How Strengthening Can Hurt Your Muscles

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Issues, Muscle Therapy and Health

Preventing & Healing Repetitive Strain Injuries – Part 2

 Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT

bicepsIn part I of this series we explored “how” muscles cause joint pain and prevent us from moving easily and without pain. In Part II we’ll take a look at the “why.”

When a person can’t freely move a joint they are frequently told they need to strengthen the muscle that moves the joint, but this is often a serious misconception. Let’s look at this further so it will become clear.

Most people have heard the term Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), but they don’t have a clear concept of how that affects them on a daily basis.

Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs)

Repetitive strain injuries happen when a muscle does the same movement over and over, causing the muscle to develop an excess of Hydrogen ions (H+), which is a part of lactic acid. Lactic acid was once thought to be the “bad guy” that created spasms/knots in your muscles.  Then research showed that lactic acid has two components, one is called lactate and it is an important piece of energy production, and the other is H+, which is the acid byproduct of energy production and is the cause of the spasms.

Your body has the ability to flush out H+, but if you are exercising, or repetitively doing the same movement, you are creating more H+ than your body can eliminate.  The scales tip and the excess lactic acid will cause the muscle fibers to contract into a spasm.  The spasm is usually formed slowly so you don’t notice it until it is so evolved that the fibers are twisted into a knot and are putting a strain on the insertion point at the joint.

Strengthening vs Lengthening

When you can’t bend a joint, such as your elbow, you are often told to strengthen the muscle that pulls on the joint, in this case, the biceps.  However, you actually need to lengthen your triceps.

In fact, I tell my clients to first look at the area where they are feeling pain, and then find out which muscle inserts at that point. If you can’t bend a joint, I tell people to look at what muscles should be stretching to enable the joint to move. The likelihood is great that the tight muscle is the cause your problem.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly you will regain full range-of-motion when you release the “straps that are holding you bound” by lengthening the contracted muscles.

Another piece of the strengthening misconception occurs when a person feels they are losing power in their muscle.  Many times the person isn’t feeling any pain in their body, just a general feeling of loss of strength. You know you are exercising, but still you aren’t as strong as you were, so you feel you need to increase your strengthening exercises.

How Strengthening Can Hurt Your Muscles

To demonstrate this topic we’ll use the biceps of the upper arm as our example.  I do a lot of my work with endurance athletes, athletes who are power lifters or simply individuals who exercise to the extreme.  I’ve seen how they are in severe pain, sometimes to the point where they can’t do even the simplest movements without having not only pain but also losing power.

Often they lose power because the pain is too sharp when they go to lift the weight, or do pull ups. Other times they just feel like they are having weakness in the muscle, which makes them more determined to exercise that muscle even more.  What has happened is the muscle is now too short to have any pulling power.

an upper body athletesLook at the graphic to the left.  Many endurance athletes look just like this drawing, and some people think this is the picture of strength.  However what is happening is the biceps muscles have been shortened to the point where he can’t completely straighten his arm, so he has actually lost power.

But you don’t need to be an endurance athlete to have this experience.  If any muscle in your body is shortened by spasms, whether they are from doing a repetitive movement or from exercise, you will also lose strength in those muscle fibers.

Consider this: if you couldn’t move your body, but you wanted to pull a heavy object toward you, you would stretch your arm out all the way and then pull on the object. If you stepped closer to the object so your arm is now bent, you can see that you wouldn’t have as much strength to move the heavy object.  In the same way, when a muscle is already shortened by either a spasm or a static contraction, it won’t have the full pulling power it needs to function properly. You need to lengthen the fibers to their optimal length so they can pull with full strength.

You stretch, but often people will complain that the muscles aren’t stretching, or they hurt worse after the stretch than they did before stretching. This brings us to the “stretching misconception,” which will be explained in Part III of this trilogy.

Julie Donnelly is an internationally respected muscular therapist specializing in the treatment of chronic pain and sports injuries.  She has co-authored several self-treatment books, including The 15 Minute Back Pain Solution, Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living  and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You.  Julie is also the co-developer of TriggerPoint Yoga. She teaches Julstro self-treatment workshops nationwide and is a frequent presenter at Conventions and Seminars.  Julie may be contacted through her websites: http://www.julstro.com  and http://www.TriggerPointYoga.com.

