Why your muscles hurt
Note: The author of this blog is not a licensed medical professional, but the information contained in this essay is based on accredited anatomy classes taught by professionally licensed teachers. If you’re experiencing muscle pain, ask your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan.
You might be suffering from repetitive strain injury.
You probably live in suburbia, where you wake up every morning on an old mattress. You get out of bed, put on your work clothes and an old pair of shoes. You make breakfast standing up in your kitchen, and sit at a table to eat it. Then you sit in your car and hold your hands on the steering wheel and drive to work, where you spend all day doing the exact same thing you did every day before. Then you sit in your car and hold your hands on the steering wheel as you drive home and spend the better part of your evening sitting on a couch or at a desk.
If you hold your body in the same positions all day every day, and you perform the same motions with your limbs all day every day, it’s only a matter of time until the muscles you overuse get tight and knotted, and the muscles you use less, atrophy. When that happens, your tight muscles will pull and hold your skeleton in a contorted position that your atrophied muscles are powerless to prevent. Your body will try to correct the contortion by tightening other muscle groups in an increasingly counterproductive attempt to straighten your body. The longer this goes on, the worse your muscles will hurt.
Simply varying your daily routine can reduce muscle strain and prevent muscle pain… but there are only so many different ways you can sit in a chair, hold a steering wheel or perform your job. For most people, it’s impossible to completely avoid repetitive stress injury. You can minimize and treat it though by varying your routine and following the rest of the advice in this list.
You might want to buy better shoes, pillows and mattresses.
Your brain is constantly figuring out how hard it needs to tell every muscle in your body to flex in order to keep you from just falling to the floor like a puddle of jelly. Your brain also constantly figures out which muscles it needs to flex in order to hold your body in a position where you can walk straight with your eyes level.
When external factors like cheap shoes, a cheap bed, or a serious injury tilts the posture of your skeleton off balance, the muscles in your body automatically tighten/loosen to hold your skeleton in a way that allows you to walk forward with your eyes level despite whatever factors are throwing your posture off.
Another way bad posture can cause muscle pain is by creating an imbalance in your fascia. Every individual muscle in your body is basically shrink-wrapped in stretchy film called fascia, and every group of muscles is wrapped in an additional layer of fascia. Where two muscles meet, their fascia connects. These bags don’t flex like muscles; they just passively conform to whatever shape they’re stretched in. If your skeleton is tilted off balance in the same way, every day, eventually your fascia is going to get over/under stretched around the muscles you over/under use. These awkwardly stretched/stressed bags are going to pinch your muscles, causing pain. And since all of the fascia bags around your muscles are ultimately connected, that means stretching the fascia in the top of your body can pull the fascia at the bottom of your body, causing pain in a completely separate location from where the real problem is. The longer your fascia conforms to bad posture, the more it sets and becomes tougher and less pliable. That will reinforce the bad posture that’s stressing your muscles and causing you pain.
You’re going to spend half your life in your shoes, and the other half in your bed. If they don’t support your body ergonomically, you will develop muscle injury and pain. So spending money on a good bed, good pillows and good shoes will bring your more happiness than buying pretty much anything else that costs less than $1,000.
You might want to stretch more.
Each of your muscles is made up of millions of fibers that are about as thick as a strand of hair. Muscle fibers are made of living cells that consume food, generate energy, die and need to be replaced. Each fiber is also made of thousands of microscopic chambers that contain moving parts that latch onto each other when injected with calcium and release when the calcium is drained. When you strain your muscles, they become inflamed, which can constrict the microscopic chambers in your muscle fibers and cause them to seize up. This will trap the calcium being used to activate the machinery in your muscle fiber chambers to get trapped there, which means that fiber won’t be able to relax. To make matters worse, since your muscle fibers are living cells, they’re always producing waste, and eventually they all die. If the chambers of your muscle fibers are damaged and locked up, your body won’t be able to flush out all the cellular poop and dead cells. All the toxic debris in your muscles will cause inflammation and pain to the surrounding areas.
Simply stretching your muscles can do a lot to unjam the dysfunctional compartments in your muscle fibers. Probably more important than that though, stretching lengthens the constricted fascia around your muscles that is pinching and suffocating them.
Taking yoga classes could be one of the best things you ever do for yourself. If you’re just not going to do yoga, you would probably benefit from doing some simple military stretches daily. If nothing else, make a point to stretch your limbs out like a cat when you get out of bed. Every little bit helps.
You might want to exercise more.
