The muscular system works with the bones to produce a wide range of movement. Did you know they also play an important role in breathing, digestion and circulation? Muscles are made out of a few different types of tissue, depending on their function and location in your body.
Mammals have skeletal or “striated” muscle which moves or contracts voluntarily at our request through its relationship with our central nervous system. This is the type of muscle everyone thinks of when you FLEX!
Secondly, there’s smooth or “non-striated” muscle and cardiac muscle which is sometimes called “semi-striated”. Both of these types of muscle move without our conscious effort and are innervated by hormonal activation as well as activation from the nervous system.
For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus primarily on Skeletal Muscle and how you can take care of it best to stay active and pain-free.
What is the Function of Skeletal Muscle?
1. Physical Structure
Skeletal muscle serves to hold together the bones of the body. Each muscle connects to a bone via a tension at each end thereby producing movement upon muscle contraction. And without them to keep up upright, we would be just a frame of bones in a saggy skin sac.
Skeletal muscles are responsible for preventing our bones from sliding out of their sockets and holding up our general posture. They surround the spine and help aid our joints in staying in place.
3. Muscles and Movement
Skeletal muscle is the muscle responsible for voluntary movement and locomotion. It helps us stand, walk, drive, draw, run – MOVE. Without the neurological stimulus to the muscles to move, the tissue will begin to atrophy causing significant weakness and loss of tone.
How does the health of your muscles affect your overall health?
Here’s What Can Happen To Your Muscles When They are in Need of Some Attention
Knots or trigger points can occur when our muscle tissues get stuck together from connective tissue build up. This prevents blood blow and movement to the area and can be caused by several factors.
One reason for the development of trigger points could be your body’s natural reaction to injury or overuse. If you tweak your shoulder while exercising your muscle sends a message to the area to “freeze” in order to prevent further damage and to hold your bones in place. This can cause pain, swelling, and a general lack of movement.
Another reason trigger points can occur is due to lack of movement. The relationship between muscles and movement is huge, in fact, lack of movement can gradually cause our muscles to dwindle in strength and vigor and can build up a layer of “fuzz” or connective tissue made of collagen that can prevent your range of motion and overall muscle performance.
Think of an orange. The outer rind is our skin, underneath there is a layer of connective “fuzz” or pith before you reach your muscle or the fruit. It is the same in our bodies! The difference between us and an orange, however, is we develop more and more fuzz over time and this can restrict our movement and muscle function.
“If movement or intervention is not had, the collagen will harden and become sticky. Imagine two layers of fascia as to pieces of printer paper. Alone, the sheets of paper glide over one another freely as would layers of healthy connective tissue. Now imagine spreading a layer of honey between the papers. This demonstrates the loss of glide that happens when collagen builds up between layers of connective tissue.“
Dr. Gil Hedley explains it really well in his video, “The Fuzz Speech.” If you’re not squeamish and would like to see how the relationship of movement affects the muscles over time, be sure to watch this anatomical video!
5 Ways to Care for Your Muscles
Preserve the health of your muscular system by developing habits that reduce muscle stress and improve muscle function and strength. Here’s how:
I am referring to static stretching (holding a particular position for a given amount of time). Static stretching can help relax muscles and improve flexibility. For best results, focus on each muscle for at least 30 seconds once or twice a day. Stretch after warming up or working out. Never use static stretches before a workout tp prevent injuring a cold muscle. Instead, try dynamic stretching to prepare the body for the activity you are about to do.
Before intense activity, your objective should be getting your muscles ready for the exertion and impact of a workout. Dynamic stretches are safe to do before exercise. Static stretching works to relax and release your muscles, which perfectly compliments a post-workout routine, however it can make you more vulnerable to injury when done before intense physical activity.
David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital states “When everything is cold, the fibers aren’t prepared and may be damaged. If you exercise first, you’ll get blood flow to the area, and that makes the tissue more pliable and amenable to change”.
2. Resistance Training
Don’t worry, lifting weights doesn’t have to be synonymous with the bodybuilding bulk you see in magazines. Be it trimming down or bulking up, do some research on workouts that will deliver the results specific to your needs. Weight training strengthens muscle fibers. Increasing your muscle mass boosts metabolism and gives stabilization and protection to joints. This means you’ll have more energy, you’ll burn more calories and fat while at rest, and you are less likely to sustain an injury! If you are looking for ways to incorporate more resistance training in your workout routine, here’s some good info on ways to do it, and healthy tactics to use: Resistance Training Health Benefits.
Resistance training doesn’t always have to happen at the gym! Any time you get up and move your body and seek to actively engage your muscles in activity, you are working on muscle tone and activation and this will help maintain your overall muscle health!
