Where Does Pain Come From?
It is a mistaken impression by most people that pain originates from the muscles. Understandable, as this is where pain is usually felt.
But this is only part of the story…
In actuality, only about 20% of pain comes from muscle tension.
Most pain is experienced due to misalignment of the joints – 40% — and the swelling caused by this – 40%.
So when your back is sore and the muscles are in spasm, the main source of pain will be found in the joints and the swelling around these joints.
What’s happening is, because the joints have gone out of alignment, the muscles will tighten up and act like a ‘splint’ to keep the sore joint from moving.
One of the ways to confirm this is to look at what happens when you receive a massage. If you have muscle tension when you go to the massage therapist, they’ll massage out the tension in the muscle — but it just comes right back in the next day or so.
Yes they’ve relaxed the muscle. But unfortunately, that wasn’t the cause of the problems. The problem was the underlying pain in the joint — and then the muscles just tighten right back up again to keep that joint from moving.
Now the percentages are not quite accurate – it’s more like 38% joint, 38% swelling and 25% muscle. But forty, forty, and twenty is what I tell my patients as it’s easier to remember.
Which Is Best — Ice or Heat?
There seems to be a constant battle raging when it comes to the use of ice or heat for pain. But the answer lies in the cause of that pain.
Because forty percent of the pain comes from the swelling and only twenty percent comes from the muscle tension – heat will only provide temporary relief.
People say to me, “That’s true, you know, when I put the heat on, it only feels good for about two hours and then the pain comes right back.” And then when I switch them to ice, they say, “You know what? When I put the ice on, the pain relief is much longer.”
Because now you’re targeting forty percent of the pain – Instead of twenty percent of the pain.
In the past I’ve worked with many different sporting teams — like the London Majors and the London City Soccer Team. I would always keep a tube of ‘Deep Cold’ rub on hand. It’s like a menthol balm.
Actually, in technical terms it’s called a counter-irritant. I suppose it’s kind of like fighting fire with fire — using something that irritates a little bit. There’s more to it than just that of course – but that’s what I was taught twenty-five years ago. Research has now shown that it reduces inflammation as the menthol soaks in through the skin. It reduces swelling.
So next time you injure yourself playing sport – and it feels as though your muscles are going to explode – know that it’s probably your joints that are the problem…
And reach for the ice-pack!
If you found this informative – it is suggested you read ‘ What is a sprain?‘