Every organ system in your body is intimately connected. The healthier one of them is, the healthier they all are. The sicker one is, the sicker they all are. Exercise makes all of your organ systems healthier. The healthier your heart and circulatory system are, the better your body can send oxygen to your muscles, remove waste, repair itself and fight disease. The better your bones are, the stronger of a connection your muscles will have with your bones. If the pulleys that are wrapped all around your skeleton aren’t firmly attached, you’re going to have a wobbly pulley system, and something is going to tear eventually. If your respiratory system isn’t working well, you’re going to have a hard time getting oxygen to your thirsty muscles. If your digestive system isn’t working well, you’re not going to be able to get energy to your tired muscles. I’m not saying exercising will cure every problem in every organ system. I’m just saying, if you want to avoid pain, you should be exercising.
When you work out your muscles, it immediately stimulates blood flow in your muscles, which helps flush in things your muscles need and flush out things they don’t. It also breaks up stagnant tissue, preventing fibrous tissue build, and it stretches your fascia, which prevents it from hardening. Of course, exercise makes your muscles grow, and the stronger your muscles are, the less likely they are to hurt after doing simple physical activities. When all of your muscles are strong, then the ones you overwork a little too much won’t have such a disastrous effect on weaker opposing muscle groups. Then your muscles will be able to hold your skeleton straighter, and you’ll never experience the chain reaction of connected muscle groups seizing up to correct each other’s bad posture.
You might want to drink more water.
There are several trillion cells in your body, and several billion of them die every day. All the cells in your body are replaced every few months. Your cells are about 78% water, and everything they do requires water. In order to feed all your healthy cells and flush out your body, there’s about 100,000 miles of tubes crammed in your body that circulate about 5 liters of blood through your body about 50 times a day. Your blood is about 92% water, and your kidneys remove about 2 liters of waste-water from your blood stream every day in the form of urine.
Your entire body is about 60% water, which means you’re basically a walking waterfall. If you don’t drink enough water, the micro-machinery in your body won’t be able to grow to full size, function at full capacity, feed, clean or rebuild itself properly. This negatively affects every cell in your body. To put it in perspective, dehydration is worse for your body than smoking. I’m not saying that drinking water will cure all your health problems. I’m just saying, if you want to avoid pain, you should be drinking about 2 liters of water every day.
You might want to improve your diet.
The human body is more complicated than the Internet. It’s made up of reproducing, regenerating cells that perform millions of unique actions that require different nutrients. Bones build themselves with calcium, and muscles use calcium to contract. Most of your cells use protein, and all your cells use glucose for energy. Antioxidants keep the atomic structure of your cells stable. This list could go on for thousands of pages. The point is, eating healthy is responsible for a reason. Your body is a complex machine that requires specific types and quantities of nutrients to operate efficiently. If you don’t give your body what it needs, it won’t work correctly, and it will create pain to alert you to the problem. If you do eat healthily, every organ system in your body will work better and be more able to overcome any pain-inducing problems within its self.
Your muscles and skeleton are designed to work best at your optimal body weight. An unhealthy diet that puts on unnecessary weight will naturally strain your bones and muscles. Eating healthily will help you lose weight and improve your organ system functions better than dieting or exercising alone. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to exercise. It just means that until you’re eating healthily, you won’t be able to achieve and maintain your ideal body weight or enjoy all the benefits of having healthy organ systems no matter what else you do. If you’re already eating healthy and you’re not losing weight, talk to your doctor about what else you can do achieve your health goals. If you choose to drink sodas and eat fast food every day, understand that it’s only a matter of time before you develop muscle pains. If you accept that, then that’s your prerogative. It’s none of my business how you choose to live your life, but I (and your doctor) really think you’d be happier if you fed your body more of what it needs and less of what it doesn’t. That’s all I have to say about that. Do with it what you will.
You might want a massage
Massage isn’t just for rich, spoiled spouses who want to be pampered. Almost everyone in the world can benefit tremendously from massage. I would go as far as saying that it’s as important to see a massage therapist as it is to see a dentist. Massage relaxes and lengthens your overworked muscles and tones your underworked ones. It breaks up adhesions and lengthens your fascia. It stimulates blood flow, which helps nourish and clean your muscles. It also stimulates lymph flow, which increases the speed at which your body removes toxic material from your body. Just the simple act of a compassionate human touch has positive physical effects on your organ systems. Plus, it’s emotionally rewarding and stress reducing. Most importantly, your massage therapists can identify over/underworked muscles in your body and work with you to develop a plan to help you avoid recreating the same muscle pains in the future. If your muscles are hurting, you should seriously consider seeing someone who is professionally trained and licensed to fix muscle pain.
Originally published at thewisesloth.com on March 10, 2015.