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Musculoskeletal pain and injury can be caused by a single factor, or it can be the combined effect of multiple factors. When hunting for the source of a new or chronic problem, here are some things to consider.
What’s Behind the Pain?
Common contributors to injury, chronic pain and poor physical performance include:
Adhesions: Feeling stuck? If your movements are painful or restricted, you may be experiencing adhesion due to acute trauma, accumulated micro traumas, repetitive motion or oxygen deprivation in tissue.
Body misalignments: Misalignment can lead to tight and weak muscles. I typically see asymmetrical limb lengths, rotated pelvic bones, and over-pronated or over-supinated feet.
Fascial distortions: Fascia is a thin layer of fibrous connective tissue surrounding muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels. Because it is integrated with the nervous system, when fascia becomes distorted or “stuck,” it causes pain and restricted motion.
Poor posture: If you’re not standing straight and tall, you’re asking your muscles to function from a compromised position. Bad posture also increases the muscles’ workload. That’s a perfect set up for pain and injury.
Poor technique: Proper technique is critical for safe, injury-free physical training. Improper technique subjects your body to unnecessary stress and can lead to tissue dysfunction.
Overused or overworked muscles: Your muscles need a break. Overtaxed muscles tighten up, reducing blood flow and leading to oxygen deprivation and an accumulation of waste products. No wonder tired muscles get sore.
Inhibited muscles: Sometimes a muscle has to look out for itself. An inhibited or less-responsive muscle may be the result of the body’s protective mechanism to prevent further stress of already damaged area.
Disproportionally weak or imbalanced muscles: Both under-training and overuse can leave your body vulnerable to asymmetrical stresses.
Asymmetrical mobility: An uneven distribution of force throughout the body may lead to the development of compensatory movement patterns.
Inflexibility: Overly tight muscles disrupt fluid movement and force attenuation. The feeling of tightness may be a form of protective tension to protect the structure from further damage.
Compensation/substitution patterns: Inefficient or injury-inducing muscle patterns may signal the body is trying compensate for any of the factors listed above.
Insufficient force production: Weakness or lack of strength may indicate one or more of the factors outlined above.
A Vicious Cycle
Any one of these variables can lead to one or more of the other issues, which in turn can produce or worsen the other variables. Here’s an example of this cyclical, interrelated scenario: Poor posture – such as hunched shoulders or a forward-thrusting neck – forces certain muscles to over work. These tired muscles can't handle their normal workload, so other muscles work harder to compensate. These compensating muscles can develop adhesions, which compromise their ability to contract and lengthen. The result? A limited range of motion and inflexible muscles.
Let’s say this happens to the psoas muscle, which connects your thighbone to your lumbar vertebrae. The psoas pulls on your spine, compressing and irritating the joints and creating back pain. In a different scenario, a muscle with compromised extensibility/flexibility can alter a joint's mechanics, leading to a slow erosion of the joint surface (cartilage) -- and pain.