Why do muscles tense up when we have an injury?
Injuries to the back occur more often in the muscles than in the skeleton or nerves because the muscles are under the greatest amount of daily stress. Back muscles work constantly to provide support for your spine. If your muscles are weak and under developed (which results in other muscles being tense and over developed), almost any activity can result in a muscle strain or tear, and that carries with it the added risk of damage to a vertebra, nerve or disk.
The greatest risk comes with lifting a heavy object. The muscles’ ability to undertake any given task without injury depends on their strength and flexibility. How we perform a task is also important.
Sometimes a muscle strain is just waiting to happen! For example I do a lot of massage which leaves me with some muscles built up and others weak in my back through the constant leaning forward motion. Last year I went for a bike ride and rode a bike which was a bit too big for me. I was leaning forward more than I was used to, and the muscles were straining. I did have a bath that night to relax them, and in the morning they felt okay.... UNTIL I went make my bed! I stretched forward and suddenly the over strained muscles went "ping" and I had a muscle strain. Think of it like a rubber band: it gets tight with our posture and daily use of the muscle - we get used to this and don't notice the pain/tension. Then we do something different and it gets tighter still and then one day we just stretch it too far and the rubber band/muscle gives out "ping". So one thing to be aware of with back injuries is that they can be an indication of something that has been developing for a very long time. For proper healing to take place we need to look at the whole body structure.
When we have an injury, other muscles around the injury site tense up. Actually they act as splinting or bracing to preventing the body from further movement to the injured area - it’s a natural response. This reduced movement and sensation of pain prevents us creating more damage to the area. In time the tension should reduce, but this is not always the case. The tension or holding pattern becomes a habit. Long term tension causes a collogen (string like protein) to be deposited in the area, forming hard knots in the affected muscles. This is why it usually takes longer to heal an untreated old injury than a new one, as the muscles have been trained to be in a new position.
Treatment for a new injury is
2. Ice (to bring down inflammation)
3. Compression - if you can wrap your back with strapping or bandages to give it support (this is not always possible)
4. Get proper advice for treatment from your physio, osteopath, qualified massage therapist or GP
As the injury begins to heal we need to change the muscle habits - as they no longer need to strap/support or protect the weak area - its time the muscles started working properly as a team again!
For several years I had a very sore neck and shoulders. This was caused by a boating injury where I actually damaged my hip. Because my hips were crooked my head sat differently on my shoulders – and this caused neck pain. After a year I decided to go to a gym and met an osteopath. He assessed me, put my hips back into alignment and gave me exercises to do in the gym. After several months the weak muscles in my body became toned, and the over toned muscles relaxed and stretched (they did not have so much work to do). Gradually my body formed a new habit and I no longer had pain in the neck.
Learn how to massage with my new course starting 14/15 March or 2/3 March.
This information was copied and paraphrased from the following books:
Facilitated Stretching – R E McAtee and J Charland
Stretching and Flexibility – K Laughlin
Overcome Neck and Back Pain – K Laughlin
PilateSystem – T Blount and E McKenzie
Elayne Lane is an instructor of the Universal Healing Tao. She has been teaching and doing bodywork in excess of 14 years.