Turn Some Muscles On, Turn Some Muscles Off

As a practicing chiropractor of over 35 years one of the principles I’ve observed is that the body will always try to protect itself. We all know that if we twist our ankle it will swell. The swelling is the body’s way of splinting the joint to prevent movement that could injure us further. If we eat food that is spoiled, we will vomit to expel the toxins. If we hurt our neck or lower back, muscles will go into spasm to stabilize the area so we don’t create further injury. We don’t necessarily like what our bodies do to protect us but, these protective functions keep us from incurring further damage.

This article will discuss protective mechanisms the body takes when our neck or low back are injured. It will also discuss a recent research article detailing a scientific study which further discusses this topic.

Anyone who has injured their neck or back has had the very uncomfortable process of muscles going into spasm. At its worst, this can disable us from doing practically every activity of daily living. At best we might be able to perform normal functions, but the pain can be quite aggravating. As noted earlier when these areas are injured the body will do what it needs to do to protect itself. The muscles and spasm protect the joints of the neck and back from excess movement which might damage them further.

Many times, we undergo what are called subacute injuries. These are usually the mildest form of injury to the neck and back. Typically, they occur from overuse repetitive strains to the body. For instance, someone who sits long hours at a desk and computer may develop pain in the neck and upper back. Or, someone who stands long hours, like a cashier, can develop a chronic lower back pain.

With these chronic subacute conditions subtle alterations of the body occur to provide protection from further harm. In the case of the office worker most people start to develop very tight muscles across the tops of the shoulder and at the rear portion of the base of the skull. In the case of the cashier, the large muscles along the spine become tightened and go into some degree of spasm.

When I see these patients in my practice, I usually approach correction in two phases. The first phase is to correct misalignments and improper movement of the joints of the spine. Muscles that are tight, and in spasm and guarding areas, now will get a chance to relax and go back to a normal tone.

The second phase is to strengthen some weaker muscles to improve posture and support areas under stress. The office worker will be given gentle exercises to strengthen some smaller the muscles in the neck and shoulder blade area. The cashier will be given exercises to strengthen important abdominal core muscles.

I call this turning some muscles off and turning some muscles on. This usually brings the area under stress into balance and allows the body to heal properly.

A study in the research journal, Cranio, October 2019, discusses this. In the study 22 people with neck pain and headaches were compared to 22 healthy subjects. Researchers observed that the deep neck muscles of healthy subjects were normal. However, muscles of the participants in the neck pain and headache group were weak. The researchers suggested that healthcare professionals should keep this in mind when developing a treatment plan for patients with this condition. Doctors of chiropractic, commonly treat patients with headaches and neck pain by using spinal manipulation and therapeutic exercises.

It is important for healthcare practitioners and patients to look at the whole picture as to what’s causing neck and back conditions. Too many times pills or injections are utilized to merely suppress the symptoms. For over 125 years chiropractors have used multifaceted, effective, safe care to help patients with common complaints of neck and back pain.