Have you ever twisted your back or neck suddenly causing a severe pain and then not been able to move? “Throwing your back out” is a common term often used. When we have a sudden pain in a muscle, joint, or nerve resulting from a sudden twist or strain, the muscles around that injury often spasm or contract to protect the area. This results in a decreased range of motion and often a complete immobilization of the area. It is common for soft tissue to impinge nerves. The impinged nerves and lack of mobility oftentimes creates more pain and is then evolved into what is known as the Pain-Spasm-Pain cycle. This occurrence often happens with areas surrounding a herniated disk or inflamed nerve condition such as sciatica or carpal tunnel and thoracic outlet syndrome.
The Pain-Spasm-Pain cycle is what happens when we have an injury then subsequently feel “stuck” and finally, more pain. That spasmodic reaction is the bodies response to the shock of the injury. Our bodies have natural defense mechanisms in place so we do not cause further injury to these areas. Think of this spasm or immobilization as a “Natural splint’ such as one would have placed near a bone that had been broken. The splint is placed near the injury to restrict its movement so it can heal properly.
The tensing of the muscles around the area to immobilize it is very useful up to a point. In chronic issues, massage therapy and other forms of bodywork are very useful in helping to “break” the Pain-Spasm-Pain Cycle. As mentioned above this reaction (of contracting and immobilizing the injury) is generally very purposeful, but when it continues for a prolonged period and becomes a chronic condition it is best to seek help. Consult your Doctor as to what the prescribed treatment should be (physical therapy, massage therapy etc).
There are so many reasons why this occurs: incorrect sleep positions, lifting a heavy object, or a repetitive motion injury are just a few examples. The more we can train our muscles to be toned and physically aligned the safer from injury we can become. Usually we injure ourselves when we are rushing or tired. This often happens with elderly people as their brains can still think quicker than their bodies’ reactions and reflexes. New parents may find it challenging to keep up good body mechanics as they are chasing after a toddler (or two) going in every direction. So if at all possible try to slow down and be mindful of your body mechanics to avoid injury and the dreaded “Pain-Spasm-Pain” cycle.