I wanted to write a couple of papers on chiropractic care and common pain conditions, so here is the first:
Tight Muscles and Pain
One of the most common complaints addressed by chiropractors is tight, tender, or painful muscles. Most chiropractic patients have a muscular component to their condition, from the serious runner to the weekend warrior to the couch potato. So, what is really going on and why does it hurt? To explain the significance of muscle conditions and how chiropractic treatments can help, let’s divide our answer into three groups of muscle conditions: injury, misalignment of the spine/bones, and chronically shortened muscles.
Muscles Injury: Strain-Sprain
It is fairly easy to see the correlation between those who run constantly or have injured themselves in some athletic activity. In a sprain or a strain, ligament (tissue that connects one bone to another), tendon (tissue that connects a muscle to a bone), or muscle is torn. The resulting pain and swelling is the body’s natural reaction to injury. Pain tells us that there is an injury (or that our body feels like there has been an injury), swelling is a fluid response to bring more nutrients into the area for better healing and to help remove injured tissue. This healing response is followed by a period of repair where the body lays down scar tissue in the area until proper tissue fibers can be constructed to completely repair the area of injury.
This process occurs all the time in athletes or those who are using their muscles. This is how a bodybuilder’s muscles grow and expand. Intense workouts create small “micro-tears” in the muscles tissue which promotes repair and an increase in muscle tissue size.
But problems can occur during this process and more serious injuries can take longer to repair and return to normal. For instance, sometimes tears in the tissue can be so bad that some nerves tear as well, which can cause them to regrow and become more sensitive to stretch or different sensations, causing movements or actions that were previously not painful to become so. Often scar tissue persists in the injured muscle/tendon/ligament, which results in tight bands, persistent pain, and loss of tissue strength. The major point is that at every step in injury there are things that can go wrong and cause a delay in the healing process, but also at every step in this process there are things that can be done to speed up the process of recovery from injury. Helping people to recovery from injury is a field in which chiropractors have a great amount of skill and a variety of tools in their proverbial healing tool belt.
Misalignment: Structural Muscle Imbalance
Misalignment of the spinal vertebra can result from sports or work-related injuries, but is more commonly the result of everyday “wear and tear.” Posture, postural strain, unequal leg length, and scoliosis are all examples of stressors that can influence the pull of postural muscles on bones. Bones are designed to move in response to how the muscles pull on them and this movement is expressed at the joints of the body. When a joint demonstrates a lack of normal motion, muscular imbalance and pain, the chiropractic diagnosis of subluxation is established. Chiropractors are well trained in correcting abnormal and decreased motion, and this type of injury and pain process is precisely why many people have sought out chiropractic services for over 100 years.
Posture: Chronically short, weak muscles
Our modern posture has the effect of targeting specific muscles groups. Some muscles become short, tight, and painful, while other muscles become stretched, weak and unstable. This occurs in a characteristic pattern that can be demonstrated in a majority of people. You can see for yourself when you observe the following: a forward jutting head (strains the posterior neck), forward rounded shoulders (strains the back of the neck and upper mid-back while causing a shortening of the muscles on the sides and front of the neck), and poor abdominal strength (excess strain on the low back). Unfortunately it is extremely common to see people with poor posture because of how we sit and look at our computers, how we drive, or how we sit at our desks at school or work. Much of the furniture that we sit in for hours at a time is not ergonomically designed to promote better spine health. The result is chronically poor posture, decreased support of the spine and tight, painful muscles.
Chronically tight muscles can be painful, inhibit blood flow, decrease or alter nervous stimulation, decrease muscle and joint motion, and limit a person’s functional abilities (looking over the shoulder while driving or bending over to tie shoes, etc). This is why a chiropractor will nearly always tell a patient how to stretch or strengthen a particular muscle, massage or stimulate a muscle group, and adjust the area. Chiropractic manipulation / adjustment not only encourages correct alignment of bones and joints, it also has the effect of restoring muscle function by allowing increased motion and blood flow to the area. This in turn allows for more normal nerve tissue function, decreased swelling, and increased drainage of painful toxins that can be caught in muscle tissue.