Why Tense Muscles Damage Your Body
Constant pain, limitations in mobility, permanent incorrect posture if not appropriately treated, muscle tensions considerably reduce life quality. Especially when it becomes chronic.
There are so-called nociceptors almost everywhere in your body. Nociceptors are the ends of a nerve fiber. They react to external stimuli such as pain or heat and transmit them to your central nervous system.
Their sensitivity increases when muscles are tense or hardened. This increases your pain perception.
Muscle tightness also affects your fasciae. Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds all bones, muscles, and organs. They support your muscles and determine how flexible they are.
If fascia hardens due to muscle tension, they are damaged and can become sticky. In the long run, this might even weaken your immune system. If you want to learn more about fascia, take a look at our detailed guide.
Increased muscle tension throughout the body can become chronic in the worst case. If this happens, your muscles wont relax anymore in the way they used to, which is painful and acutely restricts your mobility.
How To Relax Your Muscles: Take The Next Step
Tight muscles are not only a result of stress, they contribute to stress.
But you can break the vicious cycle of stress and muscle tension by learning how to relax your muscles with the progressive muscle relaxation technique.
Proven benefits of progressive muscle relaxation include the reduction of anxiety and panic, improved sleep, lowering of high blood pressure, and improved digestion.
Use this muscle relaxation technique whenever you find yourself stuck in flight-or-fight mode and need to jump-start your bodys natural relaxation response.
The Vicious Cycle Of Muscle Tension And Stress
You are probably familiar with the flight-or-fight response that you experience when under stress.
This is technically known as the stress response.
During the stress response, muscles tighten, breathing gets shallow, heart rate increases, and digestion shuts down.
Since the body always seeks a state of balance, there is an opposing reaction known as the relaxation response.
When the relaxation response is elicited, muscles relax, breathing and heartbeat slow down, and blood pressure and digestion return to normal.
But when the stressors of modern life keep coming at you, the relaxation response never gets a chance to kick in.
Your muscles stay permanently tense.
Perversely, muscle tension sends a signal to your brain that theres danger ahead, eliciting the stress response.
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The Effects Of Stress On Your Muscles
Oh, the damage stress causes to your body. Its so detrimental that we basically want to say, Dear stress, lets break up.
While muscle tightness occurs when you put stress on your body, like exercise, muscle tension is can be triggered by internal and external stress.
If you dont find a way to release that tension, it can create serious muscle imbalances. This is especially so if the muscle tension is in your upper back and neck .
But thats just talking about physical stress. Now, lets get to emotional stress. This type of stress is the worst culprit in chronic muscle tension. When youre emotional, parts of your body tend to tense up, like your jaw from clenching or your diaphragm from rapid breathing.
Another one to mention is environmental stress. An example of this type of stress is artificial ingredients from processed foods. It can impede proper muscle functioning, which can compound the problem of sore muscles.
Tip 1 On How To Loosen Tight Muscles: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This method relieves muscle tension by specifically tensing particular muscle groups. You activate and relax all muscle groups in your body according to the same principle:
Tense hold tension release feel.
You concentrate on the respective muscles and tense them noticeably . Hold the tension for 7 10 seconds and then release. Before you move on to the next muscle group, focus on how your muscles and feel them for about 30 seconds.
With Jacobsons progressive muscle relaxation, you can relax and treat all problem areas within your body.
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Tips For Starting A Relaxation Practice
Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isnt difficult, but it takes regular practice to truly harness their stress-relieving power. Try setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice.
Set aside time in your daily schedule. If possible, schedule a set time once or twice a day for your practice. If your schedule is already packed, try meditating while commuting on the bus or train, taking a yoga or tai chi break at lunchtime, or practicing mindful walking while exercising your dog.
Make use of smartphone apps and other aids. Many people find that smartphone apps or audio downloads can be useful in guiding them through different relaxation practices, establishing a regular routine, and keeping track of progress.
Expect ups and downs. Sometimes it can take time and practice to start reaping the full rewards of relaxation techniques such as meditation. The more you stick with it, the sooner the results will come. If you skip a few days or even a few weeks, dont get discouraged. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum.
Get more help
Body Scan Meditation by Jon Kabat Zinn Follow along with a full body scan meditation led by Jon Kabat Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Recommended resources that require a fee
Tip 2 On How To Loosen Tight Muscles: Qigong
Qigong is a mindfulness exercise that combines relaxing movements and conscious breathing.
It activates the various muscle groups in the body, stretches muscles and joints, and releases tension. Your body is circulated better and reaches a state of relaxation. This strengthens your muscles and gives them back their flexibility. Qigong is also ideal for reducing stress.
In this article, we have put together suitable Qigong exercises for you. Most of them are ideal for relieving muscle tension.
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Tip 6 On How To Loosen Tight Muscles: Magnesium
Magnesium is a simple household remedy that relieves muscle tension and can help with unpleasant muscle cramps.
Take magnesium as a dietary supplement and expand your diet with magnesium-containing foods such as broccoli, spinach, nuts, legumes, and fish.
Taking magnesium and zinc before exercise can even prevent sore muscles and other tensions.
If you suffer from chronic muscle tension, talk to a doctor immediately.
In This Post Ill Explain:
What happens when we experience stress
How stress turns into anxiety
How anxiety and muscle tension cause and exacerbate each other
How to recover from anxiety by reducing muscle tension, addressing other physiological factors, participating in talk therapy, taking control, and exploring your habitual reactions to stress
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End The Active Stress Response
When muscle tension symptoms are caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, this feeling should subside and you should return to your normal self.
Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldnt be a cause for concern.
