“Dr. Sellers, I think it’s just muscular.”
“What happened?” I ask.
The response is usually, “I’m not sure. I just woke up with it.”
As a chiropractor I hear this a lot in my office. On occasion it is true that the pain a patient presents with is just muscular. However, more often it is not.
First of all, a problem is never just muscular. Muscles move joints and what affects muscles affects the joints they move. Secondly, if a pain is purely muscular you won’t just wake with it. You will have done something to cause the muscle to hurt and will generally know what that “something” was. You will usually be able to associate your pain with an activity that over taxes or outright strains the muscle. If you injure or strain a muscle the pain is immediate. If you overtax a muscle it is possible that you will not feel it until the next day.
“So, if it’s not muscular, Doc, what is it?”
Good question! If 30 years of practicing chiropractic have taught me anything, it’s that nothing is ever as simple as it seems. There are a lot of things in the spine that can cause pain. Things we call pain generators. The three most common pain generators are discs, joints and nerves. Any of these, either alone or in combination, can lead a patient to believe that their pain is muscular.
Here’s what happens. When a disc, a joint or a nerve becomes inflamed, irritated or pinched the muscles that surround them begin to splint or tighten. This serves to protect the inflamed tissue. This tightness can be mild or it can be severe, like a spasm. The spasms are obviously painful. However, the less severe tightness can be too.
Why is that painful?
To help patients understand I ask them a few questions.
“What would happen if you were to do bicep curls all day long every day for a week or two?”
“Do you think your bicep muscle would become sore or painful?”
You bet it would. So, although the pain does not begin in the muscle it usually ends up there.
I fix the disc, joint or nerve problem and the muscle pain goes away.