How To Cure Most Back and Neck Pain
Treating Muscle Imbalance: One of the Best Possibilities to Resolve and Even
Cure the Cause of Most Back and Neck Pain
In our article
Identifying All the CAUSES of Back and Neck Pain we mentioned a statistic
that 95% of back pain has no diagnosable cause. Unfortunately, if you have been
given this explanation for your back pain you have also been prescribed a number
of treatments that all fall within what your doctor would call the “Conservative
Approach.” You would also likely be told that if you follow this treatment plan
your pain would clear up within a few days to weeks.
We also mentioned that realistically, within 1 – 2 years, a minimum of
50% of such cases would go on to develop further recurrent pain episodes.
In our previous articles we asked you to look at; under treated pain; a lack of
homeostasis; and a lack of a healthy well functioning metabolic system as major
contributors to “premature” aging diseases, which by medical definition includes
back and neck pain conditions.
Now we want to present to you another “cause” of back and neck pain. This is a
cause which has been known about for decades. A cause, which when properly
treated has a significant resolution and cure rate for a great many back and
neck pain sufferers. This includes many people who have already been
diagnosed with “degenerative spinal disease” conditions. Unfortunately, for a
host of reasons, it was shut away in the dusty closet of useful medical
This Little Known and Rarely Talked About
(Often referred to as Somatic Dysfunction.)
Studies have show that a high percentage of people with back pain have nothing
more than tight (semi-contracted) back muscles.
The fact of the matter is muscle imbalance can be the cause of any number of
muscle, fascia, metabolic and mechanical postural dysfunctions and syndromes.
Left untreated these imbalances can and do lead to “degenerative spinal
conditions” aka degenerative spine. What causes this are the excessive
forces unevenly exerted on the spine’s joints, ligaments and discs from
overactive (hypertonic, semi-contracted) muscles and underactive (hypotonic,
overly stretched) muscles.
Degenerative spinal disease, AKA - spinal “aging”. This “aging” is said
to begin as early (sometimes earlier) as a person’s twenties, (which makes
little sense, in our opinion.) A variety of terms are then used to describe the
resulting symptoms of this “aging” condition. These terms include:
osteoarthritis, disc degeneration aka degenerative disc disease (including
everything from a bulging to a herniated disc) ligament dysfunction, facet
syndrome, facet joint disease, spurring, arthritis, nerve entrapment, nerve
impingement, and spinal stenosis.
Hypertonic muscle ((semi-contracted muscle) may “pull” neighboring vertebrae
together closely enough to cause pinched nerve roots which exit the spinal
canal, causing pain and numbness in the extremities. They may also cause the
vertebrae to “twist” out of alignment. These powerful forces alter the movement
of all the joints, including the facet joints leading to joint breakdown. When
vertebrae are pulled closely together, discs between the vertebrae may get
“squeezed” and eventually break down (bulge or rupture) from these long-term
The same muscle imbalance that cause this type of “degeneration” in an around
the spine is also a leading contributor (if not actual cause) of Fibromyalgia
and other such syndromes.
A Little History About
Muscle Imbalances For many years now a branch of physical medicine has been able to
explain why this 95% of back or neck pain can’t be traced to a diagnosable
medical cause. This is because muscle imbalances cannot be seen with X-rays, or
any other scanning apparatus. Studies from this branch of physical medicine have
also explained why the lack of early treatment of this problem results in the
progressive degenerative nature of back and neck pain conditions.
Even better news for new, and fairly new, back pain sufferers is that they have
also developed highly effective, relatively easy, gentle, painless treatments.
These treatments even help to provide relief for people whose muscle imbalances
have progressed to the chronic pain of disc, bone, ligament and joint problems.
This method of treatment has often saved people the necessity to undergo various
invasive and semi-invasive surgical procedures.
Could YOUR Back Pain Be the Result of Muscle
Let us help you to understand what Muscle Imbalance is all about. Then you can
decide if any of this makes sense to you. If you think you should look into a
treatment plan based upon this science be prepared to be your own advocate. Be
prepared to ask, insist, and seek out people versed in this treatment process.
Even though these practitioners may use different names for their treatment
process, there are many who practice this specialized muscle treatment,
so don’t be discouraged.
What is Muscle Imbalance?
It means just what it says; a person’s musculoskeletal system is not in proper
balance causing restriction in healthy joint and musculoskeletal movement.
However, it is a little more complicated then this.
