What Shamu Can Teach You About Your Pain

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I remember when I was a kid and our family would visit SeaWorld. I was absolutely amazed by Shamu and all the cool tricks he could do.

But I also remember asking my mom…

“What’s wrong with Shamu’s fin?”

The Shamu that I was looking at had a curved floppy like fin that didn’t quite look right and I was curious what was going.


I recently read the book “Move Your DNA” by Katy Bowman that explained this very well!

It turns out that when orcas (aka killer whales) are in captivity there is a much higher chance that their dorsal fin will fall over in a curved fashion (see pic above).

Researchers believe that this is due to a few of the following factors…

  • When orcas are in captivity (a tank) they only swim in counter-clockwise directions. In doing so they aren’t getting an equal distribution of forces being placed on their fin.
  • In a tank they can only swim at shallow depths unlike the ocean where they can swim deeper with a variation of resistance from the current.
  • Orcas in captivity eat food that is much lower in water content than what they would eat in the wild and this possibly affects the quality of the fin’s tissue.

It is possible for wild orcas to have collapsed dorsal fins, but it occurs much less frequently and it’s something that they usually grow out of as they mature.

In other words the collapsed fin is not so much a problem with the fin itself or the genetics of the whale necessarily, but rather the consequence of the whale living in a captive environment.

In a similar way you have been living in a “human tank” your entire life. Your body has adapted to activities and “modern conveniences” that alter its ideal structure, balance and function… very similar to that of the Shamu’s collapsed fin.

Consider your modern day life relative to that of your ancestors who lived in nature…

No longer are you out in the sun, walking barefoot 5-10 miles throughout the day hunting and gathering…


…you’ve likely been stuck in a chair, trapped behind a desk, looking at a computer, driving in a car, laying on the couch and texting away on your phone.

This transition has led us to something we like to call a “flexion-based society”. Flexion (think slouched position with a C-shaped spine) is the position or direction we are putting ourselves in day after day.


Your slouched spine is the like the floppy fin!

Just like the orca’s fin collapsed as a result of living in its unnatural environment….your body will go through adaptation as a result of living and moving in unnatural ways.

From sitting all day (day after day) in poor positions the body starts to adapt to the forces placed on it….your head will protrude forward, shoulders will internally rotate, upper back will round, abdominals will get weak, glutes will fall asleep, hip flexors will get tight, hamstrings will shorten and weaken and you will lose significant mobility in your feet.

It’s your body’s way of responding to the signals it’s being sent from the environment. If you don’t use it you’ll lose it. Your body is incredibly efficient and it’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to!

These adaptive changes set us up for pain!

We then move throughout our daily lives with such activities like walking, lifting the groceries, pushing the couch, pulling the lawn mower and carrying the baby…but our bodies have been molded into compromised positions and so we get HURT!

==>What we’ve been missing as a culture is seeing the link between our environment and our health problems

And because we aren’t AWARE we end up trying to fix these problems by chasing symptoms rather than addressing how we are relating to everything that’s around us.

It’s what we don’t know that we don’t know that really gets us in trouble. It’s a big cultural blind spot when it comes to our health.

With regards to our pain, we like to use fancy gadgets we buy on TV, strong smelling pain creams, over the counter pain relievers and prescription drugs…all to NUMB our pain.

It’s this ignorance of the problem that eventually causes something to bust, or pop or break and THEN we need a costly surgery, which doesn’t always so well. I see this everyday as a Physical Therapist!

What we could do is start asking…

“What are we designed for?”

“How often should I move?”

“In what ways should I move”

“What simple changes can I make in my life to better align myself with nature?”

The simplest answer is we need to MOVE! We need to move more often and we need to move in specific and intentional directions to offset the negative effects of living in this flexion- based society.

==>This is where corrective exercises are helpful!

AND…we need to move in the areas where we are most stagnant…aka THE WORKPLACE!

==>This is the most effective approach we have used with thousands of patients

In doing this we can get out of pain, improve our posture and return to our natural ways of moving.


Free Willy. Free your body.

Dr. Chad


==>This is how you escape from the “human tank” and get out of pain.

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