As we get into the summer outdoor season here in Ontario, it’s time for a reminder from your friendly neighbourhood RMTs about when to use HOT or COLD to treat muscle strains and sprains!
Ellen’s Super-easy Self-care Tips
Tip #1 – Wear leggings and sleeves at night
So you just completed your first 5k. Or, you started a new cardio-step class … wearing a 25-pound backpack. Or, you spent the afternoon trimming raspberries and deadheading echinacea.
Whatever it was, all you know is that your quads are achy, your forearms are weary, and the thought of tomorrow’s stiffness looms over you like a cloud.
Muscle of the Month: Diaphragm
“Use your diaphragm! Speak from your belly!” my drama teacher always used to say. The teenager in me had no idea what she meant, but now years later I find myself saying the same things to my clients.
Muscle of the month: Rhomboids
Weak or torn rhomboids are common these days. Hunching over our computers and mobile devices works against the rhomboids, causing them to lengthen, become weak, and form painful trigger points and muscular tension. As a massage therapist progresses through a client’s back muscles, the rhomboids can feel like taut ropes, snapping back at us.
Actions: Retraction of scapula (squeezing shoulder blades together), downward rotation of scapula, keeping scapula fixed to rib cage.
Common pain culprit: Hunching, poor posture, taut or excessively strong chest muscles.
There are two separate rhomboids (Major and Minor), though they have the same actions (see above). When the rhomboids are weak and overworked, it is common to see shoulder blade “winging” (the bottom edge of your shoulder blade appears to lift away from your ribs, like a wing), and a dropped shoulder. This is because the affected rhomboids are unable to contract and oppose other muscles that are overpowering them. Over time, the stretched rhomboid muscles develop trigger points, and become quite taut, giving rise to pain and even more dysfunction.
The fix: Improve posture.
Getting rid of the hunch and improving your posture will bring the rhomboids back to their rightful resting position, helping to alleviate pain. Here are a few tricks the RMTs at Body Poets give to clients:
Set an alarm throughout the day to remind you to sit up straight at your computer.
Sit as if there is a string attached to the centre of your head, gently pulling you straight.
Rotate your hands so that your palms are facing out, and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Stretch your pectoral (chest) muscles throughout the day, so they don’t tighten up and overpower the rhomboids. Ask your RMT to show you how to do the “doorway stretch” or other pec stretches.
Muscle of the month: TMJ muscles
You might have heard the term TMJ being passed around lately. TMJ headaches, TMJ clicking, TMJ pain. But what exactly is TMJ and why is it causing pain? The TMJ is your jaw, or better known in the medical field as your temporomandibular joint (now that’s a mouth full!). The jaw is a complicated joint that is easily overused and can cause pain. Read on to discover if the muscles of your TMJ could be the cause of your headaches or jaw pain.
Masseter: The great restrictor
Actions: Closing an open jaw, clenching
Common Pain Culprits: Excessive grinding of teeth or clenching of jaw.
The masseter is the most superficial muscle of the jaw, and is easily felt by placing your fingers on your cheeks and clenching your jaw. The bulge of muscle that moves your fingers is your masseter. For those who clench their jaws during stressful situations or grind their teeth, this muscle is over-engaged, causing it to become irritated and to cause pain. Below are common pain patterns from trigger points in the masseter. Tooth, jaw and ear pain can all be caused by an irritated masseter. This muscle is also the strongest of the jaw muscles, so when it becomes irritated, it can restrict the opening of the mouth far more than any other muscle.
Actions: Closing an open jaw, retracting the jaw.
Common pain culprit: Chewing
Found on either side of your head, the temporalis helps to create the shape of your head. Easily felt by massaging your temple area, the temporalis can be treated during a face massage. The temporalis attaches into the jaw, so in order to treat the entire muscle during TMJ dysfunction, intraoral massage will be necessary. Trigger points in this muscle can refer into the teeth, and can also cause temporal headaches (as seen below).
Actions: Deviating the jaw from side to side. The medial pterygoid also works to close the jaw.
