Muscles only have one job. They contract. That's it.
Unfortunately, while doing their one and only job, they can cause a lot of problems and end up causing a lot of PAIN.
Painful muscles will result from injury, lack of proper flexibility, and/or lack of strength.
Everyone has experienced sore or painful muscles from time to time. The soreness after a good workout is often a sign of a job well done. A painful badge of honor for completing a long run or a grueling workout. Some people actually enjoy this type of pain.
The other type of muscle pain is not a welcome friend to anyone and is caused by injury. Muscle pulls happen during all sorts of activities and many times cannot be avoided. If you've ever pulled a hamstring, you know the feeling. This is called a STRAIN and indicates that some of the muscle fibers have been torn. This typically results in pain, swelling, tightness, and bruising in some cases.
These two sources of muscle pain are actually best treated completely opposite. To determine which one you have and what the best course of treatment will be, lets look at two different scenarios where these can happen.
#1) You decide to go outside on a crisp fall day and rake your entire yard in one afternoon. After 6 long hours you go inside to have dinner and then hit the couch. After a few hours your back and leg muscles begin to tighten and ache. You get up to go to the bathroom and you can't even stand up straight. You dread the thought of how you'll feel in the morning. This is an example of DOMS, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. We've all been there and most of us will be there again.
#2) You get the bug to rearrange your living room furniture. After some thoughtful planning you bend down to grab the end of the couch and BOOM! There's a searing hot pain that blasts your back. You immediately stop what your doing and begin to question your own sanity for trying to lift your couch by yourself.
So what to do now? Ice or heat? Go to the doctor or not?
You all know I like 'rules of thumb', so here it is for these two types of muscle pain.
In the example of raking the yard and subsequent DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) you really can do just about anything and it will get better on its own withing a couple days. Many times heat or light to moderate activity will help to flush the muscles and get the soreness out a little sooner. But, no matter what you do, your in for some muscle pain for at least a day or two.
In the example of the overzealous furniture mover, this is an injury and should be treated like an injury. In this case there has been actual trauma to muscles and the STRAIN needs to be treated properly. I always recommend ice and rest in these situations for at least a couple days. A muscle STRAIN can heal in a couple days or it can take weeks to heal depending on the severity of the injury.
Muscle STRAINS can become nagging chronic injuries if not dealt with properly in the first couple days. A good rule of thumb for a muscle strain is that if it's not healed up and back to normal within a week or two, you should seek professional help.
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