Monday, May 6, 2013

When Exercise Can Hurt Instead of Helping

I've been seeing a fairly steady stream of clients who have been attempting to use exercise to strengthen an area that's been problematic and instead end up deepening the problem.

It usually begins with a joint or movement that feels painful. The client wants the pain to go away and because they've lost some of their range of motion - their ability to move freely in that area - they decide to attempt to strengthen the area. Because it's the most talked about and prevalent method of strengthening weight training is often the method of choice.

They may choose a weight training program from the internet, a local store or an infomercial. It could be a print based program or a DVD. It really doesn't matter because the end result is that instead of getting stronger the area becomes more painful, clamps down and tightens further and their range of motion lessens even more.

They figure that this is probably part of the strengthening process. Progress should be painful, right? So they tough it out and continue the program but now their form has altered and additional muscles or even areas begin to become burdened and at best they are in severe pain and at worst they are now really, truly good and injured.

The approach I prefer to take to this kind of pain is to make every effort possible to identify what started the pain to begin with. This often takes a little detective work. Your massage therapist can be your ally here because he/she may be able to suggest problematic movements based upon the tightness pattern he/she feels and/or sees in your muscles.

It sounds like it would be near difficult to figure out what caused the problem but it's usually not that hard. It's normally a fairly new activity or repetitive movement that uses the area of concern either directly or to brace the body.

If the pain has gone on longer than 6 months and become chronic it could also be an area that's actually removed from the painful joint. How is this possible you ask? It's because the painful joint or area could be taking over for another weaker joint or area.

The area can be loosened and contributing areas can be searched for during the course of an individualized massage. It's often during the massage that the client suddenly remembers a contributing movement or activity prompted by the body's signals.

If the massage therapist is also movement specialist they will be able to suggest activities that will allow the area to heal itself while strengthening the body appropriately.

If the massage therapist is not a movement specialist they may be able to refer you to a movement specialist.

So the next time you have a joint or body area that is stiff and sore don't jump right to trying to strengthen it. Instead, start by thinking about what movements and/or movement patterns are new in your life and possibly contributing to the problem. Then make an effort to make changes in those patterns in order to relieve the strain on the area.

If that alone doesn't bring you relief, consider scheduling a massage.

One final caveat: This massage won't typically be a totally out of body, floating off the table experience. It will be a working massage with the goal of rebalancing the body to hopefully relieve the muscle strain. That said, I can't think of anything more relaxing than having a nagging pain subside. Can you?

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