The skeletal muscles work together to allow movement. For many reasons some of
our muscles can become what is known as “HypERtonic” and when this occurs
corresponding (paired) muscles will become “HypOtonic.”
Without getting too technical, a muscle that is Hypertonic it is a muscle
that is shortened and tight, and over time (sometimes also weak) and is unable
to “relax” or “release” the contraction fully when needed. It can develop into a
muscle that begins to exist in a state of chronic, semi-contraction, which the
body recognizes as suffering with a mini muscle spasm all the time. The paired
Hypotonic muscles become chronically “over stretched” and weak and are
unable to contract when needed. Of course, this set-up decreases correct
movement of the joint causing it to move in an altered way, which can lead to
FACT: A muscle that is chronically
semi-contracted causes metabolic dysfunction within the muscle tissues. It also
squeezes blood vessels and nerves running through the muscle. This interferes
with healthy blood supply and proper nerve signaling.
An Example of How Muscles Work in Opposite
Muscles exist as “agonists” and “antagonists.” This is another way of saying –
Muscles move the skeleton and joints by working in opposite pairs. For instance,
if you bend your elbow to touch your shoulder, your biceps (muscles on the front
of the upper arm) contract, and the triceps (muscles on the back of the upper
arm) relax. It works the other way when you straighten your arm - the triceps
contract while the biceps relax
What Causes Muscle Imbalances?
There are more reasons than we can cover in this article but here are some of
the most common. See if you can relate to any
1. A lifetime of poor posture which gets poorer as we age. This can start from
birth and become a pain and disability problem as early as our teens and
2. Jobs or activities that require a lot of forward bending (flexing) and/or
lifting/twisting from that forward bend.
3. Jobs or activities requiring long or excessive use of extension (bending
4. Jobs that require static position or repetitive motion – like computer work,
5. A lack of exercise. Over exercise, and Incorrect
6. Repetitive Stress - Both Physical and Emotional - Just think about
defensive attitudes, confidence, shyness and aggression. These immediately
affect our musculature and it all shows up in our body’s posture.
7. Lack of restorative sleep
8. Of course it can also result from an accident injury
9. Here is a catch-22. Another cause of muscle imbalance results from the very
injuries caused by muscle imbalances. Once injured, the pain and physical
reactions to that injury can create further imbalanced muscle problems if not
It’s All In Your Brain
Imbalances can be developing over time and you may be totally unaware of them.
Your brain works hard at interpreting how well you are balanced. If it didn’t
you would fall down every time you tried to move. Unfortunately, once something
happens to interfere with a smoothly functioning well balanced spine, head
position and extremities, your brain will send messages to the muscles to help
stabilize everything. This means that certain muscles will tighten to help hold
you up while others will be forced to stretch out. Without taking steps to
“correct” this developing imbalance your brain will eventually see the need for
these muscle changes to become permanent.
During this developing process you are “adapting” to your poor muscle posture
and may not notice the tight and loose muscles in your body. What you may
notice is you are not as flexible as you once were. Your body tires more
easily – your muscles begin to “burn” after certain types of work or play. You
have an inability to sit or stand for prolonged periods of time, or stiffness
when rising from a chair after sitting for a while. You have a feeling of
physical exhaustion at the end of the day. You are stiff and sore when you wake
up and try to start your day. That’s “contraction imbalance” at work.
Muscle Imbalance Makes You Highly Prone to
Muscle imbalances leave a body very prone to a variety of easily caused injuries
especially if those imbalances are occurring in the back or neck and very high
percentages do occur in the back and neck. Generally, hypertonic muscle
occurs in the large paraspinal muscles, which hold the spine “up” against
gravity –. They allow us to bend forward (flex,) backwards (extend,) sideways
and to rotate. When any of these muscles become hypertonic there are a
number of other muscles that become Hypotonic - extend and weaken. The
usual ones are abdominal, hip, and thigh muscles.
Once things progress just this far it takes very little to set off an acute back
pain episode. Reaching for something when your body is slightly turned, bending
over to pick up something small, a little weekend gardening or game of golf.
That’s all it may take. Suddenly, semi-contracted muscles now go into full
contraction - that’s muscle spasm and the cause of the excruciating pain that
“lays you out” – also referred to as an “Acute Pain Episode.”
Many think of heightened muscular tension is a result of injury, and it
can be. However, in most cases, heightened tension also precedes and
causes injury through poor muscular coordination.
