Updated: Jan 24, 2021
How did I go from not being able to move my neck to a new personal best on my deadlift 3-days later?
Step 1: Listen To Your Body
An absolute first is always listening to your body. When your body produces any kind of symptom, especially pain, it's a signal to inform you of an imbalance. The quicker you respond in providing what your body is crying out for the quicker it will heal! Now unless it completely immobilizes us we typically go about our normal routine. With this in mind it's important to follow the traffic signals of pain response. Quite simply if you do something and there is no pain then I'd give it a GREEN LIGHT and it would be safe to continue perhaps at a reduced speed/intensity. If you move and the pain increases, RED LIGHT and stop immediately. If you continue and the pain does subside then I'd give it an AMBER LIGHT for continuing with caution.
Step 2: Rest It
How much? Again your body will share that with you. Professor Sapolsky in his great research on stress and physiology discovered why 'Zebra's Don't Get Ulcers' (book). I'm convinced that if you were to take any wild animal and put it through our daily routine of refined foods, commute to work, work itself, dealing with kids and their activity schedule, our daily thought patterns and our exercise stress coupled with our typical late-to-bed-again routine, that it wouldn't survive very long. Yes, they do have high stress (being hunted or having to hunt and forage for food) but it's very dispersed and allows a great deal of recovery time in between to allow tissue healing. So, if it's not realistic to ask your boss for several hours of nap time during your work day, at the very least, try laying flat or taking the weight off your feet in some way to allow the muscle in spasm to shut off the additional work/stress.
Step 3: Ice It
A muscle in spasm is similar to a dog getting a grip on something and not giving up. We want to encourage that muscle to release but first we need to send a strong signal to the nervous system to try and override the strong signal to remain contracted. Applying ice to the muscle area can help with this. Use a flexible ice pack and wrap around the muscle or even apply a snug bandage to keep it in place. DO NOT apply ice directly to the skin as this can burn you. instead use a thin cloth, t-shirt or other fabric to prevent burning of the skin. Depending upon the size of muscle and depth, I always suggest applying for minimum of 5-minutes up to 20-minutes. When the skin temperature has returned to normal you can then ice it once again which could mean icing 6+ times per day. Be frequent in the application of ice for at least the first 48-hours of a muscle spasm.
Step 4: Move & Stretch
We need to strike a balance between Rest & Ice and then keeping mobility to the joint upon which the muscle moves and supports. Using the traffic signals of pain response method described above is very important in step 4. By moving the affected joint area through as much range of motion (ROM) as is comfortable will effectively be stretching the muscle in spasm. You can include additional light stretches (by holding for 10-20 seconds) but again interpret from your body if you are ready for this.
I encourage you to repeat the sequence of steps outlined here to help accelerate the healing process. Additional interventions include meditation, taking a nap, keeping hydrated and avoiding sugar, gluten and dairy products (all know pro-inflammatory foods) and increase your calorie intake from natural foods instead. This is essential as a muscle in spasm will burn energy from your body much faster than a healthy, non-spasmodic muscle.
If your symptoms persist and are not responding to the above self-care, seek further help from either your local Doctor, Massage Therapist, Chiropractor or Physical Therapist.
Yours In Muscle Health,
Jason Barlow, RMT.