Chronic pain – the type of pain that can stay with us for months, years, and even decades – effects most Americans at some point in their lives. And chronic pain does not discriminate. Athletes, desk jockeys, and even stay-at-home parents can all experience this type of pain.

For example, basketball players who are constantly lifting their arms overhead may experience chronic shoulder pain, while employees who sit at a desk all day may suffer from constant back pain, and soccer moms who drive all over kingdom come may endure lingering knee pain.

But why? Why does this pain occur, and why does this pain persist and haunt us?

Sometimes it's a structural issue, and if that's the case, we're here to help.

But more often than not, chronic pain stems from muscle imbalance.

You see, our muscles move our bodies by contracting and relaxing. For instance, if I want to bring a glass of water to my lips, my biceps muscles will contract and my triceps muscles will relax. The result is my arm bending at the elbow and the glass of water coming closer to my lips.

The opposite is true as well. When I want to place the water back on the table, my biceps muscles relax and my triceps muscles contract, straightening my arm at the elbow.

All muscles have what we call an antagonist, a muscle or group of muscles that play the opposite role. When one muscle contracts, another muscle relaxes. This complimentary action allows our joints to function and our bodies to move.

However, pain starts to occur when we have a muscle imbalance. Meaning, we experience pain when one muscle or group of muscles is stronger or tighter than its antagonist muscle(s).

Case in point, when we sit on the couch for hours on end, binge watching an entire season of our favorite series, the hip flexor muscles (muscles that move our leg forward at the hip joint – like the psoas, iliacus, and quadriceps to name a few) get extremely tight and strong while our hip extensor muscles (muscles that move your leg backward at the hip joint – like the gluteus maximus, erector spinae, and hamstrings) get extremely lax and weak.

Over time, this muscle imbalance causes chronic pain.

So, now that you know what's causing most chronic pain, the question remains: How do you end the suffering of your chronic pain?

The answer is actually quite simple. You must correct the imbalance by strengthening your weak muscles and lengthening your tight muscles.

Here are 3 simple solutions to help you do just that and combat chronic pain:

  1. Stop or lessen the activity that's causing your muscle imbalance.
  2. Strengthen the weak muscles.
  3. Stretch the tight muscles.

Keeping our sitting and watching TV example:

  1. Your lower back is most likely experiencing pain because you're sitting too much. Learning to watch TV for less time or simply standing during the commercials will start to ease your pain. The more you can stand and not sit, the better off you'll be.
  2. Sitting too much is causing your hip extensor muscles to become weak, and pain typically stems from weak muscles. So to rid yourself of chronic pain you have to strengthen the extensor muscles with exercises like hip thrusts, squats, and back extensions.
  3. Sitting too much is causing your hip flexor muscles to become too tight, and this tightness is constantly pulling on your hip extensors and keeping them weak. It's a cycle that will continue unless you lengthen and release your hip flexors with stretches like the lunge stretch and the quad stretch.

Now, before performing any exercises, please consult with a medical professional or trained fitness instructor. It's important to follow proper form and use exercises that are in line with where you are physically. These professionals can help you strengthen and stretch your muscles without causing any additional pain or injury.

Here at UPMC – St. Margaret's we're here to help, so call us with any issues or to schedule a visit with one of our highly trained doctors. We'll help you figure out where your chronic pain is stemming from and give you a solution to lessen or eliminate the pain completely.