Another great benefit of resistance training is taking muscles through both their concentric (shortening) and eccentric (lengthening) phases. The best tool to achieve this type of strengthening is resistance bands because steady resistance is applied to the muscle throughout the entire movement.
When lifting weights, and engaging in strenuous exercise, remember that when you’re doing the most work, it’s time to exhale. For example, if you’re doing a pushup, breathe out when you’re pushing; when you’re doing a crunch, breathe out when you’re contracting the abs muscles, etc… Naturally, over time, you’ll find that it’s automatic for you to exhale during exertion. For cardiovascular activities like running, make sure that you inhale more than you exhale because you want to allow as much air in your lungs as possible to increase endurance, release excess amounts of carbon dioxide, and avoid cramping.
In an office setting for example, we are hunched over a computer all day and forget to take a moment to actively relax our muscles and send oxygen throughout our body. If we take time and attention to breathe deeply and send oxygen to our muscles we can work to prevent knots before they form! Deep breathing exercises such as those used when meditating, help the nervous system to relax and in turn relax the muscles.
Breathing allows red blood cells to deliver O2 to your muscles. And whether you‘re exercising or not, the oxygen in your body is used to break down glucose, creating fuel for your muscles–that is, adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. This molecule is the source of energy that keeps your entire body going at all times.
4. Hydration and Minerals
Folks, you’ve heard it 100 times but it’s so important! A hydrated body is more capable of processing toxins and bacteria in your muscles out and decreases joint pain by keeping the cartilage soft. How much water should you drink daily? Some say 6 cups, some 8 glasses, some 1 gallon. The amount of water to drink varies from one person to another. The best rule of thumb to know how much water your body needs is to look at the color of your urine when using the restroom. The darker the color, the more water you need. Keep in mind that proper kidney function controls the deposits in your urine so if you’re drinking lots and lots of water a day and your urine remains dark, you should consult a healthcare professional.
Hydration is so critical for muscle health for several reasons.
First, exercise and strength building requires that the muscle tissue be broken down so it can rebuild itself even stronger by a process called protein synthesis. Proper hydration levels ensure this process can happen as rapidly as possible.
Second, it is important to drink water that has organic minerals in it. Organic minerals are readily absorbed into the body (as opposed to inorganic minerals). Our muscles need calcium, magnesium, potassium, and O2 to thrive and water carries all of that and more to the tissues of the body.
5. Massage Therapy and SMFR
You probably already know that massage therapy is a powerful tool to maintain muscle health! Massages should definitely be added to your wellness plan if you want to minimize tension/pain and enhance muscle recovery. Not only does it help with athletic recovery, but it’s also beneficial for improving range of motion, flexibility and muscle tone while helping them to heal from micro tears and injuries more quickly.
But Even More Than That, Here’s How Massage Really Makes a Difference to Get You Results!!
Massage helps maintain muscle elasticity, performance, response and flexibility through the delivery of heat, blood and oxygen to your muscles and soft tissues. Massage therapy and other physical therapies such as chiropractic care coupled with active movement, stretching, and exercise can work together to maintain better physical performance and help recover more quickly from physical injury.
Our highly trained massage therapists (voted Best in Utah 2019 & 2020!) can assist you in stretching and flexibility and can reach areas that are harder to stretch, move, or reach yourself such as your low back, under your shoulder blades, the back of your neck and shoulders, your hamstrings, etc… AND we can work with your comfortability to get your muscles to release, therefore freeing up your muscles to move and act to your heart’s desire without restriction or pain.
Self Myofascial Release (SMFR) is important to do between bodywork and therapy sessions. SMFR uses tools like trigger point balls, vibration guns and foam rollers to help you reduce muscle tension at home on your own. We are happy to show you specific ways to use these tools at home when you come in for a session!
Proven Techniques Such as Massage Therapy, Chiropractic, and Exercises to Alleviate Pain and Elevate Athletic Performance
Using Clinical/Orthopedic assessment and techniques, we specialize in treating pain and injury conditions from their underlying cause. At The Anatomy of Wellness, we use massage therapy, corrective exercise and chiropractic care as a form of physical therapy to assist your body in the healing process, alleviating pain and enhancing athletic performance and recovery.
Clinical Massage Therapy
Treat stubborn knots, reoccurring pain and muscle stress. Includes assessments relating to posture, movement and orthopedic dysfunction.
Our signature program treats each individual’s specific needs. After analyzing your Functional Movement Screening results, we develop a corrective exercise and bodywork program just for you.
Assisted Stretch Therapy
Your therapist guides your body through a series of PNF stretches to build flexibility and help with pain reduction and muscle recovery. It’s like having someone do yoga for you while you focus on breathing.