Common Pain Culprit: Grinding teeth
Those who grind their teeth are at highest risk of aggravating these muscles. This is because the medial and lateral ptreygoids work together to shift the jaw from side to side, an action commonly seen during tooth grinding. Trigger points in the muscle can cause ear pain too, which might mask the real dysfunction.
If you have been diagnosed with TMJ dysfunction, or believe it to be an issue, talk with your RMT about TMJ massage. Acupuncture is also a useful modality to treat TMJ dysfunction. Don’t let your jaw cause any more pain: get treatment today!
Muscle of the Month: Suboccipitals
There are eight tiny muscles that have the huge job of keeping your head up, but they can cause a huge headache too! These are your suboccipital muscles. Resting in the nook at the base of the skull, these muscles are essential to fine head movements and in relaying proprioception of your head (where your head is in space and time) to your brain. When out of balance or strained, these muscles can cause temporal headaches and pain with neck movements.
Rectus Capitis Posterior Major: Rock and tilt head back into extension, rotate head to same side
Rectus Capitis Posterior Minor: Rock and tilt head back into extension
Oblique Capitis Superior: Rock and tilt head back into extension
Oblique Capitis Inferior: Rotate head to same side
Common pain culprit – Eye strain and extended head tilting.
When our eyes are strained, we adjust our head with fine movements to focus better. This puts a strain on the suboccipitals. Also, keeping our head in even a slight tilt for extended periods of time can cause increased strain resulting in pain in the suboccipitals. Having to tilt your head back while driving to avoid the sun streaming into your eyes under your visor, or having a computer screen slightly too low or too high, can keep the head in a tilted position all day. This isn’t an overly strenuous task for the body, but it is for the suboccipitals. Over time they will become strained and headaches can develop.
Adjusting your position while at your computer, while driving, even while walking, can help with suboccipital pain. Any time your head is overly tilted (up or down) for an extended period of time, your posture needs to be adjusted.
An eye exam might show the need for a new prescription. Having the proper glasses puts less stress on the eyes and on the suboccipitals! Progressive lenses can contribute to suboccipital strain if you have to tilt your head back for computer work, for example. Ask your optometrist to help you fix this.
Deep trigger point work can target these deep muscles. Remember, “deep” means into deeper layers of tissue; it doesn’t mean the treatment will hurt. Deep work will always be done within your comfort level. As superficial muscles relax, the deeper ones can be more readily accessed, and when we get access to the suboccipitals, we can relieve the trigger points causing headaches.
Strengthening your deep neck flexors, as we saw in this recent post on chin tucks, will help balance the musculature of the front and back of the neck and decrease any tendency you have to tilt your head back.
Ask your RMT for treatment and a self-care program to address any headaches you may be experiencing.
The most known shoulder muscle, the deltoid makes up the majority of the shoulder girdle. The deltoid is a triangular shaped muscle that spans the top of the shoulder joint. It provides excellent stability for the upper part of the shoulder joint, as this joint is naturally unstable.
Actions – Anterior fibres: flex, medially rotate, and horizontally adduct shoulder
Middle fibres: Adduct shoulder
Posterior fibres: Extend, laterally rotate, and horizontally abduct shoulder
Common Pain Culprit – Tearing from overuse or excessive force
We’ve all heard of rotator cuff tears. Though the deltoid technically is not part of the rotator cuff (which consists of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis), the deltoid can still be affected along with the rotator cuff: with enough force in an injury, the deltoid can tear and cause pain. Even when the deltoid is not torn during a rotator cuff injury, the strain on the muscle can be enough to leave lingering pain during shoulder movements.
The fix: Ice, massage, strengthening.
Ice during acute pain (1-2 days post injury) helps decrease pain and inflammation caused by the tear.
Massage in the sub-acute stage (3 days+ post injury) helps release taut fascia around strained muscles to allow proper recovery. It will also help relieve trigger points and high muscle tone that might have formed during injury.
Strengthening the shoulder once the pain has subsided or (even better) before injury occurs is a great way to obtain optimal shoulder function. Overhead presses and dumbbell rotations are both great exercises to strengthen the shoulder joint and deltoid.
Talk with your RMT if you are concerned about your shoulder stability.