Muscles originate on a fixed bone in our body, cross over a joint, and insert onto a moving bone. It is important to understand that all muscles move from the insertion point going toward the origination point. It is because of the placement of the muscles that we can move, but when a muscle is in spasm, or is contracted we cannot move the joint it affects without pain.
Just as pulling on the end of your hair will cause you pain in your scalp, so too will a muscle pulling on the tendon cause pain at the insertion point on the bone. You can't stop the scalp pain until you let go of your hair, and you can't stop the joint pain until you let go of the tension in the muscle.
Take a look at the graphic of the biceps muscle (left). There are thousands of fibers lying next to each other in straight lines. All muscles run in straight, or slightly curved, lines. The biceps originate at the front of your shoulder, cross over the inside of the elbow, and insert onto the forearm. When the biceps contract your forearm moves toward the shoulder.
The muscle at the back of your upper arm, the triceps (see image at right), originates at the back of your shoulder, crosses over the point of your elbow, and inserts onto the forearm. When the triceps contract your straighten your arm.
In order for either of the muscles to fully function, the opposing muscle must completely stretch (see image at left). If the biceps (A) are contracting, but the triceps (B) are not stretching, you will only move as far as the triceps will allow. Likewise, if the biceps are held in the contracted state by spasms, you will not be able to full open your arm. In either case, you will lose strength because the muscle fibers are unable to move at their optimum performance level.
When a person feels weak, they often think it is necessary to strengthen their muscles , but the truth is they need to release the spasms and stretch the limiting muscles. Exercise and weight training without doing very specific treatments to release the muscle spasms, and stretch the muscles, will only continue the painful cycle.
The "Pain-Free" series of books and eBooks are perfect for helping you locate and treat the source of your pain. The charts included in the Julstro System show you where you are feeling the pain and the name of the muscle that is causing the problem. You then click on the name of the muscle and it brings you directly to the explanation of the treatment, plus photographs to assist you in understanding the text.
Nerves travel from the spinal cord, through openings in the vertebre of the spine, and then out to muscles and organs. When a nerve passes through a muscle it can become impinged as the muscle goes into spasm. This will cause you to have pain, numbness, tingling &/or weakness in any of the muscles that are innervated by this nerve.
For example, a spasm in the scalenes can cause pain to be felt in the upper back, chest, across the shoulders, down the arm and into the forearm (see image below). A common burning pain that is felt in the center of your back, along the shoulder blade, may actually be caused by a spasm in your neck. You can rub your back all day, but until you treat the spasm in your neck you will never get rid of the pain.
Nerves also pass alongside muscles. For example, the median nerve, which gives feeling to the hand, runs between strong muscles in the forearm. If one of these muscles shortens from repetitive strain, you will feel pain and numbness in your hand and wrist. You will rub your hand, shake your hand, and put all your focus of attention onto your hand and wrist, but the source of the numbness is in your forearm - or even as far away as your neck. This same situation happens all over the body, it's called reflective pain, which means that pressure or damage to a nerve will refer pain to a different area, usually where the nerve ends.
Muscles merge into tendons, and tendons attach to moveable bones. The system is beautifully designed, until there is a shortening of the muscle from a spasm or contraction resulting from repetitive use. When this happens the shortened muscle pulls on the tendon, causing it to pull away from the bone. This is most clearly demonstrated in Achilles tendonitis, but may occur anywhere in the body.
The two muscles of the calf, "gastroc" (short for gastrocneimus) and soleus both merge into the Achilles tendon (see image above). The tendon then inserts into the back of the heel. When the muscle contracts it pulls the heel up off the ground, allowing you to stand on your toes. The calf muscles must contract in order for you to push off with your toes as you take a step.
When either, or both, of these muscles are shortened by spasms, they continue pulling on the bone even when your foot is flat on the floor. You are straining the tendon, causing it to overstretch and become inflamed at the insertion, or even to tear from the bone. The pain becomes so severe that unless the two muscles are stretched you will not be able to walk without pain.
Frequently a person is given heel lifts to try to "bring the ground up to the heel", however, it is more logical to release the spasms, stretch both muscles, and "bring your heel down to the floor". Many people know how to do one of the calf stretches - the one that stretches the gastroc. However, most people don't know how to stretch the soleus, as a result the calf is never fully stretched, and the painful cycle returns.
Continuing with the process shown above, when the muscle is so tight that it is trying to pull the tendon away from the bone, the body jumps into action. With incredible wisdom, the body sends bone cells to the area of the inflammation to "hold on" to the tendon. As the muscle continues to pull, the body continues to send bone cells. Eventually the bone cells pile up, and you have a bone spur.
