Inspiration for the “Muscle of the Month”

I created the “Muscle of the Month” because I think it is important to know the names of major muscles and muscle groups.  The more you know about your body, the better equipped you are to take proper care of it.  This knowledge will make it easier for you to figure out what might be going wrong within your musculoskeletal system and, more importantly, give you the vocabulary and information to have more useful and informative conversations with your doctor and others in your health care team.

As usual, I’m going to chirp in a little disclaimer here: I’m talking about bones and muscles, the basic building blocks of the body’s physical structure.  There is a lot more to the body than muscles and bones; the musculoskeletal system is only one of many systems of the body.  The digestive system and immune system might be a couple of others that you’ve heard of before.  But I am a massage therapist, so I look through that lens.  Just as a surgeon comes to a consult wearing surgery goggles, I’m wearing massage goggles.  There is nothing wrong with either.  We use a completely different set of tools to approach and solve problems concerning the human body.  I think it is important to have these different views with any problem concerning the body.  My point is, I’m a muscle person, ask me about muscles, but don’t take it for gospel.  I don’t diagnose, my educational background is nothing compared to your doctors’.

In addition to the names of muscles, I want to share what they do, how they move your body and what can go wrong.  My hope is to bring awareness to how easy it is to take care of your muscles, and also bring some awareness to the remarkable amount of work that it takes to keep the human body alive and moving.  Perhaps you will want to take better care of your body if you appreciate the trouble it goes through everyday to keep you moving!

The most important thing you need to know about your body:  The human body was built to move!  Our muscles and bones create the structure which holds everything in, and moves everything around.  So… our musculoskeletal structure was designed with mobility and durability in mind!  Therefore, your body will be at its best if you are using it.  A lot of problems that occur within the muscles arrive because of lack of movement, staying in the same position for a long period of time, or only doing a small number of movements all the time.  A simple way to avoid pain is to move frequently, and put yourself in positions opposite to the norm.  For example: if you sit at a desk all day, get up and move every hour or so; walk, lay on the ground, put your arms behind you instead of in front of you.  Why? You ask…  Your body is smart.  It pays attention to the positions you stay in, and tries to make things easier on you by locking muscles in those positions.  If you sit at a desk all day, muscles in your chest (pectoralis major), abdomen (rectus abdominus), and hips (psoas) all contract, and stay in a shortened position even after you move; because locking in a shortened (contracted) position conserves energy.

Constant communication between your muscles and your brain orchestrate the most intricate to the most robust movement without you putting any conscious thought into it.  Just like you don’t consciously have the thought, “okay breathe in: that means you diaphragm, internal and external intercostals, pectoralis minor, and you too serratus posterior superior!  Breathe in!”  (yes, those are all real names of real breathing muscles used in inhalation)  It is a fairly miraculous thing that the brain and spinal nerves are such amazing multi-taskers.  Since we have no clue just how much communication is happening in the background to keep us alive and moving, it is not surprising that we take for granted the masterpiece that is the human body.

I’d like to share my appreciation of this marvel with you in the hopes that you will pat yourself on the back a little more often just for doing a great job of breathing!  And maybe, just maybe, you will feel inspired to take better care of this one and only, absolutely amazing body that you have been gifted!

February’s Muscle of the Month

Entry number two in the Muscle of the Month series will help you better understand the leg, how we sit, stand, walk and run.

Introducing the Hamstrings: Biceps Femoris, Semimembranosus, and Semitendinosus

That’s right, the Hamstrings are made of three different muscles, and one muscle (the Biceps Femoris) has two muscle bellies, hence the name Biceps (Bi = 2).  These three muscles work together, opposing the Quadriceps, to successfully do things like walk, stand up, and sit down.  The Hamstrings flex (bend) the knee, and extend the hip.  The back leg of a kneeling lunge puts the Hamstrings in their flexed position at both joints that they cross.

What do they do?  While doing a squat the Hamstrings bend the knee.  To stretch your Quadriceps you raise your lower leg toward your back side (the Gluteal muscles) which activates the Hamstrings.  When the Quadriceps stretch, the Hamstrings flex.  Therefore, these two muscle groups, with help from the Gluteal muscles and the Iliopsoas complete walking, running, and squatting motions.  This is why the Hamstrings are the second Muscle of the Month because they work so closely with the Quadriceps to perform what we think are such simple everyday movements.  I give you two guesses what muscle group we’re going to be learning about next month!

