Dealing With Muscle Pain and Soreness
Everyone has aches and pains, some more than others. Whether your soreness is due to posture, activity, aging or even genetics, you need to get relief from pain that lasts more than a day or two. A muscle that does not get enough rest time is a common cause of soreness. This can be from bad posture, poor workplace ergonomics, or health conditions such as scoliosis or spinal arthritis. These conditions adversely affect the body’s centre of gravity. One thing for sure is that gravity never sleeps, so if you work in an awkward position or slouch, this can cause muscles to work overtime. Another cause of muscle pain is when the body experiences injury. In this case, muscles surrounding the injured area tighten up to protect it, so not only is the injured area sore, but the soreness tends to spread to all of the other muscles that are working overtime. Another cause of muscle pain is spinal misalignment. If the body senses that a spinal segment is out of alignment it will often tell the muscles in the affected area to tighten up. This can have dramatic effects as not only are the back muscles tight, but often a nerve in the area becomes “pinched” by these tight muscles. This is among the most intense pain you may experience short of childbirth or kidney stones. Finally, one more common cause of muscle pain is the aging process. As our joints age, they tend to slowly wear down a bit. This is known as osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. Not only is the arthritis itself painful, but as muscles compensate and protect the area, muscle pain ensues. What can you do about muscle pain? There are several strategies that you can employ to deal with muscle pain.
Exercise is a bit counter-intuitive, but what you might want to try doing is to work the muscle lightly. In some cases this reduces pain by bringing blood and fresh nutrients into the area. This strategy can work on overused muscles as well as underused muscles that are complaining due to inactivity.
Hydrotherapy involves use of cold or heat. If your muscle is inflamed then use cold therapy. If it is a chronic problem then you are probably better off using heat. If you are unsure then use contrast temperature therapy. To do this you begin with heat and then finish with about three minutes of cold to drive out any inflammation from the area.
Pain creams are an approach used by some of my patients is to treat their muscle aches. These typically have an active pharmaceutical ingredient in them. Several of my patients have had luck with brand names such as Voltaren, Jointflex or LaKota. As with any pharmaceutical, it is best to consult a pharmacist before using one of these products.
Heat creams are a tried and true approach. Every country that I visit seems to have its own remedy that the locals swear by. Here in Canada there are several heat creams that have been on the market for years, some of which your mother may have used on you as a kid such as Tiger Balm or Absorbine Junior.
Massage Therapy is one of the most effective methods of dealing with sore muscles. Over the years I have helped hundreds of people out of pain with time-tested massage techniques. Efficacy of massage for treatment of sore muscles was supported in a McMaster University study released in February 2012. This study concluded- ” In summary, when administered to skeletal muscle that has been acutely damaged through exercise, massage therapy appears to be clinically beneficial by reducing inflammation and promoting mitochondrial biogenesis.”
Alternative therapies might also include acupuncture, interferential current therapy, low level laser and even Botox to treat muscle pain.
Pain management clinics are very useful if your pain is particularly stubborn and intense. These clinics usually have an arsenal of approaches to deal with chronic pain that does not respond to traditional treatment.
Pharmaceuticals are always an option if you are not getting relief from the previous modalities, or if you just need some quick relief. While it is outside of my area of expertise, there are several analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications on the market. The standard over the counter (OTC) medications fall into a group called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). These include Aspirin, Ibuprofen (Advil) and Naproxen (Aleve). Another common OTC pain medication is Acetaminophen (Tylenol). One should consult a doctor or pharmacist before using any of these drugs.
No matter what strategy you decide to employ, make sure that you try to deal with original cause if it is at all possible. This may include postural education, improved ergonomics at your computer or workstation, improved lifting techniques. It might men backing off of your exercise routine just a bit or introducing cross training into your workout schedule. As with everything else in life, it is best to get at the root cause if you want to fix a problem.