Muscle spasm is the most common cause of first
time (and additional) acute pain episodes. These spasms usually occur
as a reflex - meaning that you cannot control the contraction of these muscles.
When any part of the spine is injured including: discs, ligaments, bones, or
muscles, the muscles automatically go into spasm to reduce the motion around the
area. This protective mechanism is designed by nature to protect the injured
area. Muscle spasms can create intense pain and along with other injured tissues
result in inflammation, and the release of stress hormones - both of which are
specialized contributing pain producers.
We said it was natural for the body to immobilize an area using spasms to
protect it from further injury. We did not say it was helpful to healing.
Healthy healing depends on a level of healthy movement. Healthy movement for
those whose problem was caused by muscle imbalance requires a totally different
approach then for those whose injury is the result of other causes.
Any injury that results in pain also creates muscle imbalance as the person
“guards” or “moves away” from the pain source. It’s easy to understand how these
changes in posture can also create hyper/hypo muscle conditions.
Evaluating Common Exercise Treatment Options
for Undiagnosed Back and Neck Pain
When the cause of back and neck pain remains undiagnosed you will normally be
given treatment recommendations that are a part of the medical “Conservative
Approach” For the greatest percentage of you, this is the only medically
recommended treatment plan you will get. Thankfully more and more doctors are
recognizing that “weak” and “tight” muscles play a role in back pain. Therefore,
they are now recommending “exercise” as a helpful treatment. Unfortunately,
these are generally made up from a one-size-fits-all photocopied sheet of
strengthening and stretch exercises. These are wonderful for any person with
reasonably healthy, well functioning muscles. When incorporated into a regular
exercise program, they will help to ensure these people never go on to develop
However if the root cause of your back or neck pain is muscle imbalance these
exercises can actually cause greater muscle imbalance and greater pain. Drop-out
rates from this recommended portion of the “conservative approach” treatment are
very, very high. Unfortunately, medical rational would like you to believe the
reason for this drop out rate is because the patient is just too lazy.
Likely there actually are people who are too lazy, but research tells us the
greatest reason for drop-out is because the program increases pain and decreases
their daily ability to physically function.
Only you understand why you never enrolled or dropped out soon afterwards. And,
only you can decide if this information about muscle imbalance better explains
why normal “treatments” have been unable to provide you with any lasting help or
WHY This Form of Muscle Exercise Does Not Work
There are two vitally important muscle physiology aspects being ignored by
medical doctors when treating people whose back and neck pain could be the
result of imbalanced muscles, especially if muscles have become chronically
A hypertonic (semi-contracted) muscle cannot be “forced” to relax
by stretching it again and again. Chronic semi-contracted muscle develops a
“memory” The more you try to “stretch” out the contraction the more the muscle
memory returns the muscle to its contracted state. Sometimes excessive
stretching leads to an even greater level of that muscle contraction, or leads
to other muscles shortening and contracting, because the brain believes the body
is losing more of its “stability.”
Neither can you “strengthen” a hypotonic muscle that is being held at a
stretch until its paired hypertonic muscle relaxes, thus providing that
hypotonic muscle the ability to contract again.
Is There a Muscle Therapy Treatment That
There is a specific muscle treatment that works to recondition or retrain this
“memory” allowing the contracted muscle to relax and then stretch. It may sound
crazy but this method employs a gentle form of contraction of the contracted
muscle that allows it to “relax” and then stretch. There are a number of
bodywork techniques that “reset” chronically semi-contracted muscles and they
all employ “Isometric Contractions.”
Using isometric contraction the person gently tightens the muscle without
moving the joint. When they stop, an effect called post-isometric-relaxation
takes place, meaning that the muscle cells reset and allow the muscle to
lengthen even more.
Is This Treatment Difficult or Painful?
In all cases these muscle (isometric) release techniques are always done at
between 10 - 25% movement capacity and effort. The last thing one wants to do in
these cases is “Work to the Max” – this only defeats the purpose. As a result
muscle release techniques are as painless a rehabilitation exercise process as
it is possible to participate in. However, once chronically shortened muscles
begin to release – strengthening of the counter, stretched, weak muscle must
also become a part of the exercise program. Once again – strengthening muscle is
much, much easier and far less painful once you reach this stage. Rehabilitation
includes Postural Retraining as poor posture is either a root cause of muscle
imbalance, or poor posture has developed because of muscle imbalances. Rehab
also will include a close look at the physical demands of your work, helping to
ensure you learn how to use your body in ways that won’t compromise your muscle
Common Treatment Forms:
Professionals, trained in muscle release therapy, provide assisted treatments in
a clinical setting and this helps to speed the recovery time. However, you will
be expected to do “homework” and it needs to be done a minimum of once daily. If
your problem is long standing and you are already suffering from some of those
“degenerative” spinal changes, this “homework” may need to be performed more
The point we are making is; if long-term recovery is to succeed - this type of
therapy requires your ongoing fully active participation. If you believe that a
therapist can resolve these muscle imbalance problems with a once a week
treatment session – then you must believe that pigs can fly.
