What you don’t know about muscles and how to properly care for them.
Muscles form the cornerstone of the movement, structure and strength of the body. They store nutrients, energy and assist in maintaining the temperature of the body through activity. Without them we wouldn’t be able to function efficiently, yet we only seem to take care of them when a problem occurs. The prevention of muscle disorders/injuries is far more important than treatment, but once a muscle is injured, recovery can be fairly quick if the information mentioned in this article is kept in mind.
There are 8 very important muscles in the body that are in a state of permanent semi-contraction and only rest when we sleep. These are called anti-gravity muscles. These muscles are the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, trapezius (upper-midback), hamstrings, errecor spinnae (run parallel and alongside the spine), rectus abdominus (6 pack muscles), gastrocnemius(calf), and tibialis anterior(shin muscles). These all help us keep our balance and posture, but when one of them is injured, it can cause a major disruption to the body. Special care must be taken of these muscles at all times, because they are almost always tight and tense from the stresses that we put on them, not only physically, but emotionally as well. Our emotions affect our muscles too, as they cause us to tense up and long-term tension results in knots.
What are knots/fibrous adhesions?
When a muscle has been tight for an extended period of time, the weakest point often gives way and bunches up. Imagine pulling an old elastic band and certain areas bunch up, while the rest keep stretching until they give way. A lump is a bunched-up part of the muscle and is called a knot. Often when an injury occurs, the surrounding muscles compensate and take the load, and this too, can cause knots. Other causes of knots are: poor diet, poor circulation, poor posture, skeletal disorders, sickness, stress, muscle disorders, old injuries and a lack of exercise or flexibility.
Knots are grouped into two categories: active and passive.
- Active knots are painful without even touching them – back-ache is symptomatic of active knots.
- Passive knots can be present, but you won’t notice until someone presses on them, and then only will pain be felt.
Knots restrict movement, cause pain and decrease muscle strength, but most go unnoticed because the body becomes accustomed to the symptoms and compensates. When a knot becomes particularly bad, the pain often transfers to the nearest joint – leading people to believe that they have torn ligaments or tendons. Knots that have been untreated for an extended period of time lose blood circulation and a buildup of toxins occurs, which is why some experience headaches after massage.
The only way to release a knot is to relax the muscle or stretch it. This can be accomplished by chiropractors, physiotherapists, masseuses and even some alternative forms of therapy such as acupuncture. The smaller and more recent knots are relatively easy to remove, but the older knots (which can feel like rocks), might take many sessions. Keep in mind that removing knots is normally very painful.
I personally recommend seeing a sports masseuse or physiotherapist, since they specialise in treating muscles. They will be able to feel if the pain is related to muscles and find the problematic muscles, or simply keep the muscles in good health. (See my article on massage)
Rules to adhere to when looking after your muscles.
- Always stretch before and after exercise. This is advice that almost no-one takes seriously. I have personally seen the difference in athletes when they stretch – it definitely helps prevent injuries.
- Drink plenty water and get enough sleep.
- Seek regular treatment to relax your muscles. Even when you sit behind a desk all day, your muscles are taking strain, and regular treatments will prevent pain and injuries later on.
- If you have a muscle injury you MUST seek treatment. The smallest tear in a muscle can affect your muscle performance later in life and almost all injures come back to haunt you.
Vitamins for healthy muscles.
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): promotes normal muscle tone. Found in meats and whole grains.
- Vitamin C: Promotes healthy muscles and strengthens the body’s resistance to sickness. Found in citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables.
- Calcium: Promotes muscle growth, contraction and prevents cramps. Found in Green leafy vegetables and raw nuts/seeds.
- Iodine: Important in physical and mental development. Found in seafood.
- Potassium: Ensures proper muscle function and contractions. Found in milk or bananas
- Magnesium: Ensures proper muscle function. Found in whole gains and green leafy vegetables.
Natural food supplements
- Evening primrose oil: Natural anti-inflammatory and relieves muscle strains.
- Barley grass: Natural anti-inflammatory.
Aromatherapy oils for muscle care
- Lemongrass: Rejuvenates muscles, prevents fatigue, eliminates lactic acid and stimulates circulation.
- Rosemary: Warms and clears overused muscles and relieves muscular aches. Helps restore tone.
- Peppermint: Relieves aches, pains and tired muscles. Numbs and warms muscles too.
- Ginger: Good for warming muscles and relieves pain, cramps, sprains and spasms.