It’s Not Muscular!

Feeling like they are clamped in the jaws of a PIT BULL terrier, your muscles SCREAM! In gripping pain, they dictate every action. The jaws of pain won’t let go! Taking your breath with every attempt to move, the muscles seem to threaten to tear from the bones. But, wait a minute, maybe your muscles are getting a bad rap!

WHY DO YOU HURT? Perhaps the pain started after heroic efforts to clear your lawn from a sea of leaves? Maybe it was the EXTRA hours bowing as if in prayer before the computer screen? Could it be from the fender bender? Did STRESS cause it? Or, was it the fall, sneeze, laugh, cough, hug, golf, tennis, lack of exercise, too much exercise, cold, flu, walk, run, dance, crawl, flat tire, extra tire, last night’s quagmire… or do you just hurt for no apparent reason? Whatever the cause, WHY DO THE MUSCLES GET BLAMED?

Just because there are over 650 of them does not mean the muscles are the underlying cause of pain… especially, of the back and neck. Muscles are not always the true cause of what is called a pulled muscle. WHAT? Please relax your glutes and read on! This article is committed to giving muscles the love and respect that they deserve and finally letting them off of the meat hook. Remember, muscles are responsible for birthing a child, chewing a triple chocolate layer cake, and creating a smile!

Muscles make up 40-50% of a man's body and 30-40% of a woman's body. In addition to making things move, muscles hold things in place. If you disagree, bite your tongue (point taken). Of great importance, muscles help connect the bones of the spine.  They are a vital part of the casing designed to protect our control system, the brain stem and spinal cord.

Why are so many people told their back or neck pain is muscular? It can be particularly perplexing when one has been flexing the sore area for weeks, months or even years. Excluding significant tears or rare diseases, most muscular problems heal relatively quickly… in days, or a few weeks. If yours continues, the REAL problem is often that the muscles are being asked to work harder and longer than their design allows.

Looking at the incredible intelligence in the design of our bodies, we view the body/mind connection holistically, and are able to look beyond a cursory explanation. When muscles are sore and tired or flat out painful, it is valuable to ask yourself this question: Is the muscle the primary problem, or is the muscle compensating for another more serious issue?

Back and neck muscles are used to prevent injury to the nervous system. If the spinal bones shift out of position and/or develop abnormal curvature, the spinal cord and exiting nerves may become injured. Any compromise to the nervous system threatens the brain’s ability to coordinate and control all parts of the body. Survival is threatened! Muscles are wisely utilized to counter the potential loss of normal nerve function. If the bones within the back shift to the right, muscles on the left side prevent further misalignment by holding a guided and sustained contraction. If the spinal condition persists, muscles painfully fatigue and spasm. Additionally, if the muscles are suspended between misaligned bones, the chronic elongation and contraction increases the susceptibility to pulls.

Imagine you place a large bestseller on a shelf.  Suddenly the shelf gives way, and you reach up to steady it. You call for help with your arms overhead to hold the shelf, but aid is slow to come. Finally help arrives and you are relieved of your burden. After five minutes of sustained contraction, you notice an intense pain and spasm in the muscles of your freed arms. Is this a true muscular problem? The muscles were asked to perform a job that was not created for them. Imagine poor alignment of the spine and the similar requirements of the muscles of the back or neck. Muscles may be asked to stabilize for weeks or months. The results are diagnosed clinically when a person describes how the pain decreases once he or she walks around for 10 minutes or so (particularly after getting out of bed or standing after sitting) or how the pain comes and goes daily or weekly depending on activity. Overall, if it has been occurring for more than a few weeks, it is unlikely ONLY MUSCULAR.

If muscles hurt, what are the risks of treating them? By removing the spasms and/or pain artificially (with heat or ice, massage, rubs or drugs, etc.), the compensation is removed. Further injury to the underlying problem is likely. In the case of the spine, complications down the road may range from nerve damage and loss of function to disc problems and accelerated arthritic degeneration. In severe cases, muscle pain may need to be treated artificially. It is then advised to be cautious by recognizing that the primary problem may still exist. A solution for what caused the muscles to overwork must always be sought.

Chiropractic seeks to understand WHY the muscles are involved. Recognizing the body’s innate intelligent responses, deeper imbalances can be sought and corrected. Increased muscle activity will be no longer needed, and the painful symptoms will resolve themselves naturally. By giving the muscles the love and respect that they deserve, and by understanding why the body does what it does holistically, we can live a happy comfortable life and still get the leaves off of the lawn!