Muscle aches that won't go away...

Let’s chat about someone we’ll call Josh…

The weekend was filled with yard work, a good long run, cleaning and of course moving that desk to a new room that had been getting put off for months now. Waking up on Monday morning, felt like a train hit his body. Ugh, the aches.

First thought, a hot shower will fix this.

After a shower and standing in the warm water for an extra few minutes finally, he’s able to move a bit easier. Why did the shower help?

A hot bath or shower will help warm the muscle up at a deeper level than a hot pack. The heat causes vasodilation and the change in blood flow to the area can provide a feeling of relaxation. This expands to the nervous system helping to shut down the “fight or flight” response and remind Josh he will be ok.

By the time he goes to stand up from eating breakfast, his back is stiff. Feeling tight and aching he takes a few deep breaths and moves on with his day.

Throughout the day he keeps thinking of needing a quick massage. That will fix it.

Later that evening his wife rubs his back and helps ease the muscle tension. Finally, the relief he had been looking for all day. Josh regrets moving that desk on his own, but hey it had to be done. At least he is feeling better and can get some rest.

…the next morning though…stiffness is back.

The issue hasn’t been solved despite use of heat and massage. This goes on for 2 weeks before Josh finally seeks out help.

Let’s chat about the details:

1.     Why did the massage and heat not provide lasting relief?

The methods of relief help provide external stimulus to the nervous system. The overall sense of relaxation and relief are often temporary. It’s important to determine what caused the soreness or ache to come on. Was it lifting something heavy? Too much activity over a few days compared to the normal work load his body handles? What movement patterns did he use when he was doing all of his weekend tasks? Did he run on a treadmill or new surface that was different than his usual?

The variety of factors will play a role in why the relief did not last.

2.     How can it be fixed?

Finding the source of the symptoms is key. Symptoms can continue to return if the primary issue is not resolved. Sure, rubbing muscles and using heat feels great. There can often be a movement pattern or habit within someone’s routine that can be modified to help eliminate the cause of symptoms.

The “feel good” methods put Josh, or anyone in his situation, into an endless cycle of short term relief but frustration that pain and aches will not go away.

Break the cycle by determining the cause. It can be addressed with exercises, stretching, change of movement pattern and a variety of hands-on techniques by a skilled physical therapist.

Does Josh’s situation sound familiar?

I’m sure it does. We have all been there.

Seek out a skilled Physical Therapist near you to get lasting relief and determine the source of your ongoing symptoms. You truly don’t have to keep dealing with it.


Want to know how to stay active with back pain? Get all the details here.


Written by: Dr. Shari Miller, Orthopedic Physical Therapist with specialty in helping active people live the life you want.