How Can Tight Muscles Result in Back Pain?
Occasionally, chronic back pain can be caused by something called "chronic passive tension." If your muscles are contracted while you aren't using them, ligaments and tendons are strained. You feel this as a constant stiffness. Unless you have an undiscovered muscular injury, you might be suffering from CPT.
When you lift a heavy box, hunch over your desk all day, or even just get out of bed in the morning, your back muscles tighten up. This is called "active tension" because those muscles are consciously contracting with a purpose.
The problem is that if they stay too tight for too long, you get what's called "passive tension." Here muscles remaining contracted without conscious effort. Since keeping them that way takes some strain on the tendons and ligaments that attach to them, this can cause pain in your back and other places. In fact, it can also lead to more serious problems like disc herniation.
Muscle soreness vs chronic pain
It's important to distinguish between having tight muscles and just being out of shape. The former is caused by a variety of lifestyle factors; the latter is mainly about not being active enough to build up and maintain a certain baseline level of strength.
The main difference between the two is that tight muscles feel stiff consistently. When you're out of shape, you might be sore from time to time, but it's not a chronic problem that keeps you from moving around normally.
Tight muscles are usually a lot stiffer than muscles that are just out of shape. You can't stretch a muscle that's already this tight. It's like trying to stretch a rubber band that's been wound too tight: it doesn't snap back to its original relaxed length like a relaxed muscle does when you stretch it out.
Muscle stiffness and back aches
When your back muscles are stiff, it's usually just a dull ache that doesn't get in the way of everyday activities too much. You can usually still sit, stand, and walk as usual, and you're not feeling debilitating pain.
While it can be an early warning sign that you might have back pain coming (especially when it's accompanied by other signs of impending pain like fatigue, stress, and poor posture), the ache itself is usually not bad enough to really disrupt your life.
If chronic muscle stiffness is getting in the way of your daily activities, it's time to get help. A chiropractor can determine the cause of chronic back pain. Chiropractic, therapeutic massage, and dry needling therapy can give you long term relief.
When your back muscles cause pain elsewhere
Back muscle stiffness that's accompanied by other signs of impending pain is likely a sign that your muscles have tightened to the point where they're putting some strain on the tendons and ligaments that attach to them.
This is when your pain may start creeping into everyday activities like sitting and standing. When this happens, your muscles can start causing pain in places other than your back. Your lower back muscles connect to your thighs, knees, and feet, so your back pain can move down to your calves and toes. When your core muscles and other muscles in your upper body are strained from being too tight and weak, they can start pulling on your neck and shoulders. This can also result in neck or headache pain.
Core strength and tight muscles
The root cause of most of many problems is weakness in your core muscles. Your core muscles are a group of muscles that form a cylinder around your spine from your pelvis up to your shoulders. They're responsible for keeping your torso stable during movement and everyday activities so you don't injure yourself.
When your core muscles aren't strong enough to do this, your upper body muscles have to step in and pick up the slack. Unfortunately, they aren't built for that kind of heavy lifting and will start to ache and get tired easily.
This makes them more prone to getting injured and creates a vicious feedback loop that perpetuates the problem. The weaker your core is, the more your upper body muscles have to step in and help out. But that means they're overworked, get tired faster, and become more prone to injury.
Can stretching relieve back pain?
It sounds like a no-brainer: If your muscles are too tight, you should stretch them out so they're not putting you at risk for injury. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. If your muscles are already too tight to be stretched out easily, you're just going to make the problem worse.
Because your muscles are already too tight to be stretched out easily, you have to stretch them gently enough that they don't feel like they're being pulled too hard. The best way to approach this is by using gentle assisted stretching. Assisted stretching requires a partner to help you stretch out your muscles without putting yourself in danger of injury. This involves your partner applying light pressure to your leg, arm, or other body part while you stretch it out.
Again, shameless plug – along with chiropractic treatment, a chiropractor can give you instructions on stretches and other exercises that will help relieve your pain.
Strengthening your core
If your muscles are already too tight to be stretched out easily, you can't just stretch your way out of this problem. You have to build up the strength in your core muscles so they're strong enough not to strain and cause pain elsewhere.
When you're exercising, it's important not to just work your chest, butt, and legs. Your core muscles are just as important for your overall health, and their weakness is what's causing your other aches and pains in the first place! Because your core muscles are the ones keeping your torso stable and preventing your back muscles from pulling on your neck and shoulders, the best way to prevent future pain is to focus on strengthening these muscles.
You can do this through strength training with free weights, resistance bands, or even just body-weight exercises like push-ups and planks.
Book an appointment with a chiropractor to get relief
Dr. Wood has worked with hundreds of patients who suffer from chronic back pain. In your first visit, Dr. Wood will be able to identify the root cause of your back pain and start giving you relief. It may be impossible for you to know whether you're just suffering from stiff muscles or some other back injury. A chiropractor can give you that knowledge and the steps to pain relief.
When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.