Muscles can be a significant source of pain in our bodies. Chronic muscular pain may be found locally over the muscle or can be felt in an area distant from the muscle known as referred pain. Multiple Physical Therapy interventions including dry needling, foam rolling, and soft tissue mobilizations can be utilized in the short term to reduce these symptoms. Conversely, long term relief of muscular pain requires examination of the muscle to determine why it remains painful.
Muscle imbalances are a common reason behind these chronic symptoms. Muscles worked above and beyond their normal function will become painful over time. A common example in the hip is the TFL muscle in the presence of glut weakness. Short term solutions can target the TFL but long term relief is found by strengthening the glut muscles allowing them to perform their appropriate function at the hip in turn relieving forces across the TFL. A second muscle imbalance is found when the painful muscle is not strong enough to withstand the forces applied during activity. The long term strategy with this type of imbalance is to strengthen the muscle of interest. A recent research study examined the impact of strengthening this type of chronic muscle pain.
Anderson and colleagues examined the neck muscle performance of patients with neck pain compared to their pain free peers (Bio Med Res Int. 2014). Patients with painful neck muscles were randomized to either 10 weeks of high intensity neck strength training, general fitness training, or a control group. As expected, significant weakness was found in the patient’s painful muscles at baseline compared to their asymptomatic peers. Authors reported improved strength capacity of these painful muscles following the focused strength training program. Improved functional tolerance of the painful muscles allows these muscles to be more resilient to the forces applied to them each day.