Yesterday was the first day of the Z-Health R-Phase certification here in Denver and I found it very informative and enjoyable. We learned a tremendous amount about the nervous system and why doing joint mobility drills can relieve pain. (I started the day with some low back pain. We progressed through only a few drills: foot/ankle drills and knee drills. Soon after there was no back pain and I still am pain free this morning as I type this.) It sounds strange I know, but the ways of the body and nervous system are often less than obviously logical.
The class of about 20 students is the most diverse class I’ve seen at any sort of exercise course. In addition to personal trainers there’s a physical therapist and a PT school student in attendance, a yoga instructor, a school teacher, and a nurse. One man is a client of a Z-Health trainer who’s simply been impressed enough by the results that he wants to learn more. One woman has seen her elderly mother go through hip and knee surgeries with poor results. She said she didn’t want to get old in the same fashion.
I don’t want this to sound like some sort of a weird cult thing or blind devotion to some oddball system. Z-Health creator Eric Cobb has drawn on a wide variety of sources in developing the system. Much of what informs Z-Health is neurological research and an understanding of what pain is, how the brain views pain and they myriad ways we can address pain. Cobb urges students and Z-Health trainers to read a lot and learn as much as possible about these issues.
One criticism of Z-Health is that it’s hard to explain. People ask “What is Z-Health?” and those of us who’ve been exposed to it often can’t give as succinct an answer as we wish we could. I think the Z-Health web site should give a better explanation of what Z-Health is and how it works. The course I’m taking is called R-Phase. “R” stands for restore, rehab, and re-educate. There are other phases but R-Phase forms the basis for the other phases. I’ll do my best to give an explanation.
The driving concept is that the nervous system is the key driver of of every facet of the body. Absent an acute injury like a broken bone, cut or dislocation our pain is a movement problem. For example “My knee hurts when I climb stairs,” or “My shoulder hurts when I reach overhead.” Those are movement problems. The nervous system drives movement, not the muscles, not the bones, not connective tissue but the nervous system. Thus is if we want to eliminate pain then we must address the nervous system in order to improve movement. (Interestingly, if any movement pattern is compromised–ankle movement for example–then it may create pain and/or weakness in other regions such as the neck or a shoulder. It’s sort of similar to the way a storm in Seattle may impair air traffic in Miami.) The way we do this is by moving each joint one at a time through its full, pain-free range of motion. We do this very precisely under strict control. In this way we improve the brain’s map of the body (the homunculus). We increase the nervous system’s recognition of these joints and limbs thus we improve movement and control of the body.
That’s the brief, non-technical explanation! I wish I could put it more briefly. Medical and body work professionals may still prefer a more thorough explanation. Z-Health looks somewhat like tai chi. In fact Z-Health draws on martial arts, tai chi and dance for various mobility drills.
For anyone wanting more information I suggest you call the Z-Health offices. The people who work there are very much willing to discuss Z-Health and answer any questions. They’re a very helpful and well informed staff.