I have seen my fair share of people in pain in the past eleven years as a massage therapist. Coaching in the gym has shed light on the other side of people and habits. Generally speaking when we feel pain we tend to respond the same. I am stating it's time to do the opposite.
Let me start with the stiff neck I experienced yesterday. It was extremely uncomfortable. Hours spent looking down as I was writing, giving massages, and at the same time being stressed set me up for the precursor to cervical misalignment. No fun. I responded the way most people do to discomfort. I went home and laid down in front of the television. It helped the stress to disipate. Neck strain remained. So I took the next step in what most people would do to relieve their pain: I went to bed.
Naturally the neck stiffness remained in the morning and I debated whether or not to exercise. Here is the moment that changed everything for me. Given this situation many people will automatically assume they are unable to do anything out of fear of worsening the situation and begin assuming a mock paralyzed attitude regarding their neck. I decided to head to the gym and immediately began my mobility work: MOVING! Yes, I did the opposite.
I listened to my body. Felt the muscle restrictions, and spent extra time getting them loosened up and it worked!
Why? Every muscle has an antagonist or one working in the opposite motion. Your biceps flex the forearm and the triceps extend the forearm. It's how our bodies work. Tension in the neck after looking down for hours coupled with stress meant that the muscles in the front of the neck are extremely tight from holding that position and the muscles at the back of the neck are tight but overstretched (think of a rubber band that is stretched out, if you touch it it will be taut). After hours in one position these muscles almost assumed they had to stay that way and held on to that tension long after the activities were ceased. That is the unfortunate part of muscle memory, they don't discriminate and remember the good and the bad movements.
By moving through the restrictions, milking the muscles to loosen up I was able to regain range of motion. Had I stayed immobile I would still be in pain and probably fixing to head out for some professional help. Instead I was able to go through my workout of kettlebell snatches, push ups, bear crawls, and farmer carries. (The snatches especially helped since they recruit the lats and glutes which help to counter the tension of the anterior musculature).
What can you take away from this? When in pain move. Of course this does not apply to a broken bone or intense pain with swelling, redness, or any other sign of serious injury. I am talking about your minor low back or neck pain. After my experience I actually feel better than I have in a while!