Glasses and pain.

Posted by & filed under Exercise and Training, Health and Fitness.

The blog eyes and speed delved into how vital good vision is to getting faster and stronger and bendier.  If we can’t see well we do need to get glasses prescribed for us: my dream is that one day, Moorfields, the leading eye hospital in the UK, will pay attention to the burgeoning field of neurology and start to teach at least basic neurology with particular reference to the prime sense: vision.  And then opticians will realise that what they think is an excellent idea is actually setting up their clients for pain and injury.

The problems are twofold: the frames and the vari or multi focal lenses.

Between 30% and 50% of the cortex deals with vision; the sense of touch is dealt with by about 6% of the cortex.  The sense of touch is huge!  Light touch, hard poke, itchy, temperature, stuff on the skin, pull, degree of pull, depth of pull – everything that touches our skin in any way has its own set of sensation receptors and added to this is the movement receptors in joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments.  As I said, touch is huge and it is dealt with by about 6% of the cortex.

Hopefully this puts vision into a class of its own when it comes to brain processing.

The brain needs excellent all round vision from both eyes for input signals to give the green light for maximum speed and/or strength.  The problem with glasses is that they can reduce the field of both central and peripheral vision, and the smaller and trendier the frames, the worse that is.

If we come under great stress – that tiger suddenly springs up in front of us, meaning we are in mortal danger – the brain reduces the field of peripheral vision in order to focus fully on the danger ahead – and everything is put on red alert; physically the muscles of alarm are activated.

Don’t forget the brain is a lump of gray matter inside a bony box: the way it finds out about the world is through its senses.  If peripheral vision is reduced, it means, to that lump of gray matter, that we are in danger, and the smaller the visual field, the greater the danger.

When I first met Z-Health, we did the standard peripheral field test: put both arms out straight ahead and wiggle your fingers; now, keeping those fingers wiggling away and staring straight ahead, widen your arms until you can only just make out both sets of fingers.  Ideally both arms are slightly behind you before they disappear from view, so wider than 180°.  My field of vision was about 120°!  Many years before that, I was knocked off my bike and fractured my neck and one of the bones in my face; leaving me in a right old mess, and as a result all the muscles of alarm were locked on.  My brain was living under the assumption of a permanent tiger right in front of me.  And yes, I suffered insomnia and poor digestion with concomittant bloating.  I do not wear glasses, but I was very active indeed: I was also in constant shoulder pain and my right knee hurt despite weekly high quality massage.

Recently one of my clients banged his head hard which tightened up the occiptal muscles on one side of his neck.  Previous to this, he had excellent peripheral vision.  Guess what?  The field had reduced to about 120°! Incidentally, he’s back to his normal 190° now.

Look at what the peripheral field of vision is outside the frames.

What has this to do with glasses?  If you look at the picture to the right, you can see an example of typical frames and if you think about the peripheral field of vision she has, you can see it’s not very wide or high.  Also the arms of the glasses are just below eye level, giving her a blank line either side of her vision.  OK, she can see stuff outside the frames, but this stuff will not have the same clarity as she is getting from the visual field within the glasses – or she wouldn’t be wearing glasses.  And the stronger the prescription, the worse it is.

Small peripheral field is interpreted by our lump of gray matter as high stress situation.  When we come to move about, the brakes are on and if we ignore the brakes, we injure ourselves.

Things get worse when it comes to varifocals or trifocals.  Assuming the glasses to the right are simple distance glasses, she will have a good visual field in the lower half.  But if they are varifocals, the lower part of the glasses is for reading, meaning when you are out walking, the ground is out of focus.  If we walk or run about with a mist below our knees, so the ground is unclear, we’re going to slow down and trip over stuff.

Even worse for the brain are trifocals, prescribed when the lens has lost elasticity, so parts of the glasses help distance vision  and the other two parts middle and close vision.  What on earth is the brain meant to make of that as we move about the world?  Clearly the best thing to do is stay home and just read or work on the computer.

Apart from brain confusion and feelings of danger, of course the other thing we have to do when we wear glasses with graded lenses is move our head up to read or take the book down – and we also have to move our head more when we wear small framed glasses.

And this means we are not moving our eye muscles properly.  The eye muscles’ movement begins in the brainstem; principally the midbrain or mesencephalon, but also the pons.  The phrase use it or lose it applies completely to neurology.  Use those eye muscles, stimulate your brainstem or it starts to not work so well.  The feeding pattern of the brain is from bottom to top and from back to front which means from old brain (brainstem, cerebellum and the amygdala, the fear centre) to new brain and from the occipital lobe (vision) through to the frontal lobe (decisions).  Use it or lose it.  Feed something well and it flourishes, starve it and it dies.

This really is scary stuff.  And, being completely honest, the hardest clients to make a good change to wear small framed glasses.  People can come in in a right mess, but if they wear no glasses or big framed glasses, Z-Health is simply astonishing.

A good set of frames – big visual field and the arms are set high, possibly out of the field of vision. The frames are sitting snugly.

The bottom line is: if you need to wear glasses, see if you can wear contact lenses instead or consider getting your eyes lasered by the best eye surgeon money can buy; this is not a bargain hunting subject.  If neither are an option, then get as big frames as your face will take; if you also need reading glasses, then buy a set of reading glasses and get used to changing glasses according to what you are doing.  Are we all really so lazy that changing frames is too onerous?  Buy more than one set of reading glasses so they are always to hand.  When it comes to vision, saving money, time and effort come at a very heavy price indeed.

It is also worth doing eye circles regularly, especially if you have small framed glasses:  take your glasses off, get a pen and, keeping your head still, slowly describe a big circle in front of you with the pen, following the pen with your eyeballs.  Wise to do this seated at first!

As a small coda, head position has a massive influence on vision; tightness in the occipital muscles just beneath the occipital lobe really mess with vision.  I leave you with that thought.

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