I look to the future because that's where I'm going to spend the rest of my life.
- George Burns
Are You in Pain?
We often see people who are in severe pain because of muscles that are in constant contraction. What is this, and how does it affect our bodies? Let me begin with a story from my childhood.
When I about 10 years old, Dad played a trick on me and my brother, Joe. He said, “I bet I can make a quarter so heavy that you won't be able to hold it up” Of course, we thought he was crazy; there was no way he could make a quarter so heavy we couldn't hold it up. After all, a quarter weighs next to nothing; and Joe and I were young and strong swimmers.
Dad reached into his pocket and pulled out two quarters. He made us stand at attention and hold one arm straight out to the side with the palm down. He then placed a quarter on the back of each outstretched hand and told us to hold still. He took a look at his watch and turned his attention to an engineering problem.
At first there was absolutely no problem. Just as we thought, the quarter weighed next to nothing. We were fine. Dad seemed to pay us no mind as time passed. Five minutes later our shoulder muscles were beginning to ache. After ten minutes our muscles were starting to burn. We never made the 15-minute mark. It literally took days for our shoulder muscles to recover and feel normal again.
Of course, Dad had not really made the quarter heavy. He had used the power of constant contraction to quickly exhaust our muscles. The same thing might have happened to you while you took a written examination or addressed a lot of Christmas cards. We call it writer’s cramp. Even the light contraction needed to hold a pen can cause so much pain we are forced to drop it and shake out our hand.
We have all experienced another example of the debilitating effects of constant muscular contraction. It happens when we are sick and have a fever. As our body's thermostat is reset from 98.6 to 101 we feel a chill, and our muscles tighten up and work harder in order to create more heat. Everyone knows how just a few days of this continuous muscular contraction results in full body ache and stiffness and pain in our joints.
The reason constant contraction is so damaging to a muscle’s health is due to changes in the blood flow through that muscle. As a muscle does its work, it uses energy and creates a waste product just like a car uses gas and produces exhaust. Blood flowing through the muscle both delivers the sugar energy and carries the toxic waste away from the muscle.
The vessels that carry this blood are not made of plastic tubing but are living, collapsable tissues. Arteries have thick muscular walls and a high internal pressure so they resist compression by muscular contraction. But veins are thin walled and have a low internal pressure leaving them vulnerable to collapse during muscular contraction.
This collapsing nature of veins is actually an ingenious device of Mother Nature. In effect, the muscular contraction acts as a miniature pump by squeezing the venous blood back towards the heart. When the muscle then relaxes, the veins refill and the process is repeated. In this way, the blood flow of a hardworking muscle can be increased tenfold over resting levels.
This is how people are able to climb a mountain like Long's Peak. Each of the 20,000 steps needed to reach the top required quite a bit of muscular work but each of those steps also created a pumping effect that milked the veins and cleaned the muscles of waste products. Back and forth: back and forth. High pressure: low pressure. High pressure: low pressure – constantly cleaning put the waste blood making room for the new blood with its treasures of sugar and oxygen.
When a muscle is constantly contracting, none of this healthy cleaning occurs. Even a mild level of contraction (remember Joe and me with the quarters on the back of our hands?) is enough to collapse the veins and keep them that way. Because the pressure never goes away, the veins do not refill and the pumping effect comes to a halt.
Without the pumping effect cleaning the muscle out and clearing the way for the new healthy blood, it does not take long before the muscle tires and finally is exhausted. If we are holding our arms out to the side, we have to drop our hands to our sides. If we are writing an examination, we have to drop the pen and shake our hand.
Unfortunately, most constant muscle contraction is not caused by such short-term and easily avoided activities. The vast majority of constant contraction within our muscles is caused by problems in the pelvis and spine that cause nerve irritation. These kinds of problems need professional attention because they do not heal themselves.
At Dr. Borman and Associates, we specialize in discovering the root causes of muscular contractions and then gently eliminating them. Our successful program of non-thrusting manipulation coupled with ultrasound to clean out overworked muscles can have you enjoying life again.
Maybe you have some tight areas in your body right now as you read this issue of Praktikos. Maybe it's in your hip or down into your leg. Maybe the tightness is across your shoulders. Maybe your neck won't relax even when you go to bed at night. Maybe your low back is locked up or your jaw just won't let go.
Maybe you ought to call us right now.