I recently finished a book titled “Muscle Pain: Understanding It’s Nature, Diagnosis & Treatment”. It is a dense book, with more of a discussion of the nervous system then muscles. But, pain is all about the nervous system, and the nerves let us know when things are amiss.
Reading it reminded me that there is much we don’t know about the human body, but also how cool it is. So much going on in there, without us ever knowing . Below are some tidbits I picked up from the book and thought were relevant to my clients. Remember that the information below is based on a body of knowledge is ever growing.
Muscle Soreness: Many of you have experienced post workout/race soreness. This sroeness is probably due to sensitization of muscle nerve endings. Mechanical overload (i.e. a race or a hard workout effort) can cause damage to muscle tissues. Substances are released from the damaged tissue during the repair process. These substances can cause the nerve endings to be sensitive. This sensitization of the muscle nerve endings is most likely what causes your pain – not build up of lactic acid. And what to do about this muscle soreness? Studies have shown that anti-inflammatory drugs provide little relief. Stretching may temporarily reduce the soreness, or not. One study found that stretching had no effect at all on the overall course of muscle soreness.
Nocturnal Leg Cramps: These cramps occur primarily in the gastrocnemius, the largest and most superficial of the calf muscles. They may result from dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. Stretching of the gastrocnemius muscle can provide relief. But it has been found that muscles that are prone to cramping may have what are called trigger points. Trigger points (TPs) occur at the junction of the nerve and the muscle – the motor end plate. Dysfunction here is caused by overload of the muscle, and refers pain to areas other than the TP. When these TP are deactivated and suppressed by regular stretching (and/or massage) the cramps are less likely to recur.
Low Back Pain: A common pattern with low back pain is weak gluteals and strong (tight) hip flexors. Gentle stretching (and/or massage) can release the hip flexors, and improve the strength of the gluteals. (This is due to something called inhibition: a strong/tight muscle – i.e. hip flexor – can cause the antagonist muscle – the muscle the causes the opposite action to the hip flexor – in this case the gluteals, to be weak). So, releasing the hip flexors allow for stronger gluteals and hopefully reduce low back pain. Of course there are many other possible causes of low back pain, but I have found that most of my clients with low back pain have some hip flexor and gluteal issues as well.
More can be said on all of these subjects, and perhaps I will revisit them in future posts. But for now, just food for thought.