How to Treat and Prevent Muscle Injuries

muscular body

Most people will stop a new exercise routine due to injury. I read somewhere once that 90% of all people who start up a new exercise routine will have to stop due to injury.

Once injured, it can take 2 weeks to years on end to heal. Depending on how bad the injury was, how old you are, how much wear and tear you have on your body, how healthy you are, what type of shape you are in, how well you eat, and how much you are sleeping can affect how quickly you heal from an injury.

It might not be that major of an injury at first. Many people in car accidents don’t have pain right away. But symptoms can come on 2 hours to 6 months to even a year an accident or trauma.

That is why, after a car accident, insurance companies are quick to dangle a lump sum of money in front of you if you will sign away any future claims against them. The insurance companies know that medical bills can pile up as symptoms do not go away.

Minor tweaks or sprains and strains can also have a way of sticking around a long time.

Your body remembers injuries and insults. I commonly hear from patients who are as young as their 20s and old as 90 to 100, that they remember the first time they had the pain that they are coming into my office for. They remember the original injury from when they were younger, and they remember the pain of that injury. Commonly, the pain that they come into my office with, is the same as the pain that they had originally when they were injured many years ago.

Is that possible? Does the body remember injuries?

This is very possible, it occurs all of the time. I am a trigger point specialist who works with muscles and the nervous system.  It used to be thought that the nervous system does not change. Research is now showing that the nervous system is actually malleable. You can change it and alter it over time.

Just as you can positively affect the muscles and the nervous system through diet, exercise, trigger point therapy and chiropractic (which will all help aches and pains heal quickly and completely), you can negatively affect them as well. This is what happens during an injury.

When you are injured, there is commonly soft tissue damage. Soft tissue is ligaments, tendons, muscles, collagen, collagen fibers. Most sports injuries are soft tissue injuries. Any type of sprain or strain or overuse injury is a soft tissue injury. When soft tissue is injured, it gets torn on a microscopic level. When it tears, the rest of the muscle reflexively contracts to prevent further tearing. The muscle contracts so hard that it establishes a neurological connection between the muscle and the spinal cord, called a reflex arch. This reflex arch keeps the muscles in a pattern of spasm and inflammation that can last for weeks to months to even years. It is a neurological phenomena. This explains how chronic pain gets wired into your system and how the pain can far outlast the precipitating injury.

This neurological wiring into your body allows the injury to stick around for months to years. Even when the muscles finally fall out of those patterns of spasm and inflammation, the neurological pathways and connections are still there. So it is easy for the muscles to fall back into those patterns of spasm and inflammation in the future.

That is why once you have a soft tissue injury (sprained ankle, pulled low back, hip flexor injury, frozen shoulder, rotator cuff injury, etc.) you become more likely to have it happen again in the future. This is because those neurological pathways are established and become permanent.

The best way to treat, cure and manage an issue like this, and to prevent it from coming back, is exercise, stretching, and eating right.

This neurological wiring explains how if you have had low back pain in the past, you will get it again in the future. It is because most low back pain comes from soft tissue damage. There may be underlying issues like osteo-arthritis, stenosis, spondylolisthesis, anterolisthesis, herniated discs, etc, but in most back issues, there will be soft tissue and muscle involvement. The soft tissue damage gets wired into your system, thus making it easy for your muscles to fall back into that old pattern of spasm and inflammation.

Another component that makes you more likely to suffer a soft tissue injury again in the future is that when the muscles repair themselves, they will not be structurally as stable as they were before the injury. Even if you stretch, exercise, and eat right, the muscle still will not be quite as strong or stable as it was prior to the injury. A scar is not as strong as the original tissue.

How do you treat a soft tissue or muscle injury?

The first step is to loosen up and balance out the muscles, which restores normal range of motion and reduces pain. When muscles tear they fall into a pattern of spasm and inflammation. So it is essential to get them to calm down first before trying to strengthen them up. The muscles will be weak at this point, but they will be weak because they are torn, spasmed and inflamed. Do not strengthen them while they are injured. If you do, you will only reinforce the injury, and drive it deeper into your neurological system and make it harder to get worked out. A chiropractor (especially one who does trigger point therapy like Nimmo, or other soft tissue techniques) is the best person to get your muscular-skeletal system balanced, reduce pain and restore range of motion. A chiropractor will be able to get you out of the cycle of pain.

During this healing process stretching is essential. Stretching will help you to heal more quickly. It will help those spasmed and inflamed muscles loosen up. It will allow the torn ends of the muscle fibers to come into contact with each other which will speed along the healing process. Stretching will also aid in the balancing out of your body. Consistent stretching will also keep you lose, and prevent injuries from coming back.

Once your musculo-skeletal system is balanced and the pain is reduced, you will be primed to start exercising. If you had been exercising consistently for years prior to your injury, and then had to take a month or two, or more, off because of the injury, do not jump right back into exercising at where you left off. I recommend the 50% rule. If you have taken more than 1 month off due to an injury, then start back at 50% intensity, 50% duration, 50% weight of what you were doing before, exercise-wise. If it has been less than 4 weeks, and you are an avid and consistent exerciser, then you might be able to start back with more intensity. But you have to go easy with that injured area. If you injured your low back, then you can do upper body at 100% (let pain be your guide), but core and lower body should be done at 50%.

Always let pain be your guide. Pain is your body’s self protective mechanism, listen to it. It will not steer you wrong.

If you haven’t exercised consistently in months to years and have suffered an injury, you do not want to start a new exercise routine until the injury is gone or getting better. When the injury is healing and getting better, you can slowly introduce some core exercises and proceed from there.

The Pain Free Lifestyle program is set up to take you step  by step from not being in shape and having not exercised in years to getting into shape and being able to exercise consistently injury-free. It lists out how to start exercising in easy to follow and easy on the body steps. If you are injured the stretches can help speed up the healing process and so can the right amount of light exercise. But it is better if you can get treatment for the injury before starting the exercise routine.

The Pain Free Lifestyle program is a great tool to go along with working with a chiropractor, physical therapist, or any other healthcare practitioner. The program will help you get out of pain through stretching and movement, and get you into shape. Being in shape, exercising and stretching and eating right all will then contribute to prevent injuries in the future.  It is the Pain Free Way.

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