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General characteristics

General characteristics

Muscles are the structures that surround the joints, bones and organs in the body to help provide the body with movement, stability, strength, support and protection.

They are composed of specialised muscle cells that are capable of 4 different types of activity. These are excitability (the ability to react to a stimulus), contractility (the ability to contract or shorten), extensibility (the ability to stretch without breaking) and elasticity (the ability to quickly return to their resting shape).

There are 3 main muscle types in the body, each composed of a slightly different arrangement of cells and fibres. These are the skeletal muscles (which help move the joints and skeleton), the smooth muscles (such as in the walls of blood vessels and organs like the stomach and bladder) and the cardiac muscles which are unique to the heart. The skeletal muscles are made up of muscle cells arranged in fibrous bundles or lengths (called 'striated' or 'striped' muscle) and with their ability to contract and relax (to shorten and lengthen), they provide the gift of movement to the skeleton. The skeletal muscles are generally under our conscious control (termed 'voluntary muscles') with some exceptions such as the diaphragm and intercostal rib muscles involved in breathing which can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously. The smooth muscles are made of muscle cells arranged in a smooth pattern (forming the structures of hollow tubes and vessels and organ walls, the iris, around hair follicles etc.) giving the vessels, structures or organs the ability to move contents along in a pulse or wave like fashion. In general, smooth muscle is not under conscious control (termed 'involuntary'). The cardiac muscle is unique in that it is striated (like skeletal muscle) but is generally not under conscious control (like smooth muscle).

Muscles move or react in response to various stimuli. Skeletal muscle is stimulated in response to the release of chemicals from its nerve supply at the junction between the nerve cell and the muscle cell (the neuro-muscular junction) which in turn signals the muscle cell to release calcium ions (electrically charged calcium molecules) which then causes the muscle to contract. Skeletal muscle contraction and performance can be reduced by a build up of lactic acid from exercise, from a lack of available sugars, motor nerve damage to the muscle, and electrolyte or fluid imbalances. Smooth muscles also use calcium ions as their stimulus to contract but are also influenced by certain hormones and various other chemicals such as norepinephrine and oxytocin. Cardiac muscle is stimulated by electrical impulses that are generated in an area of the heart containing specialised cells which act as a pacemaker, setting the rhythm of the heart beat. Contraction of cardiac muscle can also be influenced by the parasympathetic and sympathetic nerves (emotions), temperature, physical activity and certain drugs.

Muscle pain can arise from a wide variety of conditions and it is important to find the underlying cause wherever possible. These include strain and fatigue from physical causes, viruses or infections, tension, mineral deficiencies or imbalance, certain medications (statins, ACE inhibitors etc), auto-immune disorders, cancers, drug withdrawl, excessive alcohol, nervous system disorders and metabolic disorders.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Muscles require calcium for efficient contraction so consume plenty of calcium rich foods such as fresh carrot juice and carrots, sesame seeds and halva, dark green leaves such as kale, spinach and collards, broccoli and other cabbage type plants, organic dairy such as yoghurt, cheeses and milk.

Anti-oxidants such as vitamin C are vital for efficient tissue repair. Anti-oxidant rich foods include all fresh fruit and vegetables but especially the berry fruits.

Protein consumption is vital for muscle building and structure, particularly when you are physically working hard, trying to build muscle or growing. Good reliable protein sources include animal products like beef (organic and grass fed where possible), organic eggs, salmon and other wild caught fish, quinoa , organic unsweetend yoghurt (add your own berries for a mega nutrient boost), nuts such as almonds and nut butters and beans (less protein and more carbohydrate).

Potassium is needed for muscle cell growth and maintenance and good sources include bananas, avocados, dried apricots and raisins, organic potato peel/skins, green leaves and culinary herbs, tomatoes, fish such as salmon, sardines and cod and nuts in general.

Beetroot juice (fresh) has been shown to increase muscle health by making them use less fuel and oxygen in order to perform the same tasks for longer periods with less muscle fatigue.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Ashwagandha tincture or dried root can be taken alone or with other herbs to help ease inflammation of muscles and to generally improve their overall health, useful in cases of fibromyalgia.

Ginger and chilli can be rubbed into the skin to ease muscle pain by improving blood flow to the muscle. Use the tinctures as a rub or use the fresh herbs in a carrier oil.

Nettle, red raspberry leaf, boneset and oatstraw tea (equal parts)will provide calcium, iron and many other nutrients needed to help keep muscles and bones in good health, promote healing and help prevent incidences of cramping or spasm.

Solomons seal root tincture can be rubbed into the skin to correct muscle and tendon tension, whether it be too loose or too tight.

Natural healing

Natural healing

Exercise regularly to help keep all the types of muscle in good working order. Warm up gently and warm down after more strenuous exercise.

Castor oil can be used to loosen tight or tense knots in the muscles. Rub the oil into the skin or soak a cloth in it and use as a poultice for deeper healing.

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