Which Muscles Are Affected By Stress?

It’s Time For The Beach

Beach At SunsetThis is a perfect time to go to the beach – August is hot and humid, and the water feels so refreshing.  Of course, we now need to socially distance ourselves from each other, but for those of us in Florida that is possible when we have so many beautiful beaches close to our homes.

Most of us are sticking close to home, and summer sure isn’t what it has been in years past. The baseball season was on – then off – and as of right now, who knows!  Most of the people I know are getting through this okay, I hope you are too!

Which Muscles Are Affected By Stress?

We are living in stressful times, and chronic stress can cause your muscles to tighten. When that happens, it can lead to pain in unexpected places. When you visit your doctor, they may recommend drugs or aggressive treatments.

Unfortunately, many doctors are unaware tight muscles can be the real cause of your pain. They don’t know that there are simple treatments that can release your tight muscles and relieve the pain – without resorting to drugs.

This week I will address the top 3 muscles that are affected by chronic stress and how to treat those muscles when they cause you pain.

Levator Scapulae MuscleLevator Scapulae: This is, in my opinion, the #1 muscle that gets involved when we are under stress.  The nickname for the Levator Scapulae is “the shrug muscle” because when it contracts normally you lift your shoulders up….you shrug.

The problem is, the muscle originates on your first four cervical vertebrae, and inserts into your shoulder blade. When you are under stress it is common for your shoulders to lift up. The muscle is held tightly, and a phenomenon called “muscle memory” keeps the muscle in the shortened position. Once the levator scapulae is “stuck” in a  shortened position, when you either bend your neck to the side (bringing your ear closer to your shoulder), or you lift something heavy with your arm, pulling your shoulder down, it pulls on your cervical vertebrae.

This causes your cervical vertebrae to move and puts pressure on your spinal cord right at the base of your brain. The Levator Scapulae has been proven, in my clinical practice, to be the #1 reason for severe headaches. When it gets tight it will pull the insertions at your neck and pull them to the side and down. This causes the bones to press into your spinal cord, right at the base of your brain, and you get a severe headache!

Last month I shared self-treatment techniques to release the tightness in your Levator Scapulae muscles and relieve your tension headaches. If you are suffering from tension headaches, these techniques can work wonders.

Intercostals: The Intercostal muscles are between each rib.  When you breath in, they expand, and when they contract, you breath out.  The problem is, when you are under stress you may hold your breath longer than normal, and muscle memory sets in, and they stay in the shortened position.

As this happens you lose the ability to take a good, deep breath.  This lessens the amount of oxygen that is in your blood and that goes out to your cells.  This can cause problems all over your body.

The solution to this problem is deep breathing exercises. A friend of mine, Tara Clancy, is an expert on breathing and how it affects your entire body.  You can check her out at http://www.o2tara.org.

Masseter MuscleMasseter: Do you clench your teeth when you are under stress?  The muscle that causes you to clench your teeth is called the masseter muscle.  If you put your fingertips onto your cheeks, pressing into your back teeth you are on your masseter muscle. Clench your teeth, you will feel the muscle bulge as it contracts.

The masseter muscle (circled on graphic) is the muscle that contracts to enable you to chew your food.  Normally, as you chew the muscle shortens, and then lengthens as you put more food into your mouth.  However, if you are under chronic stress, and your teeth stay clenched, your masseter will shorten from muscle memory and put a strain on your jaw joint.  This is the cause of a condition called TMJ.

TMJ is a condition where your jawbone rubs, or “clicks,” over the bone that is just in front of your ear. It is painful, and over time it will damage the bones. When you are under stress and constantly clenching your teeth, you are shortening your masseter muscle. The now-shorter muscle prevents you from opening your jaw completely, for example, when you yawn. As you are trying to yawn your jaw flips over the bone, and it hurts.

Self-Treatment For TMJ

Several years ago, I had a client who had such tight masseter muscles that a dental surgeon was going to sever them so she could open her mouth.  This is a terrible solution because it would mean her mouth would hang open for the rest of her life. Fortunately for this client she had to get medical approval before she could have the surgery.  When Dr. Cohen (the doctor I worked with) felt her masseter muscles, he refused to sign the permission form. He told her that she had to see me first, and fortunately I was there at the time.  It took just 30 minutes for me to release the spasms and teach her how to do the treatment.  At the end of the session she was pressing into both masseter muscles and opening her mouth.  She did it easily and without pain!  She started to cry because she came within one day of having this unnecessary surgery. Her life was changed by just a simple self-treatment!

tmj pain treatment reliefPlace your fingers as shown in the picture to the left.  Clench your teeth so you can feel the muscles bulge.