Now that we have made this important point lets look at the various “names” used
for this treatment.
Post Isometric Relaxation Technique (PIR) is one of the simplest and most
effective Muscle Release Techniques. PIR technique will rapidly release spasms,
Hypertonicity and reflex compensations in muscles. The technique also lengthens
fascia and allows the muscles to return to their proper resting length.
Additionally, PIR technique is a quick and effective way to increase range of
motion - reduce chronic pain and myofascial restrictions and finally to restore
normal biomechanical function. PIR is the basis for all these other forms of
Muscle Energy Therapy (MET) utilizes neurophysiologic muscle reflexes to
improve functional mobility of the joints. MET uses active muscle contractions
(controlled isometric contraction-release) followed by complete relaxation and
subsequent passive stretching to increase range of motion (ROM) of the related
joints. “Passive stretching” means the therapist does the stretch for you.
(Hanna) Somatic Education is based upon a whole body therapy that helps
to improve muscular function, control and teaches you the ability to “feel” your
muscles (mind-body awareness). There are Hanna Somatic practitioners who can
provide assisted therapy and once you understand and can perform the techniques
properly you can do them at home on your own – a minimum of twice a day. If
there are no practitioners in your area there are video tapes, CDs, and books
available that provide detailed instructions on how to perform these exercises
and help raise the awareness of how your own body/muscles are performing for
Myofascial Release (MFR) This technique coaxes muscles in spasm to relax,
and breaks down adhesions in the fascia. Bodies respond to this therapy by
releasing tension that has been stored in the fascia, thus allowing more
functional flexibility and mobility of the muscles, fascia and associated
structures. This technique is more useful for those with long standing muscle
imbalances that have developed dysfunctional fascia problems as well.
Fibromyalgia: Both Imbalanced Muscles and Myofascial Dysfunctions are
always found together in people suffering with Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is
made from 2 words. Fibro (fibrous) and Myalgia (muscle pain.) While it is
believed that other kinds of metabolic imbalances result in a greater
susceptibility for the development of Fibromyalgia. - the definitive breakdown
of this syndrome’s name is still “fibrous” and “muscle pain.” As dysfunctional
fascia often results from muscle imbalance and injury – treatment for both has
proven successful for many Fibromyalgia patients.
Cranio-Sacral is a very gentle process, using less pressure than the
weight of a quarter. Make no mistake this is an extremely powerful whole body,
muscle and spinal adjustment. Patients’ often think nothing much is being done
while treatment is underway, but they soon change their minds when the treatment
Global Postural Re-education (GPR) The technique is known
as Souchard's Global Postural Re-education and it employs a series of gentle
movements to realign spinal column joints and strengthen and stretch muscles
that have become tight and weak from underuse. Developed in France, 25 years
ago, GPR is only now being introduced in the United States.
treatment, which has been successfully used in Europe for many years, follows
the same principal as other muscle-release, posture retraining techniques. We
mention GPR because it is becoming accepted by mainstream doctors. Internet
searches for the term “GPR,” brings up mainly Orthodox medical sites. You might
note these sites make no mention of any other similar treatments that have been
around in North America for years.
Most importantly, anything that helps
to recognize "muscle release therapy" is a very good thing, and we never look a
gift horse in the mouth. No matter how this highly successful treatment method
is brought out of the dusty closets of practicing physicians it will prove of
immense benefit to the hundreds of millions of people who make up that 95% of
back and neck pain for which there is no apparent diagnosis.
Where Can You Find Practitioners?
Doctors of Chiropractic or Osteopathic Doctors; Physio-therapists, and Specialty
Therapists. You need to call and ask if they provide these types of muscle
therapy - as not all do. Now that you know the differing names used for this
form of therapy it will be easy to speak the “language” when making enquiries If
you can find a Chiropractor or Osteopath who corrects spinal alignment problems
and who also use muscle therapy – this is a winning combination. Because,
chances are, even though you can locate specific muscle therapists, you may also
require adjustments to help realign the spine as well.
