The deal with hidden muscle pain
Sore and not sure why? Your pain may be rooted in problems with unsung and underlying muscles you’ve probably never heard of. “Minor muscles enable large muscles to do their job,” says Bryan Heiderscheit, PhD, PT, a professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation. “When the small ones aren’t working properly, it can lead to injury or pain.” That means that rehabilitating those small muscles can lead to overall muscle pain relief. There’s no simple way to know yourself which muscle is responsible for your achiness; a physical therapist or doctor can evaluate pain (and use other diagnostics, like MRI, of course, to pinpoint an issue). But strengthening and stretching these minor-league muscles is a big part of a conservative approach to pain management, so the following exercises will likely help. Here, some common aches and how to avoid them by giving these minor muscles some TLC.
The pain: bottom of foot
Discomfort on the bottom of your big toe could mean you’ve strained the flexor hallucis longus (the muscle that curls your big toe). How it happens: If you have weakness in your hips, it forces other parts of your body – including your foot – to help keep you balanced as you walk. “The big toe grabs the ground and keeps your foot from tipping over,” says Kevin Vincent, MD, PhD, medical director of orthopaedics and rehabilitation. Extra strain on the foot causes the flexor hallucis longus to overwork and thus cause pain.
Prevent it: Strengthen the muscles in your foot, as well as in your hips, by doing lunges and squats barefoot or in minimally cushioned shoes. Shoes that are too supportive don’t let your foot muscles build up resilience; spending time barefoot can help strengthen them, Dr Vincent says.
The pain: backside
Some pains in the you-know-what often come from a weak piriformis, a muscle that spans across the width of your butt that helps your hips rotate.
Prevent it: To strengthen your piriformis, walk sideways with your knees slightly bent (sort of like a shuffle but with slow, deliberate movements). A tennis ball works well for self-massage at your piriformis, too. Sit on the ball on the floor and roll a bit for a release.