Will My Pain Go Away if I Just Strengthen My Muscles?
When it comes to resolving musculoskeletal pain in our bodies, this is one of the most common misconceptions that I see.
Many people believe and are even told by well-meaning healthcare providers, personal trainers or fitness class instructors that if they simply put in the work to get stronger that all of their pain will eventually go away.
Unfortunately, this is ABSOLUTELY not true!
There are times where this will be an important part of the healing process but not always and only for certain types of injuries.
Let me explain...
Over the many years practicing as a physical therapist and having worked with over 1,000 patients I have come to see that a majority of the pains we deal with in our bodies can be divided into 3 main categories: Joint Stiffness, Muscle Tightness, and Muscle Weakness.
An lack of normal function in any one of these 3 categories will at some point become a source of "mechanical pain."
In most cases mechanical pain is not caused by an actual tissue injury (ie. rotator cuff tear, labral tear, bursitis, etc.) but simply from stressing the end limits of any one of these 3 categories somewhere in the body.
This idea can be easily observed by taking one of your fingers and bending it backwards as far as it will go.
Even if you have no injury to that finger, at some point, if you pull it back hard enough and for long enough you will reach the available end range of the motion and begin to feel pain.
1. Joint Stiffness
Take joint stiffness for example. Every joint in our body has a "normal" available range of motion that it should be able to move throughout without pain.
Unfortunately, without regular movement throughout these ranges joints will tend to stiffen over time creating a feeling of restriction.
If this lose of motion continues, the feeling of stiffness in the joint will increase and eventually begin to cause pain when pushed to these limited end ranges of motion.
Imagine this like trying to open a door with a very old and worn out hinges.
2. Muscle Tightness
The same can occur for the muscle flexibility throughout our body. Lack of full movement in the soft tissue will eventually result in shortening, decreased flexibility and increased tightness.
Imagine this like trying to move around in a shirt or pair of pants that is 3 sizes too small.
3. Muscle Weakness
Whereas joint stiffness and muscle tightness result from a lack of movement, muscle weakness results from a lack of load or resistance placed on our muscles.
Muscles get stronger when they are challenged and get weaker when they are not challenged.
Mechanical pain resulting from muscle weakness is felt when we try and force our weakened muscles to carry more load than they are able to handle.
Add them all together...
We all have deficiencies in these 3 areas throughout our body but most of them will go undetected until at some point they progress to the severity that it begins to cause noticeable pain and limit our functional activities during the day.
Furthermore, a deficiency in one of these categories will eventually spill over into the other two areas if not corrected.
For example, a problem with joint stiffness left untreated will eventually cause muscle tightness and muscle weakness in the surrounding area from lack of normal use and motion throughout the day.
Why you're having trouble finding a solution that lasts...
If you have not been evaluated by a physical therapist or other healthcare professional specialized in recognizing and treating mechanical pain you are likely only addressing part of the issue.
If your pain has lasted more than 3 months it is highly likely that you are now dealing with limitations in all 3 categories--each of which requires very specific hands-on techniques and individual exercises to be resolved.
If you are only getting partial improvement of your symptoms it is because you are only addressing part of the problem.
If you feel like you've tried everything and nothing has helped I'd love to connect so you can tell me more about your issue and see if it sounds like something I could help you resolve - permanently!
~ Dr. Dallin Page