or movement. This term helps to sell items from keyboards to furniture, giving the buyer confidence that their purchase is justified due to the quality “ergonomic” design. I have provided ergonomic consulting to fortune 500 companies and I have come across many popular items that claim to be “ergonomic” that, in fact, do not facilitate ergonomic postures and positions. The reality is, when it comes to using terms such as “Wellness”, “Ergonomic”, and “Sports Medicine”, there is no governing body that regulates their use or validates their legitimacy. So with that said, what does Wellness mean? What are Wellness Centers? And what is the path to Wellness?
For most people Wellness has the connotation of preventative care, for others it means a more holistic approach. Overall there does not appear to be a universally accepted definition of Wellness. Generally it is defined as a “state of well being” and “a state of acceptance or satisfaction with our present condition.’
The truth is wellness is a tough word to define. I compare it to a term in medicine called homeostasis. Homeostasis is defined as the ability or tendency of an organism or cell to maintain internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological processes. When the body is in a state of homeostasis the body is in balance and functioning optimally. Wellness should be thought of as the process of moving toward and maintaining homeostasis or balance.
Although wellness can be facilitated through the actions and recommendations of a health care provider, ultimately wellness can only be achieved through our own actions. Wellness or achieving balance consists of controlling three factors of health; physical health, nutritional health, and emotional health. Maintaining or achieving balance in these three aspects of health should be the goal of a wellness center and will help lead you down the path to Wellness.
Achieving Physical Balance is taking action to achieve optimal muscle balance so that our posture and movements are efficient placing minimal stress on our joints, ligaments, and tendons. Although exercise is essential to maintaining optimal strength and muscle balance, in many cases neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain and other painful joints have underlying muscle imbalances that exercise alone may not resolve. Research demonstrates that the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which is the part of the nervous system that maintains homeostasis at an unconscious level, can hold onto underlying muscle imbalances due to habitual poor posture, repetitive movement patterns, and even old injuries. This is due to the fact that the ANS also controls our protective mechanisms following injury and during times of stress. A moderate injury or chronic stress can “reset” the ANS, maintaining protective muscle patterns sometimes for years after the incident or injury which initially triggered this response. These protective muscle patterns are of benefit to protect an injured region of the body but if they remain after the injury has healed they can create imbalances leading to pain and dysfunction. Finding a provider that has specific therapy techniques that trigger the ANS to in essence “reboot”, and release the underlying muscle imbalances is one of the most effective ways to restore muscle balance. (At theBioIntegrativeWellnessCenter we specialize in evidence based manual therapy techniques designed and proven to release the underlying muscle imbalances which cause chronic back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, TMJ joint pain and many other common aches and pains.)
Achieving Nutritional Balance is taking action to give the body the essential nutrients it needs to maintain healthy optimal functioning tissue. Whether it is muscle tissue, liver tissue or nerve tissue without the essential nutrients these tissues will not be in balance and will not function at their optimum level. Proper nutrition not only consists of understanding how to balance your diet with essential nutrients, but also understanding which foods to avoid. Seeking out someone who specializes in nutrition will give you all the resources you need to maintain nutritional balance, the rest is up to you. The shelves at Barnes and Noble and the internet can also be great resources for nutritional guidance. (At theBioIntegrativeWellnessCenter we have a certified nutritionist through theInstitute ofIntegrative Nutrition)
Achieving Emotional or Spiritual Balance is the action of changing our emotions and thoughts to achieve a balanced emotional state. There are many ways to achieve emotional or spiritual balance. Meditation, listening to calm music, praying, and something as simple as slow deep breathing can help to achieve emotional balance. There are thousands of chemicals produced in our bodies which are dependent on our emotions. These chemicals are directly connected to specific physiological processes of the body. When we are emotionally balanced our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is in homeostasis and the body actually secretes different chemicals than when feeling stressed, fatigued, or irritated. Two of these chemicals are cortisol and DHEA. Cortisol is essential for specific bodily functions but too much stress releases excess cortisol which is detrimental to our bodies. When emotionally balanced our body releases the hormone DHEA, which facilitates homeostasis or wellness. Achieving emotional balance is the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to achieving wellness. Finding a technique that works for you and practicing it often will pay off exponentially. (At theBiointegrativeWellnessCenter we give our patients resources and techniques to help achieve emotional balance. We are also certified practitioners for HeartMath™ an evidence based biofeedback technique to help achieve emotional balance.)
Ultimately you can decide for yourself what the Wellness means to you. Remember you will not achieve wellness simply by seeking out a wellness center. Wellness is a choice. A choice to become actively involved in the processes of achieving and maintaining physical balance, nutritional balance, and emotional balance.
Brian McKeever, MPT, ATC, CEAS
Brian is a Physical Therapist, Certified Athletic Trainer, and a Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist. He is co-owner of Lumina Wellness, he has given corporate wellness lectures to fortune 500 companies, he also currently travels the country teaching ergonomics and his integrative treatment approaches.