Muscle Tension (Understanding Your Back Pain - Muscle Tension)

When you go to your doctor due to the fact that you are unable to manage back pain on your own, he or she may due one or more things to assess your problem. The doctor will ask you if you have any problems with incontinence. The doctor will ask you if you have also had any unexplained weight loss to go along with your symptoms. The doctor may asses the strength of your arms or legs as well as your reflexes to determine if the spinal nerves have been compromised or injured. The doctor may want to look at medical images of your back to see if there is evidence of degenerative changes to the spine. The doctor may directly or indirectly check the muscles of the back to determine if the cause of your back pain symptoms is due to muscle weakness or muscle tension.

What is muscle tension? Muscle tension is a condition whereby one or more muscle groups remain in a state of contraction or semi-contraction, for an extended period of time. This extended contraction of the muscle may be a response to a direct injury to that muscle, or it may be a preventative response by the body to protect an adjacent structure from further injury. You may think of this protective response of the body to be like an extended reflex that occurs in the body, in order to protect body parts nearby that have been injured. Anyone who has played sports or other activities outside remembers the experience of spraining an angle or landing hard on the ground and injuring something. And what was your immediate response to hurting your ankle or your elbow. Immediately, you stopped whatever you were doing and you did everything you could to protect that injured body part from further injury. In the event of a sprained ankle, you immediately either fell to the ground or took all your weight off that foot immediately. If the injury was severe enough, you has one of your friends help you home or back into the car so you could go home and either lie down or put ice on it. Your immediate response to immobilize that injured part of the body likely prevented the injured ligaments in that ankle joint from a more serious injury, such as an ankle fracture or ligament tear.

The same way that you consciously take all your weight off of an injured leg or rip your hand away from a hot surface, your body may react reflexively to an injury to the muscle or body part near that structure. Your muscle may go into an immediate state of contraction to prevent an injured structure from becoming more seriously injured.

In some back pain cases, the muscles become tense in the injured muscles or near that injured part of the back. This sustained tension or sustained contraction of the muscle limits movement in that region of the back. In most cases, this muscle tension remains in the back until the injury has significantly healed. Once the injury has resolved itself, the muscles will begin to relax and you will feel more comfortable.

In some cases, on the other hand, the contraction of the muscle in response to injury may be so intense that the pain is incapacitating. In conditions such as these, the muscle response to the injury is referred to a back spasm. In other cases, a high level of tension remains in the muscles even after original injury has healed. Both of these types of circumstances result in distressing levels of back pain or chronic back pain, and involve cases where patients will seek medical attention. Muscle tension may affect the structures of the back by constricting blood vessels and reducing blood flow to the nerves, tendons, ligaments, and muscles of the back. When the blood supply for these structures is constricted, the lack of oxygen and other vital nutrients may adversely affect their tissues and cells. The restricted circulation to these structures may also result in the buildup of biochemical waste products that become toxic to those tissues they longer they remain there. Disruption on this blood supply as well as the inability to remove biochemical toxins may cause muscle tension, muscle spasms, and back pain.

In most cases, muscle tension and muscle spasms are not serious and will heal on their own. Nevertheless, these conditions could be painful or disabling, and patient may seek medical attention to treat the pain or immobility related to these types of injuries. Treatment options include massage, heat therapy, water therapy, TENS electrotherapy, chiropractic, and medications.

Medications: Medications for muscle tension help patients by masking the pain or by inducing a relaxation of the affected muscles. Muscle relaxants do not specifically target the affected muscles, but they provide an overall sedative effect on the body. The muscle relaxants that are most commonly used to treat back pain include Soma, Valium, Flexeril, Skelaxin, and Robaxin.