Ask Mr. Muscles ‘R’ Us
Columnist ‘Lou Lumbago’ answers your questions about what makes your body get up and go
It’s time to reach into the question bag and dig out a few inquiries that have piqued the interest of some of you anatomy students out there. This is an annual attempt by this columnist to answer all the questions (translation- three) that people have posed over the course of the year. I aim to please.
This first question was asked by at least one of my readers, if not both.
Question No. 1: With so many muscles in the human body, why don’t we hear or read about more of them?
Answer: You just answered your own question. There are over 639 named muscles in our bodies. They can’t all be in the news.
Many have a major function in our everyday lives. And some have glamorous names as well. Take, for example, the pectoralis major. These are chest muscles that guys flex to show off to women. Then there’s our gluteus maximus, the largest one in the body that you sit on to avoid doing large tasks. And how about our habeas corpus? Actually that’s just a legal phrase I threw in.
But there are smaller, less glamorous muscles that can attract our attention, especially if we are experiencing a particular type of pain. They are sometimes acting under cover. They’re kind of like in the witness protection plan, so to speak, like relatives of some of you out there.
Take for example the suboccipital muscles. These consist of two sets of four very small muscles that connect the base of our skull with the first and second cervical (neck) vertebrae which go by the aliases of “atlas” (C-1) and “axis” (C-2).
These small muscles not only stabilize those vertebrae but also allow us to extend our heads back like when we look up in the sky to see if it’s a bird, or if it’s a plane or if it really is Superman.
They also allow us to rotate our head sideways. The name “suboccipitals” is actually their undercover name. Their real names are the rectus capitis posterior major, rectus capitis posterior minor, the oblique capitis superior and the oblique capitis inferior.
These real names are derived from their location and the direction in which they lie. For example “rectus” means straight up and down, “capitis posterior” is the back of the head and “major” means it’s larger than the “minor.”
As for the others, “oblique” means at a slant, “capitis” means head and “superior” is above the “inferior”.
Although these are very small muscles, if a client of mine indicates that they are experiencing a headache, the first muscles I go after are the aforementioned octet. Because, if they are tight, they will pull back on the skull as well as the dura mater (the connective tissue that surrounds the spinal column and bran) and create those real special tension headaches.
Question No. 2: What act does the periformis muscle perform?
Answer: Cute try at mixing terminology but don’t give up your day job. The muscle to which you are referring is the “piriformis” and it is located deep to (underneath) the gluteus maximus. It connects the sacrum with the greater trochanter at the top of the femur (thigh) bone. Along with five others it makes up the “deep six” muscles that laterally rotate our hips.
What can make the piriformis so special is that it sits on top of the sciatic nerve which is the largest nerve in the body.
This nerve originates in the lumbar region of the spinal cord and passes down the center of our buttocks and extends down the back of our thigh. It then branches out into the peroneal and tibial nerves.
Because the sciatic nerve runs deep to the piriformis muscle there is the potential for this muscle to compress or impinge on the sciatic nerve. This condition, which causes a shooting pain down the back of the leg, is known as sciatica.
There’s a percentage of people (about 10 percent) who have the misfortune of having their sciatic nerve run directly through the piriformis. These folks are more susceptible to sciatica than others.
When a client comes to me with these symptoms I work on the piriformis as well as the other lateral rotators to ease the pressure and ultimately the pain.
Question No. 3: My doc says I have lumbago. What can you do for me?
Answer: “Lumbago” is a term that has special meaning to me. It is a term of affection that dates back to my high school days. Back then, in our unsophisticated and immature way we used to make fun of each others last names.
We didn’t have video games to keep us busy. For example Dick Weimer was Dick Wiener. Brad Coon was Brad Goon. And I was known as Louie Lumbago.
I dropped the “ie” in my first way when I went to college to become more mature.
But, back to the question- anatomically speaking “lumbago” is a term that describes general lower back pain. Its exact cause is often unknown. It can come on suddenly after lifting heavy stuff or gradually after doing gardening for a few days.
The pain is a localized pain rather than a shooting pain. It can be sharp or achy.
Treatment of the symptoms should begin first with a diagnosis by a medical professional.
As with the case of most injuries, you can apply ice for 2-3 days of the onset and then alternate with ice and heat. Or, if the ache came on gradually, hot packs can be a remedy.
Rest is also a remedy, if you have the time to lay around for a couple of days — like many congressmen in off-election years.
Trigger points in muscles can also be a cause of the pain in the buttocks (there’s those congressmen again). Or is can also be caused by an imbalance in the muscles of the lower back. In either of those cases, orthopedic massage techniques can help alleviate the pain.
So, to make a long story short, and to fill in a lot of column space, that completes this edition of “Ask Mr. Muscles ‘R’ Us.”
Keep those questions coming. You never know when yours will get answered. Although judging from past experience, it probably will be next October.
On another serious note, if you are looking to get in shape over the next three months, join my friend George Harvey, president of the Livonia Rotary and his fellow Rotarians who have co-sponsored the “Shape Up For Scholars” challenge.
You can have a lot of fun and get fit at the same time. To register, contact George at 624-1981 or visit the Livonia Rotary web site at www.livoniarotaryny.com.