© Julie Donnelly 2013

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (2)

  • Nitric Max Muscle Order

    |

    I think that what you published made a great deal of sense.
    But, what about this? suppose you added a little content? I am not saying your content is not good., however
    suppose you added a headline that makes people desire more?
    I mean Health Tips From The Professor How Strengthening Can Hurt
    Your Muscles

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Max,
      Good idea. I’m a professor. Marketing is not my strength.
      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

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Latest Article

How to Choose the Right Pillow

Posted April 17, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Wake Up Each Morning Pain Free

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

how to choose the right pillow without headachesThe way you sleep is often a key to discovering the cause of headaches and more. If you wake up with neck pain, a headache, or you suffer from ringing in your ears, dizziness, or ear pain, there is a good possibility that it may be caused by the way you are sleeping. Your pillow may be the culprit.  But if you need to know how to choose the right pillow for you, it’s easy.   It just takes a little “investigation.”

 

How to Choose the Right Pillow if You Sleep On Your Side

Your head, neck, and spine need to always stay in a nice straight line, just as it is when you are standing up, but that takes a little thought and understanding of the way you sleep.  So, get comfy in your bed and then notice how your head is resting.

how to choose the right pillow to sleep painfreeIf you sleep on your side, your pillow needs to be just the right size, so your head doesn’t point down toward the mattress (your pillow is too soft) or up to the ceiling (your pillow is too thick). Either of these positions will make the muscles on the side of your neck stay in the contracted position for hours and pull your vertebrae in that direction, especially when you try to turn over to your other side.

Your SCM Muscle May Cause Serious Problems

You also need to notice if you turn your head a bit, especially if you are turning into your pillow or turning your head up toward away from your pillow. In either of these two cases you will be causing your sternocleidomastoid (SCM for short) to be held shortened for hours.

Your SCM originates on your collarbone and inserts into the bone behind your ear.  When it contracts you turn your head to the opposite side. However, if the muscle is tight (for example, when you’ve held your head turned toward one side for an extended period of time) and then you bring your head back so you are facing forward, the tight muscle will pull on the bone behind your ear and cause havoc.

The symptoms for a tight SCM are tinnitus (ringing in the ear), dizziness, loss of equilibrium, ear pain, headaches, pain in the eye and around the skull, pain at the top of the head, and even pain in the throat. Amazing! What’s even more amazing is that it’s rare that this muscle is considered when a medical professional is searching for the cause of your symptoms.

These are the things to know when considering how to choose the right pillow if you sleep on your side.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Back

how to choose the right pillow for sleeping on your backIf you sleep on your back, your head should be on the mattress (not propped up with a pillow) and you should have a tiny support (like a folded washcloth) under your neck.  Or, you can have a wedge pillow that starts at your mid-back and gently raises your entire trunk and head up while still allowing your head and back to be in a straight line.

It’s always a challenge for people who toss and turn during the night, sometimes on their side and sometimes on their back.  The best thing I’ve found for this situation is to have the pillow below shoulder level so when you turn on your side your shoulder will automatically slide to the edge of the pillow while still supporting your head properly, and when you turn onto your back, the pillow will start at shoulder level so your head and neck are supported, but your head is being pushed in a way that causes your chin to move down to your chest.

hip pain causes and treatment pain freeIt’s tricky, but I can personally attest to the fact that it will work.  I can always tell when I’ve had my head tilted (I toss and turn during the night) because I will wake with a headache. When that happens I’m grateful that I know how to self-treat the muscles of my neck and shoulders so the headache is eliminated quickly.  If you already have Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living,  you can self-treat all your neck and shoulder muscles to release the tension.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Stomach

If you sleep on your stomach, this is the one position that is so bad that it behooves you to force yourself to change your position. Your head is turned to the side and held still for hours, putting a severe strain on all your cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae. Not only will this cause headaches, tinnitus, and a list of other pains, but it can cause problems down your entire spine. It can also impinge on the nerves that pass through the vertebrae on their way to your organs.

If you do sleep that way, let me know and I’ll give you some suggestions that work to change your habit of sleeping. It takes time and energy, but the results are worth the effort.

In every case, the way you sleep may cause neck pain that won’t go away until the pillow situation is resolved.

Now you should know how to choose the right pillow for the way you sleep.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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