No Quick Fix For Painful Muscle Knots

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Category: Soft Tissue Rheumatism Articles Published on Wednesday, 25 June 2008 Written by Yong Tsai, MD
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Paul, Barbara and Sandra all suffer from muscle pain. Paul, a landscaper, spends most of his day digging; Barbara, a data entry clerk, works at a computer; and Sandra, a mother of three, recently lost her job.

Muscles, 40 percent of our body weight, are like car engines: gas them up with oxygen, lubricate with glucose, and start them up by contracting them and you’re on your way. While healthy muscles are able to re-extend after they are contracted, tense muscles lose their ability to relax properly. Because they remain contracted, blood vessels are squeezed resulting in poor circulation and the formation of trigger points.

Trigger points (TrPs) are muscle “knots” that are tender to the touch. Active TrPs are sensitive enough to create pain that radiates into other areas. They are formed and activated either by poor posture, sudden muscle strain, or by repetitive muscle use, commonly causing increased muscle tension and spasm. And voila, the vicious cycle of “spasm-pain-spasm” begins.

POOR POSTURE

When standing upright, the body is aligned and the spine is straight. However, sitting slouched (back rounded and head forward) strains the cervical (neck) muscles. TrPs commonly emerge in tense neck and shoulder blade muscles. Barbara, who slouches over her computer all day, knows this all too well because she suffers with constant neck and upper back pain.

OVERUSE

The most common example of muscle overuse occurs by staying in an awkward position, with muscles contracted, for an extended period of time. In Paul’s case, his muscle pain stemmed from repetitive digging, without alternating his body mechanics. Not only does Paul overwork the same muscles, he favors the right side of his body because he is right-handed. This imbalance in body mechanics requires compensation from other muscles, and produces TrPs in his lower back and buttocks, which in turn causes his back pain.

STRESS

As with physical stress, emotional stress or trauma can cause muscles to tighten and TrPs to form. Since losing her job, thinking of ways to provide for her three children and keep her house has become overwhelming for Sandra. Her neck and back muscles are always very tense (contracted) and she has constant generalized pain, frequent headaches, and widespread trigger points in her neck, upper back, lower back and buttocks.

TREATMENT

Like many conditions, there is no quick fix for muscle pain. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), analgesics and muscle relaxants are only a short-term answer because they cannot reach the root of the problem. However, TrPs can be de-activated with trigger point injections, acupuncture, therapeutic massage, or muscle stretching. Posture correction, relaxation training, frequent muscle stretching and strengthening along with heat or ice applications, are also crucial to restore tense muscles to a healthy state and deactivate trigger points.

So don’t delay your relief. The longer you wait, the longer the treatment process.

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