Muscle pain: Spasm or contraction in a muscle can happen for many reasons such as a soft tissue injury or a malalignment of the skeleton onto which the muscles and tendons attach. If you are prone to back or neck pain part of your prevention program should include appropriate exercise such as walking, pilates, yoga or stretching. Be aware though, that if you are doing any repetitive exercises incorrectly (such as not breathing from alternate sides when swimming freestyle) you may compound your condition. Being inactive, having a sedentary job, bad posture or lying on the couch while watching TV are common causes of chronic muscular problems.
Acute muscle pain: Heat encourages blood flow, so a hot pack often gives some slight relief. Seek appropriate remedial therapy as soon as possible (see below) – for me the most effective I have found is osteopathy (both conventional and cranial osteopathy), while for others it may be acupuncture, physiotherapy or chiropractic help. For temporary relief, magnesium supplementation (acute dose: 300 – 500 mg 2-3 x a day), natural muscle relaxing herbs such as skullcap and passionflower and a hot bath with Epsom salts can be helpful.
Cramps: Number one muscle remedy is Magnesium and cramps are a dead give away you could be low in this mineral? Foods containing magnesium include: egg yolks, almonds, sesame seeds, brewers yeast and kelp.
As we need a ratio of 2 parts calcium to 1 part magnesium to utilise either mineral – too much or too little calcium can affect your magnesium levels. Plant foods tend to have a better ca:mg balance than dairy foods. Alcohol, animal fats, caffeine and carbonated drinks can also affect the availability or utilisation of magnesium.
Being low in Vitamin E, calcium, sodium and potassium are other potential nutritional causes of cramping. “Restless Legs Syndrome” responds well to supplementation of magnesium and zinc.
Interestingly the heart, which is another type of muscle, has been shown to be low in magnesium when autopsied from people with heart disease.
Fibromyalgia: is characterised by chronic muscle pain and fatigue. A little like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome it is more common in women, may be initially triggered by a virus or infection and no overriding cause or treatment has been identified yet. A good diet (you know what I mean by that – high in plant foods and fish, low in hydrogenated fats, alcohol and caffeine), appropriate low impact exercise, magnesium supplementation and remedial therapies have been most useful to the clients that I have worked with who have this condition. Interestingly, most people diagnosed with fibromyalgia also have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which most naturopaths would consider to be possible food allergies or intolerances. In such cases, working to find an appropriate diet is important. If your digestive system is ‘unhappy’, the rest of the body is not happy either.
Do you stop building muscle as you age? The latest research shows that even someone in their 90’s can benefit from appropriate weight training/resistance work. They mightn’t be entering Iron Man competitions but they will decrease their chances of falls and osteoporosis.
Creatine: is formed from 3 amino acids and is common in body building powders, creatine helps the body supply energy to muscle and nerve cells. It has been investigated to see if it can increase strength in people with degenerative muscle conditions. Meta-analysis of relevant studies shows some promising results. However the whole issue of amino acids and creatine in body building remains controversial. It is also contraindicated in someone with kidney dysfunction.
Creatine is found in meat, fish and other animal products. I’d suggest a safer alternative to body building powders is taking 1 raw, organic egg in a smoothie.
Prevention and maintainance:Exercise and rest are the most important tools to manage chronic musculo-skeletal problems. While overtraining or doing exercises incorrectly are a common cause of muscle problems, appropriate exercise is both a prevention and a cure. There is no one perfect type but if nothing else walk in correct walking shoes for at least half an hour every day. Yoga, pilates, swimming, marital arts and gym-based work are common favourites. Always get expert guidance when attempting a new form of exercise.
A Rough Guide to Remedial Therapies
Osteopathy: “is a “whole body” system of manual therapy, based on unique biomechanical principles, which uses a wide range of techniques to treat musculo-skeletal problems and other functional disorders of the body.
The AOA website explains what this means by the following example:
“To take a simple example, if you go to an Osteopath with a knee injury, the Osteopath will do much more than just examine and treat your knee. They will want to know exactly how the injury occurred in order to assess not just which tissues in the knee are injured, but also whether there may be any involvement of other areas with a mechanical relationship to the knee, such as the foot, hip, low back and pelvis, and the associated soft tissues. They will then want to analyze any possible secondary effects. For instance, you may be “avoiding” the bad knee and putting more weight on the other side. Over a period of time, this may lead to problems developing in the low back or the “good” knee. The Osteopath will then use this information to prescribe a treatment plan that addresses not just the knee, but all of the other areas of the body and associated tissues that may be involved. The plan will include attention not just to the joints and their associated soft tissues, but also to the blood supply to the affected areas, the lymphatic drainage, the nerve supply etc., in order to include all those factors which will affect the success of healing. It is this “whole body, multi-system” approach that has been the basis of Osteopathy’s success over the last century.”
Australian Osteopathic Association1800 4 OSTEO (1800 467 836)
Physiotherapy: uses some of the following techniques to enhance mobility – joint mobilisation and manipulation, therapeutic exercise and stretches, electrophysical agents (such as hot packs, ice & ultrasound), soft tissue massage, breathing exercises & techniques.
Chiropractic: focuses on spinal manipulation. The CAA website describes it as: “The moving bones of the spine protect the vulnerable communication pathways of the spinal cord and nerve roots. If the nervous system is impaired, it can cause malfunction of the tissue and organs throughout the body. Chiropractic doctors call this the Vertebral Subluxation Complex. Vertebral, meaning the bones of the spine. Subluxation, meaning the less than a total dislocation, and Complex, meaning consisting of more than one part. Chiropractic is the science of locating offending spinal structures, the art of reducing their impact to the nervous system, and a philosophy of natural health care based on your inborn potential to be healthy.”
Feldenkrais: focuses on movement, posture and breathing to improve flexibility and co-ordination, as well as general wellbeing.
Alexander Technique: is a favourite of actors and performers, with it’s roots in the founder’s self discovery of how to treat his vocal loss. This one-on-one technique largely focuses on subtle changes to posture for a wide variety of musculo-skeletal and even occupational issues.
Acupuncture is a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), though there is also Japanese acupuncture that is relative shiatsu treatment. An experienced practitioner uses fine needles to balance energy or qi flowing through meridians in the body. Other than for a variety of other medical conditions, acupuncture is a common Complementary Treatment for both acute and chronic musculo-skeletal injuries.
TCM is regulated in this State by the Chinese Medicine Registration Board of Victoria. See the Board’s website to find a qualified practitioner. Note, though many medical doctors offer acupuncture, while researching regulation it was discovered that the greatest amount of adverse reactions in acupuncture occurred when being treated by these types of practitioners. (Source).
Remedial Massage: While most of us like a relaxing massage, which in itself can help prevent some muscular problems, in an acute situation a remedial massage therapist who can work more deeply is most applicable. This usually involves at least a second year of training.
Australian Association of Massage Therapists is the peak body for massage therapists in this country and membership for remedial therapists requires not only appropriate education but also a practical test by the Association.
Note: many massage therapists are also naturopaths and may belong to other associations such as ANTA or ATMS instead.
Orthopedic Surgeons – are your savior if you have broken a bone. In my experience as a Naturopath however, I’d suggest you always get a second opinion from a Osteopath before going ahead with any other kind of orthopedic surgery for chronic musculo-skeletal pain. While some people will still require surgery, in the majority of cases treatment through osteopathy, pilates, Alexander Technique etc has averted this for many.