What can go wrong?  Most people say they have tight hamstrings.  I would beg to differ.  Although, just like any other muscle or muscle group, they can get tight, more often they suffer from being over stretched.  It might seem strange, but this is one reason why they are a common muscle to “pull”.  I’ll try to keep this as simple as possible.  Often what happens with the Hamstrings is that the entire muscle group spends a lot of the time lengthened, but sections of muscle fibers become contracted because of strain on the muscle.  These contracted sections are shorter in length than the entire muscle so when the Hamstrings are engaged in an activity such as running, the short fibers are more vulnerable to being torn.  Stay tuned for a special addition of “Muscle of the Month” for more on the inner workings of muscle fibers.

I hope you have enjoyed learning about the Hamstrings Group!

January’s Muscle of the Month

Welcome to the first of many features about the human body.  In order to share some knowledge and totally nerd out, I would like to introduce a new muscle or muscle group with you every month.  There are over 600 muscles in the human body so you can expect this to continue for awhile.  Just think of all the wonderful information you will gain!

In the spirit of a new year, and getting up and moving, January’s muscle is actually a group of muscles: the Quadriceps Femoris Group.  These are your thigh muscles, opposite your Hamstrings, on the front of your leg bone above your knee.  These muscles are in charge of straightening your knee.  One of the four also brings your knee toward your chest.

The Quadriceps Femoris Group is made of 4 different muscles: Rectus Femoris, Vastus Intermedius, Vastus Lateralis, and Vatus Medialis.

Latin is a bit foreign to most of us, so let’s break down these names first.

  • Quadricep basically points to there being four muscles in the group.  Quad = 4
  • Femoris refers to the bone they are located on the Femur.
  • Rectus, in the case of most muscles, refers to a muscle helping maintain a straight or upright posture.  The Rectus Femoris straightens the knee.
  • Vastus refers to the large, vast, nature of these muscles.
  • Intermedius means middle (it lies underneath the Rectus Femoris)
  • Vastus Lateralis lays on the outer side of the femur, and…
  • Vastus Medialis lays on the inner side of the femur.  Just for a little background medical terminology: the words lateral and medial are used to denote the proximity to the midline (or spine) of the body.

That concludes the medical terminology portion of this feature!

So what do they do?!  The main action that all four Quadriceps perform is knee extension: they straighten your leg.  The Rectus Femoris also helps with hip flexion: bending forward at the hip or lifting the leg toward the chest.  The other three do not contribute to this action because they don’t attach on the hip, they attach on the femur, where the Rectus Femoris crosses two joints (hip and knee), the Vastus Intermedius, Lateralis, and Medialis only cross over the knee joint.

Common activities that employ the Quadriceps: Running, walking, cycling, climbing stairs, coming up from a squat, standing up from a chair.

What can go wrong?  Some of the more common ailments experienced in the knee have something to do with the Quadriceps Group.  Muscle imbalance between the Vastus Medialis and Vastus Lateralis can cause the Patella (kneecap) to track incorrectly.  All of the Quadriceps Group ends in the Patellar Tendon which wraps the Patella from all sides, and attach at the Tibial Tuberosity.  If one muscle is tight it can push the Patella to one side or impact ease of movement.  The Quadriceps Group are all very strong muscles, and when they are flexed the knee is straight.  That means that their counterpart, the Hamstrings, are lengthened when you are standing up.  While these are also strong muscles, they are often overpowered by the Quadriceps.  This can cause pain in the Hamstrings.  Many activities work to stretch the Hamstrings, but I caution against too much of this.  Make sure to stretch your Quadriceps as much, if not more, than your Hamstrings.  (See picture slide show)

That concludes this month’s Muscle of the Month!  Check back in next month to learn more about the Hamstrings!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and this information is not to be used for the use of self diagnosing.  If you have pain or think something is wrong, please call your doctor, then make an appointment with me for some muscle maintenance.  Thank you!