Apply deep pressure on just one side for 5 seconds. Then release that pressure and apply deep pressure to the opposite side for 5 seconds. Go back and forth until it doesn’t hurt anymore.  Then find a different “hot spot,” and repeat.  Continue doing this until you can’t find any more tender points on your muscle and jaw.

To stretch the masseter muscle just press deeply into the original point on the muscle and slowly open your mouth wide.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

How Stretching Can Hurt Your Muscles

Preventing & Healing Repetitive Strain Injuries – Part 3

 Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT

 

These past two weeks we took a look at how muscles move the body, and why muscles cause pain. Then we looked at why strengthening isn’t always the best thing to do, in fact how it could even cause more pain. And finally today we’ll discuss why stretching can actually cause muscles to tear.  I call this the Stretching Misconception.

Stretching Shouldn’t Hurt!

Have you ever felt so tight when you tried to move a joint that you decided to stretch?  The odds are that you answered “yes” to that question.  However, many people complain that they feel worse after stretching than they did before stretching.

Before getting into the specifics of the stretching misconception there are two words that need to be clarified. Many people confuse the word “spasm” with “cramp”. A cramp (also called a “Charlie horse”) normally involves all of the fibers of a muscle, and is when a muscle suddenly contracts totally. A spasm is like tying a knot in the center of the muscle and while it may only involve a few fibers; there can be multiple spasms throughout the muscle.

Each spasm feels like a bump when you slide your fingers deeply down the length of the muscle. These spasms normally form over an extended period of time, often from repetitive strain on the muscle fibers. Spasms are at the heart of the stretching misconception, so it is important that you think of a spasm as a knot in the muscle fibers in order to understand why it can hurt to stretch.

As I mentioned in Part I of this series, a muscle begins on a stationary bone, crosses over a joint, and then inserts into a moveable bone. When the muscle pulls on the moveable bone, the joint moves, however, if the muscle has a “knot” in it you can actually cause micro-tears to the fibers as you stretch.

How Stretching Can Hurt Your Muscles

Stretching Analogy 1Think of this analogy: visualize a strong tree with a rope tied to it. The rope is the perfect length to attach to a flexible tree without bending the second tree. You can imagine if you pulled on the rope the flexible tree would bend over, and if you let go of the rope, the flexible tree would stand up straight again.  This is a simple explanation of how a muscle pulls on a bone and causes the joint to move.

However, if you tied a knot in the rope, the tree would bend. If you tied a second knot, the tree would bend even further. If Stretching Analogy 2you then tried to stretch the rope so the flexible tree was standing straight, you would cause the knot to get tighter and the remaining rope would have to overstretch on both sides of the knot in order for the flexible tree to stand up straight.

This is exactly what is happening when you have a spasm, or multiple spasms, in your muscle. As you stretch you are causing the knot within the muscle to get tighter, and you are also causing the fibers on either side of the spasm to overstretch. This overstretching may cause the fibers to actually tear either along the length of the muscle, or where the fibers attach to the bone at either end of the muscle. This can be avoided by simply massaging the muscle to release the spasm before you stretch.

It’s now easy to understand why the repetitive movements that you do on a regular basis will cause the muscle to ultimately shorten into knots that we call spasms or trigger points.  As I mentioned, when you try to stretch a spasm you can be causing yourself potential problems, and may even tear the muscle fibers.

Fortunately there is a solution. First you need to release the spasms that are causing the muscle to tie up into a knot, and then you can safely stretch. TriggerPointYoga was designed and developed to first eliminate the spasms in the muscle you will be stretching, and then continues to give four separate session of traditional yoga poses – two for the upper body and two for the lower body.  You will gain flexibility and range-of-motion without injuring your muscle fibers.

Julie Donnelly is an internationally respected muscular therapist specializing in the treatment of chronic pain and sports injuries.  She has co-authored several self-treatment books, including The 15 Minute Back Pain Solution, Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living  and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You.  Julie is also the co-developer of TriggerPoint Yoga. She teaches Julstro self-treatment workshops nationwide and is a frequent presenter at Conventions and Seminars.  Julie may be contacted through her websites: http://www.julstro.com  and http://www.TriggerPointYoga.com.