Trying to eliminate a bone spur will be unsuccessful as long as the muscle is still pulling on the tendon. Many times people find that once the tension is released the bone spur doesn't cause them pain, and no further action is necessary.
Wherever your pain is being felt - in the hand/wrist, low back, knees, ankles, or any other joint, you can learn how to treat the muscles that are the source of your discomfort. The Julstro System teaches you how to treat the muscles that cause wrist pain and hand numbness, and the series of "Pain-Free" Books teach the Julstro techniques for the rest of the body.
You will be amazed at how quickly the Julstro Self-Treatments work. You will be your own "best therapist."
Pain in the low back is something that at least 70% of my clients complain about. And it is one of the most misunderstood conditions. It is easier to explain if I use the proper names for the muscles. Please don't let the names scare you. They just describe where they are, and since all muscle names are in Latin, they look imposing. They aren't. The muscles are erector spinae, and the iliopsoas, which is called simply the psoas (pronounced "so-as").
The erector spinae muscles are a large grouping of three separate muscles all closely placed together. Some originate on the ribs, others originate on the entire length of the spine, on each vertebra, and they all cause us to stand up from a bent position, or to be able to twist and turn our trunk.
The psoas originates on the lumbar (low back) vertebrae, it goes forward (behind your intestines), goes inside the bowl of your hips, and then inserts into the front of the femur - your thigh bone.
The psoas muscle pulls you down, so you can touch the floor, and the erector spinae pull you back up to standing again. The psoas also is instrumental in you lifting your leg to take a step, or pedal a bike.
Let's spend a few minutes describing the location and action of each of these muscles. Cross your arms so your hands are back-to-back, with your fingers touching and pointing at the ceiling. Your left hand (which is now on your right) will be erector spinae, and your right hand (which is now on your left) will be psoas.
When you bend over to touch the floor the psoas contracts, and you are pulled over. Try it with your hands to demonstrate. Keep the back of the hands together and fold your right fingers down toward your palm. You can imagine the opposing muscle (erector spinae) needing to stretch to be able to do this move. When you stand back up straight, erector spinae contracts and psoas needs to relax. To demonstrate that movement pull the fingers of your left hand up straight, and have your right hand follow.
The problem comes from the fact that the psoas contracts many thousands of times every day, and unless we fold over backward, it never gets stretched. Both of these muscles originate on the lumbar vertebrae (low back), when either one of them goes into a spasm they pull on the vertebrae, and the pain is felt in the low back.
Since the erector spinae is stretching many thousands of times every day, it rarely goes into a spasm in the low back area - but it is common for the psoas to become contracted because of the phenomenon called 'muscle memory'. In this case, the muscle memory for the psoas is to be contracted. As the muscle contracts in a spasm it pulls the lumbar vertebrae forward and down, and you feel the pain in your low back. People automatically rub their back, but the pain is actually coming from the muscle that is located on front of the spine, and behind your intestines.
This is the reason why the pain actually feels a bit better when you bend over - you are going into the contraction and taking the pressure off the lumbar vertebrae. But, when you stand up, the muscle is again pulling on the vertebrae: pulling the bone out of alignment; compressing the disks; impinging on the nerves; and you are also feeling the tug of the muscle on the bone. The muscle definitely needs to be stretched.
We have found that the psoas never gets stretched because the only way to stretch it is to keep your hips and legs completely straight and ONLY lean back at your waist. This is a very slight stretch; you aren´t looking to do a back-bend since you would need to move your pelvis and legs. While you will have discomfort along your lumbar vertebrae and possibly across the top of your posterior pelvis, only go to the point of a "feel good" stretch, not to the point of causing sharp pain. As soon as you feel the stretch go a tiny-bit further and then slowly stand up straight. Don't hold yourself in the painful position. You will be able to go further each time you do it, and your back will feel better each time. You'll be amazed at how quickly this helps low back pain.
To help yourself with positioning the first few times you do the psoas stretch, turn around at the sink – putting your calves up against the cabinet, and your hips resting against the counter. Keep your hips and calves gently touching the cabinet; also keep facing straight ahead, and lean back, moving your upper back over the sink. Be aware to keep the pressure the same on your hips and calves, if you feel it increasing you will know you are leaning back with your lower body. Also, check to make sure that your weight is evenly distributed on your feet and you aren´t leaning back onto your heels. It helps if you place your hands on your stomach and lift up your chest, stretching your abdominal muscles. This will raise the spine a bit before you lean back. Do this movement 10 times. On the last stretch bend forward, arching your back and moving your hips side to side.
There are many muscles that cause low back pain, the psoas is only one of them. To read about the others, order The Pain-Free Triathlete