Is Muscle Weakness Causing Your Pain?

If you're experiencing chronic or acute back, neck or shoulder pain, your problem might be due to muscle weakness. Even when the pain feels like it's in your bones or joints, the root cause might be located in your muscles.

What Causes Muscle Weakness?

Most of the time, muscle weakness is caused by lack of exercise. Even when someone works out regularly, if he doesn't exercise all muscle groups, some muscles may become stronger than others. That leaves weaker muscles vulnerable to injury and may cause stronger muscles to pull bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons or other muscles out of alignment. It's those misalignments that can cause pain when bones and nerves move in unnatural ways or are prevented from moving the way they're supposed to.

Sometimes, muscle weakness is a symptom of other diseases or a side effect of medication or treatment. Patients who experience fatigue or avoid exercise due to chronic pain are at particularly high risk of developing muscle weakness. That means muscles won't move, support or protect underlying structures in a smooth and efficient way, which may result in pain and injury to nerves, joints, bones, organs and adjacent muscles.

Muscle Weakness and Back Pain

Many patients who suffer with low back pain have weak core muscles (the large muscle groups in the back and abdomen that support the spine and internal organs). When they sit too long, twist, turn, or lift something the wrong way and their core muscles aren't strong enough to perform the task, they react with painful spasms and inflammation. If the muscles aren't strengthened, they may fail to provide adequate protection for spinal joints and nerves, which may result in extremely painful conditions like herniated discs and irritated sciatic nerves.  

Muscle Weakness and Neck Pain

Patients who suffer with neck pain may be asking their neck muscles to hold unnatural positions for long periods of time. For example, hours sitting in front of a computer or resting on an old pillow may cause neck strain if the person juts his head or holds it at an unnatural angle. This causes stress on neck muscles and pain in neck joints and nerves.

Muscle Weakness and Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is sometimes the result of weak muscles being asked to carry too much weight, by poor posture or engaging in activities the muscles haven't been trained and strengthened to do like painting the house or playing tennis. This can cause irritation and inflammation in the muscles, tendons and bursa (capsule surrounding the joints) or nerve entrapment.  

How to Strengthen Painful Muscles

Exercise is proven to be good for every body, especially those with chronic pain conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia and other autoimmune disorders. Ask your doctor how to get started. You may need to begin with a gentle fitness plan like walking and stretching. As you gain strength, talk to a physical therapist about the best ways to add strength-training activities to build up your general fitness level and specific exercises to target your trouble spots.

If your pain is caused by a specific injury or accident, seek medical advice about how long to rest and recover before starting an exercise program. Then, ask your physician if you need treatment from a physical therapist. Physical therapists can design an exercise and treatment plan specifically for your body. When your injury is healed, it's time to develop a total-body fitness plan with the help of a trained fitness expert.  

Investing in stronger muscles may pay off in less pain, more energy and a better sense of wellbeing.