Sometimes it’s funny to hear some of the things people say to you when you tell them that you are a chiropractor. I get to hear about the aches and pains of the people in a group, and I’m happy to help and provide insight into the problem whenever the situation arises.
One of my favorite responses people is below:
“Oh, my back has been killing me for years, but I’m sure it’s just muscle”
Now I KNOW what they’re really saying. What they’re really saying is:
“I’m not interested in making a time and financial investment in seeing a chiropractor”
But I just wanted to spend some time today addressing the inherent problem with this statement, and go over some strategies to help identify some common problems and how to handle them on your own.
The Problem of being “Just Muscle”
Muscles are not tissues that operate in a vacuum of space and time. When I was taking Gross Anatomy courses in college, I was amazed at how complex and layered each piece of the body was. Every muscles was covered in fat, connective tissue called fascia, connected to blood supply, and studded with nerve supply. Each muscle had multiple connections to various bone structures. The fascia wrapping around the muscles sometimes connected multiple muscles together across various joints.
The sheer number of pain generating tissues that are intimately related to our muscles is more complex than we could have imagined.
A pain in your back can easily be traced to a muscle at the front of your leg.
A pain in your shoulder can be a nerve traced from your neck.
A pain in the calf can easily be a problem with an artery in the leg.
In essence, telling a chiropractor that you’ve had a pain in your spine for years and saying it’s “just muscle” is like telling a Medical Physician that you’ve had a cough for years, and telling them that it’s probably “just a bug”. The truth is, there is likely something more complex going on, and it should probably be addressed before it becomes a more problematic and serious issue.
So how do you know if something is going to resolve on it’s own, or if you need to see someone? Here are some basic guidelines:
Start paying attention to unusual symptoms. If you’re having excessive pain at night, excessive sweating at night without physical activity, unexplained weight loss, or recent history of fever/infection. These symptoms should be reported to a Medical Physician for further examination.
True muscular injuries are most often a result of a very rapid acceleration/deceleration or overloading the muscles. These type of injuries are truly strains and pulls that injure muscle tissue and need time to rehabilitate. Picking up a pillow or sneezing yourself into a back spasm is not a muscle injury, you probably awakened a bad disc.
Muscle injuries may hurt badly in the beginning but they should fade over time. Muscle tissue is very dense with blood supply which means they can heal well with time. When the pain progresses or lasts for 2-3 months without improvement, it is very unlikely to be a muscle injury.
So you have a problem that isn’t going away, and you don’t know what to do. What next? Well now that we know that the chances of you having a strict muscle problem is out, we have to identify what caused the problem to begin with.
Most problems start with a faulty movement pattern, and go into a chronic cycle of reinforcing the bad patterns.
Most of the patients that I take care of found their way into my office because of a problem that just wouldn’t go away. The biggest reason their problem won’t go away is because they’re caught in a cycle.
Whether by accident or overuse, their bodies entered a faulty movement pattern that caused a break down in the normal mechanics of the human frame. The only way to break free from the cycle is to address the Structural problem and fix the movement flaw that is throwing them back in.
While you can’t fix a structural shift like Atlas Displacement Complex on your own, you can certainly take it on your own to identify and correct faulty movement patterns.
Common Faulty Movements
1. Learn how to squat, and get used to squatting. This doesn’t mean that you need to put 400 lbs on the bar and become a body builder. Heck, you don’t need a bar at all. What you need is to learn how to put your legs and pelvis through full range of motion in a stable position, and that’s what a healthy squat teaches you.
2. Picking things up gets more lip service than any other movement in the history of mankind. We’ve learned for years to “use your legs” and “don’t use your back”, but most people generally don’t know what that means in terms of doing it.Picking things up properly means learning how to engage your core muscles to brace your spine while lifting. This is then followed up with a pushing of the legs into a straightened position without changing alignment of the spine.This is something that should be done for every situation, not just for heavy lifting. Whether than means reaching down to lift a car seat, grabbing a duffle bag, or lifting a 200 lb weight, the same rules apply. While you won’t feel the 20 lb car seat on your first try, on that 300th try, your back will be feeling it.
3. Seated postures will create eventual muscular fatigue and ligament weakness. As this progresses on for 8 hours a day,5 days a week, the spine will start to deform into a weakened position called Anterior Head Syndrome. This is the reason why so many people develop spine problems as they age. It’s because their bodies are worn out from holding the spine in a bad position.
Remember that proper form is not something that is exclusive to lifting weights. Proper form is applicable to how we experience our world. The more that we play within the intricate design that the body has, the better the result. When we break those rules, is when problems start. Rather than wait for a complete breakdown, chiropractic is about keeping the body in check and doing a correction only when necessary