© Julie Donnelly 2013

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

How Muscles Cause Joint Pain

Preventing & Healing Repetitive Strain Injuries – Part 1

 Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT

 

Quadriceps
Quadriceps

Using the words “pain” and “free” in the same sentence causes people who love to exercise laugh since it seems to be a contradiction of terms, but it is not only possible, it’s easy to achieve. It is understood that exercising, or even just daily living, causes muscles to ache and will also put stress on joints.

When the pain begins you are told to use “RICE” (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) – but you don’t have the time, or you simply don’t want to rest! So, you keep going and just as you’ve been told, it gets worse, even to the point where you may need to stop your world!

You’ve also come to realize that resting (when you do decide to rest) only lasts for a short time, and then the pain returns. The good news is you can be a pain-free; you just need to know how to find the source of your pain and then how to effectively treat it.

How Muscles Cause Joint Pain

RICE certainly works immediately after having a traumatic injury, but repetitive stress on your muscles requires treatment of the knots that are putting tension onto the tendons and joints.  Getting back to basic anatomy will help to unravel the misconceptions that plague both athletes and non-athletes alike.  Once you understand the logic of why you are feeling pain, you will know exactly what needs to be done to immediately release a muscle-related pain anywhere in your body.

This is NOT going to be a complicated lesson in Anatomy & Physiology, but I’ve found that a little knowledge of the body goes a long way. I’m going to put the proper names for the muscles and tendons into a parenthesis so if you want to actually see the muscles that are causing you pain you’ll be able to look them up.

I always tell the clients I work with “the most challenging part is finding where the source of the pain is located, and then treating it is easy”.  This article will help you to find the source of your problem.  Let’s begin at the beginning…

The Basics – How a Joint Moves

Movement is a simple process:

1. A muscle originates on a bone.

2. It then merges into a tendon.

3. The tendon crosses over the joint to insert into a movable bone.

4. When the muscle contracts it pulls on the tendon.  The tendon then pulls on the moveable bone and your joint moves.

Example: The Muscles of Your Upper Leg

Hamstrings
Hamstrings

All joints have two (or more) muscles that determine the degree and angle that the joint will move.  While one muscle is contracting, the other muscle must relax and stretch. A good example of this principle are the muscles of your upper leg. (quadriceps and hamstrings).

The quadriceps originate on the front of your hip (pelvis), merge into a thick tendon (patella tendon) and cross over the knee cap to insert onto the front of your shinbone (tibia).  When they contract normally you fully extend your leg so it becomes straight. Meanwhile, your hamstrings originate on the lower edge at the back of your pelvis; go down the back of your thigh, with the tendons crossing over the back of your knee and inserting onto the back side/top of the lower leg bone.

Consider this analogy, if you attached your pants to the front of your shinbone, and then pulled up at the waist, you would feel the pressure at your knee and you also wouldn’t be able to bend your knee. Likewise, since your quadriceps originate up at the front of your pelvis and insert into your shinbone, when your quadriceps are tight they can’t stretch and you can’t bend your knee.

For example, to demonstrate an analogy of what tight hamstrings would do, consider what would happen if you bent your leg and then attached your pants to the bottom of your posterior pelvis (the bone you sit on, at the top of your thigh) and the back of your knee, you wouldn’t be able to open your leg up straight.  But, clearly, you don’t have a knee problem, you have tightness in the upper thigh (hamstring) preventing your knee from moving.

When this has happened you begin to feel stiffness and a lack of your full strength. Some therapists will tell you that you need to strengthen your thigh (quadriceps) muscles. You may also think you need to stretch your hamstrings, but stretching a spasm is counter-productive and can actually make the spasm become more complicated while over-stretching the rest of the muscle fiber.

In Part II we’ll look at the first misconception – strengthening the muscle will heal the pain.

Julie Donnelly is an internationally respected muscular therapist specializing in the treatment of chronic pain and sports injuries.  She has co-authored several self-treatment books, including The 15 Minute Back Pain Solution, Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living  and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You.  Julie is also the co-developer of TriggerPoint Yoga. She teaches Julstro self-treatment workshops nationwide and is a frequent presenter at Conventions and Seminars.  Julie may be contacted through her websites: http://www.julstro.com  and http://www.TriggerPointYoga.com.

© Julie Donnelly 2013

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

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