Do not forget -
this treatment process has proven to benefit those now suffering with disc,
ligament, and joint dysfunctions - much of which develops over the years because
correction of muscle imbalances was ignored. If you are now down to considering
surgery or semi-invasive procedures to resolve these chronic pain conditions –
you are now in a position to evaluate whether or not you think muscle imbalance
may have been the cause of your problem all along. If so, why not try muscle
For Those of You
Considering Surgical Intervention for your Back or Neck Pain the following
information may prove useful. Over the past 15 years numerous
studies have confirmed again, and again, the numbers of unnecessary surgeries
which are performed each year and the numbers of deaths and disability that
These studies have shown that in those cases when doctors are in
short supply or go on strike the death rate in an area can drop remarkably —
much to the embarrassment of the medical community.
Despite what appears
to be an attempt by the medical profession to keep that kind of information from
the public, these studies show clearly that the level of ALL medically
unnecessary surgeries performed each year is close to 60%. This includes a
variety of surgical procedures as well as associated services.
Looking at the Usefulness of Back and Neck Surgeries
In 1995 the US Federal Government's Agency for Health Care Policy Research
(AHCPR) concluded that most back surgery was unnecessary.
immediately began a campaign to abolish the agency. However, since this report
in 1995, many other reports have confirmed this frightening statistic.
How Soon After an Injury Should You Begin Isometric, Contraction-Release Muscle
The sooner you start – the better, like within 2-3 days of an
initial mechanical injury.
And, now, once again we are faced with the
same question we hear so often.
How Do I Move When I Am In So Much
Pain? Most people tend to “guard” and avoid movement that reminds
them they are in pain. If you don’t want to go on to develop far greater back
and neck pain causing conditions that lead to life altering chronic pain and
disability - the most important thing for you to remember is not to fear your
pain. It’s only a muscle spasm. Believe it or not, fear will actually make
your pain worse. Granted the pain generated by a muscle spasm can be
excruciating, but it won’t kill you and depending upon how severe the injury the
worst of the pain and spasm will resolve in a few days, IF you do what you are
supposed do during that period.
Rest (not more than 2-3 days. During that period move with gentleness
not in a manner that makes the pain worse. Try to stay body aware and RELAX
Also, use ice for the first 2-3 days if you
know you have inflammation. Ice helps keep inflammation from
getting and worse than necessary. The pressure caused by inflammation fluid
build up creates pain.
Then use heat or a
combination of heat and cold to speed resolution of inflammation and healing
of the injured tissue. The Heat Treat Backpack
perfect heat source for pain reduction and inflammation resolution.
Plus, it’s the only therapeutic heat source that will not create or worsen
any inflammation that is present in and around the delicate nerve roots and
joints of the spine.
Set your first appointment with a muscle release therapist for the 2nd
or 3rd day after your injury. This therapy also helps to reduce the muscle
spasm and get you moving in a correct manner – helping to ensure healing of
your muscles and other tissues is healthy and will not progress to further
If your injury involves a higher level of damage this procedure may take a
little longer and you may also require a course of adequate pain medication.
Pain makes movement difficult and it causes “guarding” (holding your body in an
Remember that pain, itself, is the cause of even more pain. Often the
Heat Treat Backpack is an
excellent pain reliever requiring less or no drugs. However, if your pain is
still not manageable it is very important to ask your doctor for
medication that will properly control it. Adequate management of your
pain is the first vital step in recovery.
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How Long Does Healing Take?
Damaged tissue can take a couple of weeks to heal, and up to 6 weeks for more
significant damage. This is assuming you have allowed the tissues sufficient
time to heal. For those currently undergoing long-term subsequent episodes, each
episode can mean healing can take up to 6 months or may never completely heal –
especially if you don’t get into a proper muscle therapy program as soon as
One difficulty for the patient with a minor-damage spasm episode, the pain can
disappear in 1-3 days. If actual healing of such minor damage takes up to 2
weeks to HEAL, it is not hard to see the contribution people are making to
another episode should they assume they can once again go back to the same level
or type of work, household, or sports activities simply because the pain is
DISCLAIMER:The information in HeatTreat.ca is not intended
as a substitute for appropriate medical professional help or advice but is to be
used as a sharing of new knowledge, information and as an aid to a new
understanding about back and neck pain and its treatment. A trained, appropriate
health professional should always be consulted for back pain or any health
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