Our bodies consume immense amounts of energy every moment of every day. The exchange of energy providing nutrients and water inside us is ceaseless and vital to proper physiological functioning. Now it may seem obvious, but blood is the body’s source of both water and nutrients, and the circulatory system, which is responsible for the transport of blood throughout the body, is directly affected by excess tension in the muscles. In order to understand this let’s briefly look at how the circulatory system works.
When we drink water or eat food it is absorbed in the intestines and spread throughout the body via the blood which is ultimately filtered by the kidneys and excreted as urine. The vessels that that carry blood in the body are the arteries and the veins. Arteries are thick walled, muscular, high pressured vessels that carry hydrated and oxygenated blood away from the heart to all the tissues of the body. Veins, on the other hand, are thin walled, non-muscular, low pressured vessels that return blood from the various tissues back to the heart. An interesting fact is that, due to the low pressure of the veins, they require assistance in returning blood to the heart. This is where your muscles come into play.
Exercising Your Second Heart
Ever wonder why they say exercise is so good for your circulation? The obvious reason is that exercise makes your heart pump harder and faster which increases the rate of circulation in the body, but less obvious is that when you contract your muscles they squeeze on your veins which helps push the blood back to your heart. This mechanism works because there are tiny valves in the veins that work against the force of gravity, keeping your blood from falling back down towards your feet between each heartbeat. This process of blood return is so significant that there is actually a muscle in the lower leg that anatomists refer to as the “Second Heart” because of how important its action is for pumping blood out of the lower extremity (the Soleus muscle).
Because the veins are relatively thin walled pressure can fairly easily restrict blood flow through them which in turn builds pressure in the capillary beds where nutrient exchange is occurring effectively slowing down if not completely stopping the process. You can imagine if you were using a hose to water your garden and someone came and stepped on the hose you wouldn’t be able to nourish (water) the plants in your garden. The same is true with the veins in your muscles. The more tension in an area the less blood is able to flow leading to dehydration, starvation, and suffocation of the tissue in that area. This is the leading cause of arthritis in the joints of the body, and in extreme cases muscular and bone necrosis (death) can occur.
It is also important to recognize that when blood flow is restricted the muscle tissue in the body will retain waste products created by exercise, such as lactic acid, which dramatically increases the rate of muscle fatigue as well as the likelihood of a traumatic injury. Systemically the decrease in blood circulation can have a myriad of negative effects ranging from cardiovascular (heart) problems to pulmonary (lung) or oxygen saturation problems.
Stretching Your Second Heart
With this understanding of how tension in the body can affect blood circulation we can now turn our attention towards measures you can take to mitigate the problems/injuries described above. The most efficient and effective way to ensure optimal blood circulation is by stretching your “Second Heart!” The calf muscles, specifically the Gastrocnemius/Soleus, are incredibly strong and are usually very tight due to either overuse (running/walking) or excessive sedentary habits such as sitting and driving.
Traditional flexibility methods such as Yoga or Pilates are helpful in mitigating tension in the legs. Corrective exercise programs such as the Egoscue Method and M11 Fitness are also effective. However, the most potent and effective way to isolate and stretch the muscles of the lower leg is by using eccentric muscle contractions to actively release tension at the level of the muscle fibers. An eccentric contraction is achieved by maintaining a contraction in a target muscle while forcing it to lengthen. When done using adequate force and proper muscle isolation the scar tissue in and around the capillary beds is broken up and blood flow is immediately restored.
However, because of the strength of the ankle joint it is very difficult to perform this type of active stretch without a tool that increases your leverage or body weight. In order to solve this problem we spent the time and resources to develop a device known as the DCT ProFlex. Dynamic Contraction Technique (DCT) is a specialized form of resistance stretching that has its roots in PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation). The DCT ProFlex is designed specifically to provide a user with the leverage needed to eccentrically stretch all of the muscles of the lower leg and foot.
The DCT ProFlex will be in production this November and is currently available via a pre-sale campaign on Indiegogo. To learn more about the ProFlex or to watch the campaign video visit www.dctproflex.com.