How to loosen those knotted muscles

lsby Michael D. Allen, DC, NMD
Functional Neurologist

Almost everyone has shoulder girdle tension. It is one of the most common complaints I hear from my patients. They describe that their upper body feels all knotted up. They tell me it starts in their neck and shoulders and works its way down their back and lodges in between their shoulder blades. One patient recently told me that since her bed was up against the wall she had to reach across her bed to tuck in her sheets. About 15 minutes later she felt the tightness in her upper back, neck and shoulders.

Doing Useful Work

Muscles are built to do useful work, their actions being ultimately controlled by the nervous system. The nerves that make muscles contract come from the front part of the spinal cord where all the related nerve signals are calibrated. These nerve signals come from the muscles and organs at that same level of the cord and from the nerves that cascade to that area from the brain.

While muscle tension can be stubborn, both muscle contraction and relaxation depend upon a type of energy called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). This ATP opens the channels for calcium to trigger muscle contraction. Suddenly a couple of complex muscle proteins called actin and myosin move across each other much like one would climb a ladder.  Interestingly, ATP also stimulates muscle relaxation by uncoupling these same muscle proteins, and they climb back down the ladder.

Importance of Aerobics

ATP is created through a complicated aerobic process called glycolysis, which eventually breaks fats, carbohydrates and sometimes proteins into pyruvate molecules and an abundance of ATP. Any missed step in this intricate process could lead to only a fraction of the potential ATP production causing muscle tightness.

Carbohydrates are basically sugars, so most people think they get their best source of energy from carbs. While carbs may perk your energy quickly, eating them for energy is much like using a few sheets of paper to heat your house. The fire starts quickly and easily, and might it give off some warmth, but it is not an efficient form of heat. Your best source of ATP actually comes from unprocessed fats from whole foods; saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. One gram of healthy fat contains more than twice the potential energy than a gram of carbohydrates or protein, which only gives you four calories of energy per gram, each; alcohol yields 7 calories per gram.

Not all fats are the same. While fats have been criticized for decades, some fats will supply the right kind of energy while others will only gum things up. The media has told us for years that fat is the enemy; that we should eat fats sparingly. They have told us that a low-fat diet would provide us the body we want. In fact, eating a low fat diet is one of the worst nutritional mistakes a person can make.

Tips to Encourage ATP

Since ATP leads to both muscle contraction and relaxation, it makes sense to be sure you are generating as much ATP as possible. While there is no sure fire way to increase your ATP production, there are some ways to encourage its production. Supplementing your diet with creatine, magnesium, lipoic acid, co-enzyme Q-10 and B vitamins provides the essential components for more ATP. These nutrients work inside the mitochondria of each cell to help burn pyruvate more completely. However, despite having the nutrients available, movement is essential to more ATP. Movement places demand on your muscles and that ramps up your ATP production; if you need more you make more. More movement increases the nerve signals to that same area of the cord and they also reach up to the brain and come back down to that area of the cord that ultimately eases the tension on the muscles.

Here is the bottom line: If your muscles are all tied up in stubborn knots, eat more of the right kind of fats, take your vitamins regularly and make sure you move in the ways that stimulate your brain.

Warning: Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements or vitamins. Creatine and CoQ10 may not be safe for everyone to use and can interact with medications or medical conditions. To minimize your risk if adverse interactions, be sure to tell your doctor about any other drugs or supplements you are using.

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