It pays off to do something about it now to prevent serious spinal damage and other acute back conditions.
Fatigue from repetitive strain and bad posture can cause muscles to ache and hurt. Poor lifestyle choices today see many of us sitting stationary for long periods of time. This can putt strain on certain muscle groups like the hamstrings, pecs and hip flexors causing them to spasm and ache as a result – the perfect recipe for back pain and other postural related ailments.
What is pain?
Pain can be experienced as an unpleasant emotional or sensory response that most of us would best agree to stay away from. As a sensory response, pain can be the result of actual or impending muscle tissue damage that could be felt as:
- Acute Pain – Pain that is often severe, of sudden onset and lasts a relatively short time. It may result from an injury or an infection and resolves once healed.
- Chronic Pain – Pain that continues for a long period of time, medically defined as greater than 3 months.
- Referred Pain – Pain felt in a different part of the body from its cause.
Neck and shoulder pain, sciatica and back pain are conditions I treat on a regular basis in my experience assisting office based workers, folk-lift drivers, taxi drivers and long distance drivers. Some individuals and employers have invested in ergonomic furnishing and props to help reduce the impact that sedentary lifestyles have on the body. This method of self-help does not guarantee long-term postural correction for the lumbar, thoracic and cervical portions of the spine because back pain is a common result of a “muscular imbalance”. Muscular imbalances occur when muscles are not working well together. This can cause pain and discomfort in the affected areas putting stress on our joints. It has recently been reported that back pain is an important public health issue today and affects more than 16 million people in the UK alone.
Approximately 80% of the adult population will experience back pain at some time in their life (Gordon and Bloxham, 2016) (Phillips et al, 1992). These statistics could be linked to the rapid development of modern technology which can affect our lifestyle and occupation (Li and Haslegrave, 1999).
How does a sedentary lifestyle affect the body?
When we are sat down, certain group of muscles tense and contract to support movement, stability and grip. Take for example the rib cage muscles… when these muscles contract and shorten, the rib cage compresses downwards while the muscles of upper back perform an opposing action, pulling and rounding the back of the neck and shoulders. This can form a tightness in the chest and shoulders from a hunched neck and back. The opposing action between muscles engaged when sedentary also affect hip flexors and hamstrings – these muscles give support to the pelvis and so can be linked to lower back pain where there are imbalances.
Kuo, Tully and Galea (2009) found that older adults (over 60 years) demonstrated significantly increased thoracic kyphosis and decreased lumbar spine flexion in a study about changes in sagittal spinal posture of healthy older adults. This suggests that these particular individuals need specific attention to help improve their posture alignment. It is important to note here that sedentary lifestyles raise the risk of chronic back pain; a study by Celik and Mutlu (2013) states that prolonged postural activities such as prolonged desk work like computer typing could contribute to the formation or propagation of a myofascial trigger point as a result of back pain.
What is a Myofascial trigger point (MTrP) ?
If you can imagine the fibres of a muscle… they normally run alongside each other, parallel, neat and tidy. A trigger point causes the fibres to wind and form into what’s called a “muscle knot”. Now imagine a section of those muscle fibres replicating spaghetti all tangled up. Consistent use of the affected muscle could cause muscular stress and a manifestation discomfort or pain. The stress impacting these muscle is particularly irritating on the muscle which makes it hyper-tonic and hyperactive. The body’s natural reaction to this is to form a trigger point which creates patches of poor circulation in and around the affected muscle. A lack of proper circulation can create pockets of metabolic wastes with high acidity that can cause the affected muscle group to perpetuate at a vicious cycle. (Gerwin, Dommerholt and Shah 2004, pp. 468-475).
Many advanced techniques used in massage therapy can help untangle and distress affected massage through;
- a reduction in physical and psychological stress.
- an improvement to sleep quality and quantity.
- a reduction in muscle pain, tension and discomfort.
- a decrease in toxin and waste buildup.
- a decrease in muscle and joint soreness after exercise and physical activity.
- an increase in muscle flexibility and range of joint motion.
- an enhancement in muscle performance.
- an improvement to recovery time post injury.
Massage therapy is an effective hands-on way for managing physical pain, and is to be encouraged as part of a healthy lifestyle. If you are in pain or discomfort and perhaps relying on short-term remedies like painkillers, consider a sports massage for long-term pain management. Sports massage lends itself as a soft tissue therapy for acute pain relief where your GP might be unable to assist. During a sports massage appointment, your posture and movement will be examined and assessed to identify weak dysfunctional muscles and other problem areas. This enables your therapist to recommend suitable aftercare and exercises.
We advise that you schedule an appointment for an assessment if you experience frequent back pain and other upper body pain that lasts longer than a week.
Author: Michael Webb-Wood, Sports Massage Therapist.