Are episodes of semi-contracted muscles, stiffness and body aches becoming a common scenario? This could be the effect of muscle tension—a condition where, at first, our muscles stay partially contracted for a period of time. However, if not addressed early on, it could lead to more serious chronic pain and other health problems (9).
Mainly, this contraction in the muscles happens due to stress (1), whether physical, mental, or emotional. While we cannot ignore different stressors that we encounter in our daily lives, recognising the signs and tackling the problem head on is a worthwhile solution to keep your body in tip top condition.
Why do we get muscle tension?
Our reflexes subconsciously signal to our body, when they are posed with danger. Bouts of anxiety and stress may be the reasons why we tend to feel stiffness and aches as the body responds to this threat (2). Long-term feelings of unease direct our muscles to become tense, resulting in muscle tension.
Usually, our body goes into a “fight or flight” state whenever we encounter stressful situations (2). As our body prepares to counter the incoming possible threat, it naturally causes us to tighten up and build tension.
Similarly, extreme physical activity, which could highly impact our body’s condition, as well as repetitive tasks which work only certain groups of muscles, could develop into bodily tension that’s much more severe.
How do we recognise muscle tension?
While checking in on our physical, mental, and emotional conditions for signs of a developing muscle tension may sound easy, it isn’t always the case. Stiffness and body aches are major things to watch out for, but the theory of sensory-motor amnesia states that one may fail to recognise these red flags if the body has not been exposed to a healthy state of relaxation.
In order to have a clearer picture, think about your daily activities and try to point out whether you’re going through the following:
- Stress and mild anxiety
- Constant movement and exercise
- Repetitive motion and positions
If you find yourself saying yes to any or all of the above, it’s time that you apply proper care and treatment to avoid further damage to your muscles and overall health.
How to treat muscle tension
Living stress-free to avoid muscle tension symptoms is not a realistic route—however, a shift in attitude, mindset and regular self-care practices could do wonders to ease up whatever tension build up you may have. Through a handful of techniques, you will be able to take the load off your shoulders, one day at a time. Start small, turn this into a habit, and make your health a top priority!
Manage your stress and mild anxiety
The first thing that you should do is to uproot the cause of it all: stress and mild anxiety. There are various ways to relieve oneself of these problems, such as breathing exercises, turning to hobbies that clear and calm the mind, getting a sniff of therapeutic scents such as peppermint or lavender, or even taking frequent mental health breaks.
There are also scientifically approved techniques that help manage stress and anxiety effectively. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), for one, strategically works your muscle groups in a certain order (3). It involves tensing up your muscles when you breathe in, and relaxing your muscles as you breathe out.
Meanwhile, Autogenic Training (AT) requires 15 minutes of your time daily, using a repeated set of visualisations that promotes a state of tranquility (4). It is said to balance one’s sympathetic and parasympathetic areas of the nervous system (10). This technique is used to improve blood pressure, heart rate, and the immune system.
The Hindu practice of yoga is an effective method to incorporate ease into your routine (5). Apart from helping one in stress management, it also carries more benefits through continuous practice, like strength and balance improvement, energy boost, and treatment for other health issues.
There are tons of options to get started on a regular yoga practice. You may find an instruction to guide you into settling in your mat in person or through a virtual class. You can also sign up to group classes if you prefer having company and a constant community presence that offers support in your journey. If you like to keep to yourself and practise at home, there are several YouTube classes that feature free yoga videos that you can try.
Getting a massage
It isn’t a secret that a massage is one of the best ways to unwind. Massage therapy helps relax tight muscle tissue, which may reduce spasms and painful contractions, as well as nerve compression (6). If you can, book a treatment with your massage therapist every so often, or try performing self-massage.
Make sleep a priority
Taking time to reset your body overnight assists your body to recuperate (7). Try to clock in eight hours (11) of sleep every night and have an even more restful slumber by making your bedroom more conducive for the activity. Make your bed more comfortable, light up scented candles, turn on ambient music, and keep away distractions an hour before bedtime to set the mood for a great snooze.
A healthy diet equates to a healthy body. But an even better solution: finding specific products that assist in certain health problems. Magnesium carries a ton of good-for-you benefits, such as maintenance of energy levels and refreshing sleep, assisting in muscle health and refreshing sleep.
More importantly, it is known to support and maintain muscle health and muscle relaxation. Magnesium supports muscular health by helping with muscle relaxation and contraction. It has been found to be effective in treating leg muscle cramps (8). On the other hand, a lack of magnesium may lead to muscle weakness, spasms, and cramps (12). The best part is that it maintains and supports the neuromuscular system, its function as well as the cognitive and mental function, making it a great supplement for those who are finding ways on how to relieve muscle tension.
Aside from these self-care practices, taking vitamin packs is a great way to support your healthy and well-rounded diet. Vitable, a vitamin subscription with personalised vitamins in Australia, will help support your journey towards living healthy with lesser worries about muscles!
*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
- Deborah Christensen. “Learn to Recognize and Release Muscle Tension.” News, Views, and Advocacy From the Oncology Nursing Society: voice.ons.org. Published on https://voice.ons.org/news-and-views/learn-to-recognize-and-release-muscle-tension. Accessed on January 20, 2022.
- American Psychological Association. "Stress effects on the body". Published on https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body. Accessed on January 26, 2022.
- Healthwise Staff. “Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation.” University of Michigan Health: uofmhealth.org. Published on https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2225. Accessed on January 20, 2022.
- The University of Melbourne. “Autogenic training exercise.” The University of Melbourne: unimelb.edu.au. Published on https://services.unimelb.edu.au/counsel/resources/guided-exercises/autogenic-training. Accessed on January 20, 2022.
- John Hopkins Medicine. “9 Benefits of Yoga.” John Hopkins Medicine: hopkinsmedicine.org. Published on https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/9-benefits-of-yoga. Accessed on January 20, 2022.
- Burgan, B., "How Does Massage Work?". University of Minnesota. Published on https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/massage-therapy/how-does-massage-work. Accessed on January 26, 2022.
- Better Health Channel. "Mood and sleep". Better Health Channel. Published on https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Mood-and-sleep. Accessed on January 26, 2022.
- Vitable. “Magnesium”. Vitable. Published on https://research.vitable.com.au/magnesium. Accessed on January 26, 2022.
- https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-pain#causes Feb 2022
- https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S197613171400070X Feb 2022
- https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need Feb 2022
- https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-deficiency-symptoms#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2 Feb 2022