Antagonizing Antagonists and the Therapists Who….
…love them? Antagonize them? Probably both. Antagonism often brings to mind the times on family car rides when your brother taunted you to the point of tears; staring at you, quietly calling you names, and then there’s the flicking. Dad glances in the rear view mirror just as your frustration reaches its apex, culminating in your moment of reckoning. I am not necessarily referring to this kind of antagonist, but we’ll come back to this later. What I am referring to is the specific way that muscles function.
Muscle Function 101-muscles only pull, they never push.
All muscles must work in pairs. This is because they can contract (shorten) and relax but cannot push or stretch themselves. When your biceps contracts, it flexes and bends the elbow joint. At the same time it also pulls the triceps to make it longer. So the triceps must relax while stretched by the biceps pulling it. When the triceps contracts, it extends (straightens) the elbow joint, and at the same time it pulls the biceps and makes it longer. So these two muscles work together. Neither muscle can stretch itself; it must be stretched by its antagonist (partner).
All of this to address the importance of working opposing muscles groups. When a client complains of pain or dysfunction in a particular area, a therapist should not only address that area, but often more importantly, the antagonists, which as we can see in the story of our family, is often the problem in the first place. We can apply this approach to most areas of the body. If the issue is your low back and SI joint, just spending 30 minutes digging into inflamed areas may simply exacerbate the problem. Keeping in mind the rule that muscles never push, your back is being pulled by something, so addressing your hip flexors is often an important key to finding relief. After a long flight or sitting for extended periods of time your hip flexors become shortened causing your back muscles to compensate trying to correct the problem. Working to open up and elongate the muscles of the anterior hip will bring about balance, reducing pain and the dysfunction that causes it. Surprisingly, you may even find these antagonists extremely tender to the touch, making the bodywork difficult to endure, which is why you should always seek a trusted therapist, clearly communicating your needs.
So, dads, while saying, “He’s trying to antagonize you, just ignore him,” may have worked to diffuse the situation, is an ultimately not a good strategy when it comes to parenting or bodywork; no, don’t ignore them, help make them accountable, balanced and functioning members.