Other Proven Ways To Relax Muscle Tension
Progressive muscle relaxation isnt the only way to relax your muscles.
Performing mind-body exercises like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong will reduce muscle tension.
So does acupuncture or a form of self-acupressure known as tapping .
Massage or Sauna
Getting a massage or sitting in a sauna are wonderful ways to loosen tight muscles.
Since few of us have access to a sauna or round-the-clock massage therapist, the next best thing is rolling tight muscles on a foam roller.
Youll find six exercises to relax your muscles and reduce stress from foam roller expert Lauren Roxburgh on Well and Good.
Lastly, if you frequently have tight muscles, look into the following supplements:
Tight muscles and cramps can be a sign of magnesium deficiency.
This mineral is critical for feeling relaxed, but upwards of 75% of Americans have below-normal levels.
This is largely due to chronic stress , eating processed food, and eating foods grown in mineral-depleted soil.
Taurine is an amino acid supplement commonly taken by endurance athletes and bodybuilders to relieve muscle damage, cramps, and soreness.
Taurine stimulates the release and formation of GABA, the brain chemical responsible for feelings of calm and relaxation.
Kava is a traditional drink in the South Pacific.
Its also available as an herbal remedy that has potent relaxing properties.
This makes it good for anxiety, stress, and insomnia as well as for muscle tension and spasms.
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Why Do My Legs Feel Weak After A Panic Attack
Another cause of weak legs occurs when youre suffering from an anxiety or panic attack. Often youll find that you are unintentionally over-breathing. This throws off the oxygen/CO2 balance in your body, and it causes your body to want to sit in order to breathe more effectively.
There are lots of ways anxiety can affect the limbs. Firstly, similarly to chest pains, an increased intake of oxygen can cause sensations and pain in the muscles. It could also be caused by: Tension in the muscles caused by increased stress: Experiencing daily stress can harden the muscles which can cause them to ache or hurt.
Practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Consult with your doctor first if you have a history of muscle spasms, back problems, or other serious injuries that may be aggravated by tensing muscles.
Start at your feet and work your way up to your face, trying to only tense those muscles intended.
- Loosen clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
- Take a few minutes to breathe in and out in slow, deep breaths.
- When youre ready, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
- Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
- Relax your foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and how your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
- Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
- Shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
- Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the different muscle groups.
- It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.
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Whats The Difference Between Muscle Tightness And Muscle Tension
Quite often, muscle tightness and muscle tension are used interchangeably. So, we understand how there can be confusion between the two.
Muscle tightness is when your muscles feel tight and even after rest, you find it difficult to move than normal. Your muscles may feel dull, tight, and achy while youre resting, or tired, heavy, and burning while exercising.
Thankfully, muscle tightness usually goes away on its own. You can do stretches or exercises to relieve the feeling of discomfort.
Muscle tension , on the other hand, is when your muscles arent able to relax normally. Your brain continues to send signals to a muscle or a group of muscles to contract even though theres no longer a need for movement. So, these muscles stay contracted or partly contracted for a period of time, causing you to feel aches or sharp pain at rest or when youre exercising. Its one of the most common causes of muscle pain.
With muscle tension, recovery includes ice, rest, and more movement to encourage blood circulation. But if its a significant injury, its advisable to consult with a medical professional.
Tips For Trying Relaxation Exercises
- While these exercises can be helpful tools on their own, they may be more effective when combined with other improvements to your sleep hygiene, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and cultivating daytime habits that promote sleep.
- Just like learning any new skill, relaxation exercises take practice. Repetitive and ongoing use of relaxation exercises is usually more effective than one-time or short-term use.
- While its tempting to look for the best and most effective relaxation techniques, whats most important is to find what works for you. That may take some experimenting, so if one exercise doesnt work, just try another.
While these exercises are safe for most people, others may benefit from talking to their doctors before trying these techniques. This is particularly important for those with epilepsy, psychiatric conditions, or a history of trauma.
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What Causes Tight Throat Muscles
Anxiety often comes with a feeling of being in danger. This can activate your bodys stress response system, also known as the fight or flight response.
One of the effects of stress on the body is that your muscles can become tight. While this prepares your body action and makes your muscles more resilient to damage, it can also cause you to feel like you have a lump in your throat.
Individuals with chronic stress in their lives may notice that the tightness in their throat occurs more frequently or for longer periods of time. This is the result of your body continuously pumping out hormones and activating signals that youre under duress.
Muscle Relaxation Exercises To Get Started
There are two main steps in doing progressive muscle relaxation intentionally tensing muscles and then intentionally releasing that tension.
Heres a quick exercise to give you an idea of how progressive muscle relaxation feels.
Clenched Fist Muscle Relaxation Exercise
Clench your right hand to make a fist while flexing it upward at the wrist.
Hold tight for 10 seconds then release, letting your hand go limp.
Do this a few times.
You should notice that your right hand now feels more relaxed than your left.
Most progressive relaxation technique exercises start with the feet and work their way up to the head, but some do the opposite.
Heres an example of a typical full-body progressive muscle relaxation sequence.
Full-Body Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercise
Get comfortable, seated or lying down.
Take a few deep relaxing breaths.
Start by focusing on your right foot.
Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeeze hard and hold for 10 seconds.
Relax your right foot and notice the tension flowing away.
Thinking to yourself relax or letting go can help.
Repeat with your left foot.
Work your way up your body, tightening and releasing groups of muscles, alternating between your right and left sides.
Concentrate on these groups of muscles in this order:
- arms and hands combined
- shoulder, neck, and face combined
You can do this mini-exercise in a minute or two anytime you want to de-stress quickly.
Using PMR as a Relaxation Warm-Up
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