Ever so often I meet people who suffer from chronic pain. The most common areas of chronic pain are the shoulders, neck, knees and lower back. Often such ailments are caused by faulty movement patterns caused by muscle imbalances. These imbalances may be brought on by a number of circumstances. Inactivity is a major culprit of this type of pain, overuse is another.
When I meet someone for an initial consultation or evaluation my first question to them is “where do you experience chronic pain”? 80% of the people who I work with are dealing with some kind of pain on a regular basis. It may not be debilitating pain, but its enough to be a constant nag.
As a personal trainer, I am not trained to treat pain. However, I am trained to treat the muscular dysfunctions that often lead to pain. I am going to give you a bit of insight as to how many of the chronic ailments that we all deal with are caused and just a few methods available to combat them.
Many of us spend our days behind a desk or driving many miles to get to work. Over time this seated position causes the chest and shoulder muscles to become shortened and tight limiting proper range of motion and function of the shoulder joint. This rounding of the shoulders has a direct affect on the opposing muscles of the upper back. The lower Trapezius, Rhomboids (muscles that attach to the scapulae on the back) and the muscles of the rotator cuff become inhibited, reducing their function. The upper Trapezius muscles become over-active and some times painful.
Sooner or later, the shoulder begins to compensate and a dysfunctional movement pattern develops. It will commonly be represented by anterior shoulder, and neck pain. A very painful condition called impingement syndrome may also develop if the issue is not addressed. This can potentially lead to tears in the rotator cuff muscles.
An example of an overuse injury could be A gym-rat who spends much of his time on the bench press, or focusing on the anterior muscles of the body like the chest and shoulders. That’s because over-developed anterior muscles (chest and shoulders) can inhibit the appropriate function of the posterior (back) muscles. This same scenario can occur at the hip, knee and ankle joints as well, and if not addressed, will inevitably cause pain and/or injury somewhere at or in between these joints.
Another example is an avid runner who accumulates many miles weekly when training. Without an effective cross-training and recovery program, this type of overuse will many times lead to anterior or lateral knee pain also know as IT Band Syndrome. A well-developed training program for a runner would include proper strength training, different types of flexibility techniques or stretching and other recovery methods like massage and self myofacial release with a foam roller.
Healthy flexibility is an important part of a properly functioning joint. However, improving flexibility is not all that needs to be addressed. As previously stated, when muscles become short and tight they tend to inhibit the muscles that oppose them. These muscles need to be activated in order to remedy dysfunctional movement patterns.
The gym-rat for example, would need to work on not only improving the flexibility of his chest and shoulders but should also do a lot more work on his back and the muscles of the rotator cuff. The runner could benefit from strengthening the Gluteus muscles and keeping the calves, hip flexors and I.T. band healthy and flexible.
Massage, self myofacial release and stretching are just some of the methods used to promote healthy, mobile joint function. Very specific strengthening exercises should be used in conjunction with these modalities to have a greater impact on overall function. If you think you can benefit from learning more I suggest hiring a qualified trainer or therapist.
Jim O’Hagan is an NASM (CPT) Certified Personal Fitness Trainer and a Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES). He is also the owner of Core Dynamics, an exclusive fitness club located in Water Mill, New York.