Many of my lawyer clients suffer from occasional muscle spasms in the back, hips, legs and shoulders due to what I call “desk life.”
Mobility, strength and core training can help guard against these problems, but sometimes it’s necessary to go a step further to help treat and prevent flare-ups, whether they’re caused by too much sitting or by an injury.
Common ways to deal with muscle spasms include visiting a chiropractor, physical therapist or massage therapist. But there are some less common ways.
Here are four treatments that many of my clients have used to reduce pain and get back on their feet again. (Of course, if you’re in acute pain, you should see a doctor, and these suggestions aren’t medical advice.)
Electric stimulation. It may sound painful and torturous, but zapping the affected area with low levels of electricity, while controversial, in my experience immediately reduces pain and improves mobility. It doesn’t hurt. In fact it feels nice—like a massage. The electrodes feel like fingers rubbing your muscles.
The theories behind how and why it works vary, and clinical research is mixed when measuring against placebo. Some suggest it works because it blocks nerve pain pathways and triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. In my experience, when a muscle is so hypertonic that it can’t release and is super inflamed, 10 to 15 minutes of e-stimulation calms it down so that everything can settle. Check out this article for more info.
Cupping. From Michael Phelps to Ryan Seacrest to the woman squatting next to you in the gym, cupping (or “myofascial decompression”) is becoming an increasingly popular way to help with connective-tissue dysfunction. Perfectly round telltale “bruises” are making their way onto backs, shoulders and hips everywhere and are raising eyebrows from those who don’t understand what they are. I’ve personally experienced positive results from cupping as part of an integrated physical therapy pain management program. So I enlisted Dr. Sarah Jay from GSPORTS Physical Therapy to discuss and demonstrate how cupping can help improve fascial health and mobility.
Think of it in terms of massage. Massage is “positive pressure” on the tissue to break up adhesions (knots) and lengthen muscles. Cupping provides suction for “negative pressure” for areas where massage might not be the most effective. Negative pressure can “unstick” tight tissues and promotes blood flow to the area to improve movement and reduce pain.
Compression boots. “Intermittent pneumatic compression” via inflatable boots like these helps improve venous circulation in the limbs and helps overused muscles recover. This form of vaso-pneumonic therapy uses peristaltic movement (just like our intestines) and compression to stimulate the lymph system to drain all the “gunk” (like lactic acid, swelling, pooled blood) from the feet and legs. Thirty minutes of treatment leaves the legs feeling amazing and can minimize cramps, spasms and pain in the feet, quads and hamstrings.
Kinesiology tape. In a nutshell, tape changes sensory input for a change in output. Tape stimulates the skin and mechanoreceptors, which provide the brain information. With this new information the brain can improve our motor output for reduced pain and better movement.
Beyond the central nervous system, the tape lifts the skin to create space between layers of tissue and skin to reduce pressure and pain, reduce swelling, improve blood flow and to improve muscle movement. It is also used to help improve posture by gently holding muscles and joints in proper place over a few days creating new awareness and strength where needed.
For a discussion on the notion of pain as an experience of the brain and research on this idea, check out this article from Scientific American.
Regardless of which option you choose, it is important that you take action and find a professional and a method (or combination of methods) that work for your issues. The “I’ll wait and see if it goes away on its own” method rarely works.
Jonathan Jordan is a personal trainer, nutrition coach and corporate wellness consultant in San Francisco. Check out his blog JJ Fit 24/7.