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Physical Wellness

Muscle Pain: Is it From Overworked or Underutilized Muscles?

Muscle pain is a natural part of working out. It results from the stress you put upon your muscles and is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This type of muscle soreness usually lasts between 6-8 hours but can last up to 24 hours. This type of muscle pain is a positive sign of muscle and strength advancement. But there’s another type of muscle pain that can be damaging. In this article, I’ll examine the root causes of this and other acute muscle pain.

Distinguishing Between Good and Bad Muscle Pain

If you are experiencing muscular pain that prevents you from doing your everyday non-exercise activities, then it is abnormal muscle pain. If the pain lasts for more than 3 days it is also abnormal. If your pain comes as soon as you start or stop exercising, it is a sign that you’re not doing the exercise correctly or the exercise is not biomechanically sound.

Incorrect sitting posture problems Muscle pain
Muscular Pain Prevents You from Doing Your Non-Exercise Activities (Image Source: Shutterstock)

The most common causes of muscle pain are over using the muscle, whether through exercise or any other activity. Pain may also result from tension in certain parts of the body and from working a muscle that is not sufficiently warmed up.

There are also some medical conditions that cause muscle pain. These include:

  • fibromyalgia
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • myofascial pain syndrome
  • vaccinations
  • autoimmune diseases

Hypertonic Muscle

A hypertonic muscle is one that has an excessive amount of tension. The amount of tension, or tone, on a muscle, depends on the level of contraction. A hypertonic muscle can be either globally tight or it can have a myofascial trigger point. A myofascial trigger point refers to a small focused area of muscle tightness within a muscle.

How To Best Manage Muscle Hypertonicity | ChiroUp

When a muscle is at rest it should be relaxed. This muscle relaxation is known as resting tone. Hypertonic muscles have a tone that is more than what is needed to maintain joint posture. Hypertonic muscles may be described as being spasmodic and cramped.

When a muscle is at rest it should be relaxed. This muscle relaxation is known as resting tone. Hypertonic muscles have a tone that is more than what is needed to maintain joint posture. Hypertonic muscles may be described as being spasmodic and cramped.

There are four main causes of hypertonic muscle:

Overuse

A muscle that is overused becomes fatigued and it becomes more tense. The pulling forces of the muscle on the tendons and bone attachments increase, which causes pain. The brain’s response to this pain is to signal the muscle to contract. The result is muscle tightness, which is the body’s protective mechanism to limit the use of the muscle.

Overuse may be the result of exercising a muscle frequently without providing sufficient rest between sessions. It may also be caused by incorrect posture.

Muscle Splinting

Muscle tightening may result if the surrounding sacroiliac joints and joint capsules become irritated. Muscle tightening is another mechanism the body uses to protect the injured area. In this case, the tightened muscles act as a splint, lessening motion and allowing time for the joint to heal.

stretching her body while working out on old bridge
Muscle Tightening Is Another Mechanism The Body Uses To Protect The Injured Area (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Adaptive Shortening

Adaptive shortening occurs when a muscle becomes accustomed to a shortened position after being kept in that state for a long period of time. This often happens when sitting for an extended period of time. The hip flexor muscles are shortened when you sit. If you are inactive in a sitting position for a long period of time, your hip flexor muscles may adapt by shortening. This will result in an unnatural anterior tilt of the pelvis. This may cause ongoing pain in the hip area.

Overstretched Muscles

When a muscle is overstretched, the stretch reflex mechanism within the muscle spindle is activated, resulting in muscle spasm. Overstretching may result from a fall or other accident or it could be the result of overdoing it when you are performing a static stretching routine as part of an exercise program or incorrectly doing an exercise.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome is a condition where pressure on muscle trigger points causes pain in the muscle. It most often occurs after repeated use of the muscle while working or exercising. This condition is characterized by a deep ache within the muscle that won’t go away. People who are prone to anxiety and stress are more likely to experience myofascial pain.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome by Dr. Andrea Furlan MD PhD

Muscle Tension Relief

Now that we understand the cause and symptoms of these various muscle pains, you may be wondering how you can find relief. Don’t worry, the muscle tension that causes your pain can be relieved, if not entirely eliminated. Let’s look more closely at some muscle recovery tips that will help you feel more comfortable and keep your body in peak condition.

The most important thing is to rest an area that is experiencing muscle pain. If you feel like you need a little more to help ease your discomfort, over the pain muscle relievers such as Ibuprofen can also help bring relief and reduce swelling.

Athletic woman feeling pain in her neck against blurred background
The Most Important Thing Is To Rest (Image Source: Shutterstock)

The application of ice to the affected area can also help to relieve muscle ache. For the first three days, you should apply an ice pack several times per day, for up to 20 minutes each time. If the pain persists after three days, then you should switch to a heat application.

Other things you can do to bring relief from your muscle pain is to gently stretch the affected area and perform stress relieving activities such as gentle yoga and mindful meditation. You should stop your weight training routine until the pain subsides. The key to recovery is to give your muscle the time to rest. It can be frustrating to need to take a break from an ambitious work-out routine, but trust me, it is worth it to prevent more serious injuries that will prolong your recovery.

Another way to speed up muscle recovery is to make use of a foam roller and training with a compressive aid such as the voodoo floss band. If you have considerable soreness, make sure to take it slow and give yourself time to recover at your body’s pace.

Should You See a Doctor?

Not all muscle pain can be resolved with home treatment and rest. You should make an appointment to see your doctor if the pain persists after five days of following the recommended home treatments provided above. If you get sudden muscle pain without any identifiable cause, you should also go and see your doctor.

Physical therapists are checking patients elbows at the clinic office room.
Not All Muscle Pain Can Be Resolved with Home Treatment (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Other warning signals that merit a doctor’s appointment are muscle pain that is accompanied by a rash, muscle pain following a bite by a tick and pain that coincides with an increased body temperature.

Conclusion

Muscle pain can result from both overused and underused muscles. Overused muscle pain may come from working out too much without rest, improperly performing exercises, and over stretching the muscle. Underused muscles can become adaptively shortened, as often happens to the hip flexors when a person sits for too long.

The remedy to both overused and underused muscle pain is to follow a balanced exercise program under the guidance of an expert trainer. And remember, if you are concerned, consulting your doctor is always a good idea to make sure your body is recovering in a healthy way.

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