Earlier in my career as a PT, I worked in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) with little bitty preemies. Working with these babies gave great insight into how all of our bodies function holistically.
When babies are born too early, their little bodies do not have enough motor control and they can be a little floppy and limp. Their nervous system is completely overwhelmed by the amount of external stimuli and their own inability to respond to it well. When you see these little ones, they are exhausted, can’t make eye contact and struggle to breathe, suck and simply live.
The very first thing we do to help these little guys is swaddle them. We pull their little bodies together and give them some stability so they are not flopping all over the place. We give them some pressure so they can feel themselves and some security so they feel safe, instead of out of control. After we do this, we work on the sucking reflex by holding the pacifier in their mouth and stimulating the suck. The ability to suck is one of the first reflexes to form as it is essential for survival. When babies suck it begins to organize their nervous system so they can focus on the few things they need to do at this point – eat and breathe. It is at this stage, snug and swaddled, that they will sigh and make eye contact. Their vitals, breathing, and temperature stabilizes and they are no longer fighting to survive. This allows them to develop the things that didn’t finish developing in the womb.
Just like these babies, we as adults still require stability to organize our nervous system and respond to the stimuli around us. There is a system of order and control within our body. Our nervous system is constantly evaluating and responding to our environment, our feelings, our sensations, our movements, our emotions, and our body chemistry. Essentially, it responds to everything from a molecular level to a global, ‘outside our body,’ environmental level. I know we cannot separate the physical from the emotional/spiritual but let’s try for the sake of understanding this concept. Looking only from a physical perspective, if our body is in a constant state of instability (weak muscles, deflated, inactive core) then our nervous system is focused only on that input.
Stability and mobility are married and our bodies require a balance between them. Stability is first required to allow even the slightest amount of mobility. When the body has a solid foundation of stability, then mobility can happen without injury or pain. As you challenge the mobility (with walking, carrying kids, climbing stairs and fitness routines), you will also further challenge the stability system. For example, walking requires more stability than sitting and lifting a 25lb toddler requires more stability than an 8lb infant.
If your body has been functioning within instability for an ongoing amount of time, it taxes you greatly. Without the needed security and stability, your body spends a lot of energy just trying to hold you together. Because of this, you have much less energy to think, handle stress, communicate, listen, learn and to simply be aware of yourself. Similar to those preemies, our nervous system becomes overstimulated by external stimuli making all other movement and activity difficult. As adults, we make ourselves function; but we aren’t exactly thriving.
When the body spends all it’s energy surviving, there is little left to thrive.
When we work with clients at The Tummy Team, we assess a myriad of different issues, including determining the level of stability the internal core muscles are providing the body. In the initial evaluation, we always use our hands to wrap around the corset and draw the muscles together snugly to give the client the sensation of what their transverse is supposed to be doing if functioning as intended. When we do this, the client visibly responds. Their eyes light up, they sigh, they verbally respond with a “wow” and we can see something click within them. It is very similar to the way babies in NICU respond to being swaddled. They can tell this is what has been missing. They can see how their body craves that support, security, and stability.
Obviously, we cannot walk around with our hands around our clients facilitating what they are missing, but we can help them rebuild that muscle and reclaim that stability. Our program starts with retraining and rehabilitating their internal core muscle (known as the transverse abdominis). While they are doing that, we provide them with a temporary transverse muscle – an abdominal splint. When our clients can feel that muscle for the first time in a long time, things start to change.
Imagine your body feeling completely out of control and unstable. For reference, mamas you can recall those first few hours and days immediately after delivery. Your “guts” feel like jello and it is very difficult to even get out of bed, walk or sit up, much less begin caring 24/7 for a newborn infant. It is very common to feel overwhelmed, emotional and a bit out of control and exhausted. Imagine now how it might feel to be swaddled at that moment, to be snugly pulled together and supported with stability and security. It calms the nervous system so you can make sense of the world.
We see the immediate effects of this all the time. If we have a mom that comes to our office emotionally and physically unstable, we splint them quickly. Within ten minutes there is an obvious change in their demeanor. Hostility is gone, lack of concentration is improved and communication becomes calmer. It is as if we can see their nervous system beginning to organize and the overstimulation dissipate right before our eyes. This is one of many benefits abdominal splinting brings. However, the splint is only temporary. Just as babies require swaddling only long enough to organize their nervous system, your body will gradually develop that stability. During our program, we are consistently and systematically retraining the internal stability system to hold you together so the splint becomes less and less necessary, and your internal stability becomes stronger.
Core rehabilitation is more than just physically pulling two sides of the muscle together to heal a diastasis. It is more than getting into those skinny jeans. It is more than feeling better. It is living better. It is providing the tools your body needs to thrive, grow and develop. It is about reclaiming your true self. It is about being the woman, man, wife, husband, mother or father you long to become.
Do you feel weak and disconnected? Do you feel unstable and overwhelmed? Do you feel numb and like you are just going through the motions? Maybe your body is asking to be swaddled and stabilized so you can make sense of the world around you.
The Tummy Team wants to help you thrive. We want to give you the tools to be stronger for the life you were meant to live.