When 36-year-old Aaron Powell, a software engineer by profession, woke up on Sunday morning and found that the muscles in his back and legs were killing him, he knew he would have to call it quits about joining his friends on a day long hiking trip they had planned. He knew what had brought on the pain in his muscles; he had been hauling furniture into the new apartment he had moved into, practically all through Saturday.
While everybody experiences the occasional muscle aches some time or the other in their lives, for people who suffer from chronic muscle pain, it can be an incapacitating condition, with the quality of life deteriorating to a great extent. Pain may be caused by a specific injury, or due to muscular spasms, or because it affects the soft connective tissues surrounding muscles such as tendons, ligaments, and fascia. It could also be as a result of a broader condition, like arthritis. It can range in intensity from aches that come on infrequently to disabling chronic pain. Usually, muscle ache is linked to overuse, physical exertion, or injury due to exercise. In such cases, the pain tends to affect specific muscles, starting either during the activity or after it.
People often push their muscles right to their limits, and sometimes even beyond that. If muscles are pushed to limits that are beyond their capacity, the fibers in them begin tearing. In fact, severely overworked muscles can develop innumerable tiny tears. The body responds by repairing these tiny tears, and this is what causes the familiar ache and tightness we feel when we get a muscle pain. While most of these just cause minor discomfort, others can result in permanent disability, especially when the back and neck are affected. While there are many therapies that can provide relief, choosing amongst them is largely dependent upon the cause, how severe it is along with its duration, and of course, according to what the doctor prescribes or the patient chooses.
Ways to Relieve Muscle Pain
Prescription and Over-The-Counter Medicines
These medications, which include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, or Tylenol, are used to alleviate aching muscles. Certain nutritional supplements may also be advised in order to provide relief. For instance, magnesium and calcium supplements are used for treating leg cramps that develop at night. Enzyme therapy, containing bromelain, are also used to treat certain kinds of muscle pain.
Massage and Bodywork Therapies
Bodywork therapies are highly useful for providing relief and restoring full body function. Massage, in particular, is often recommended to relieve tension and pain, which helps to increase blood circulation, thus bringing nutrients and oxygen to the muscles that are affected and also help to carry away toxic substances. If there is a strain in the muscle, a massage can prevent the shortening of muscle, while it heals. Amongst the many bodywork therapies reflexology and shiatsu, work the best in relieving pain and discomfort in the muscles. Reflexology involves the physical act of applying pressure to various reflex points on the hands and feet that help the body to heal itself whereas, shiatsu is a Japanese therapy in which pressure is applied with fingers to certain points on the meridians of the body, which improve blood circulation and eases pain.
In this therapy, essential oils from certain herbs and plants are used for pain relief, along with any inflammation or spasms that may accompany it. The oils are usually applied with compresses or gentle massages. Massaging the painful areas with slow, gentle strokes not only relaxes tensed muscles but also improves blood circulation and reduces pain. Some common essential oils used are: helichrysum, ginger, peppermint, marjoram, and thyme. Some of these can also be added to warm bath water. The influence of aroma on the brain (limbic system) promotes deep relaxation and helps the body to find a natural way of healing itself.
A long, hot bath works wonders in relieving pain. Hot showers or baths help in relaxing and loosening tissues, further even stimulates blood flow to the sore muscles reducing the intensity of pain. Heating pads, or hot wet towel serve the same purpose. Another trick to relieve muscle pain is showering alternately using hot and cold water over the sore muscle. This activity has the effect of opening and closing your blood vessels, which helps in flushing out acids from your muscles. Thus, eases soreness.
Exercises for Muscle Strengthening
Physical therapists or doctors also usually prescribe certain exercises, which help in increasing muscular flexibility and strength. A physical therapy course is also useful for educating patients about the importance of using ergonomic tools, like padded chairs, which help to reduce strain on muscles. Therapists also teach patients the correct ways of sitting, lifting, walking, or doing work that requires repetitive movements, in order to prevent problems in future.
Although, muscle pain is not a life-threatening condition, it can be quite uncomfortable and affect your enthusiasm for physical activities. Therefore, do not ignore the pain and prolong the treatment. Even after the treatment, make sure you take necessary precautions and prevent the problem from recurring.
Disclaimer: This HolisticZine article is for informative purposes only and does not, in any way, intend to replace the advice of a medical expert.