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Simple Machines

It’s funny, I learned all about simple machines in 9th grade physics class. There are six machines: the lever, pulley, inclined plane, screw, wedge, and wheel and axle. When they are combined together they become known as compound machines. I never thought that I would be using these machines when it came to personal training or helping those with chronic pain. I was wrong. The joints of the body are classified as levers. The muscles and tendons wrap around joints and acts as pulleys to provide mechanical advantage when lifting our body or other heavy objects. We even use incline planes to stretch calf muscles. For the past ten years I have been using small foam wedges under the feet of clients to improve their bodies ability to move with more efficiency and connectivity. This is performed in the training and rehab environments. Such a simple device and yet so powerful. 

There are three primary purposes when it comes to these foam wedges. The first is simply to fill in space under the foot that should not be present. The foot is similar to a tripod. We have three primary points of contact at the base of the foot: the ball of the foot by the big toe (first metatarsal head), the ball of the foot by the little toe (the fifth metatarsal head), and the center of the heel (calcaneus). Provided we maintain proper contact at these three points then that will help create a stable platform and encourage an ideal chain reaction up through the entire body.

The second purpose is to encourage bone and joint motion. The wedge is an inclined plane or ramp. When the wedge is placed under an area of the foot, it can stimulate motion down the ramp; in essence speeding up movement in a certain direction. If the wedge were to be spun around in the opposite direction it would encourage that area to slow down. Therefore the wedge can alter the rate of speed and direction of joint motion which is sometimes needed to disrupt patterns of compensation.

The third purpose is to provide the brain and central nervous system with proprioceptive feedback. Proprioception is the body’s ability to know where it is in space and where it is going. Often times injuries, surgeries, shifts in posture and a host of other events can affect our bodies proprioceptive feedback to the brain. When this occurs the brain must begin to change how we move and support ourselves. This can also lead to compromised ways of moving which may lead to chronic pain issues.

There are other purposes of using the wedges. Yet, that is not something to explain at this time. It gets a bit more complicated and involves the relationships different areas of the body have with one another. I will just state that placing a wedge under the someone’s foot has proven to unlock a stiff neck, a frozen shoulder, remove back pain, and a host of other experiences. Suffice to say, simple machines are powerful tools and are items to have in your toolbox.