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  • Writer's pictureRobin Hill LMT, RN

Why are my muscles so tight?

When our muscles are tight, stiff, cramping and painful it can impact every aspect of our life. Trying to find the source of the discomfort and a way to treat it may feel impossible. Massage and assisted stretching is the go-to for many people to find relief. But, why are my muscles so tight in the first place?

What are some of the causes of muscle tightness?

Since muscle stiffness, or tightness is different for everyone, it is hard to explain or describe. Muscle stiffness, tightness or rigidity is described as the inability to relax muscles to a state they should normally be in. Some individuals experience sharp pain, while others feel more of a cramp or find movement difficult.

There are about 640 skeletal muscles in the human body and these muscles are voluntary, meaning you control how and when they move and work. Muscle tightness typically affects these skeletal muscles, which comprise 30-40% of our total body mass. These muscles help us move, function, and perform our daily activities. When we move a particular part of our body, our muscles contract. Usually after contracting, our muscles return to a relaxed state until they are needed again. Sometimes our muscles can remain fully or partially contracted for a certain amount of time, called a muscle spasm.

One of the biggest causes of muscle tension is stress. Stress can do harm to our mind and body, and it displays throughout the body as physical pain and tension, as well as other symptoms such as high blood pressure or digestive problems. Stress impacts the nervous system and its function and we need optimal nerve functionality in order for our muscles to go from a contracted state to a relaxed state. When stress impacts our nervous system, our muscles can often suffer as a result.

Other reasons for muscle discomfort include:

Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS): This can occur a day or two after a strenuous workout and can cause a number of physical symptoms like severe pain and tenderness and reduced joint range (Athletes commonly experience DOMS, and sports massage and stretching can work to target the various areas that cause pain).

Dehydration: Not staying properly hydrated can increase the feeling of muscle and joint pain, especially since our muscles (and kidneys) are made of 79% water. Drinking enough water helps prevent our muscles, tendons and fascia from feeling tight, and can help lubricate our joints to keep us moving pain-free.

Prolonged inactivity: Many of us are working from home because of the pandemic, which means we are spending long hours sitting at our desk. When we don’t get up to periodically move and exercise our muscles, tightness can occur as a result making it even more difficult to move. A sedentary lifestyle keep muscles restricted and it can result in the feeling of tightness over time.

Poor posture: Although it is not always the easiest task to accomplish, maintaining proper positioning is essential whether we are sitting, standing, or lying down. Poor posture can cause musculoskeletal imbalance and could lead to pain in both muscle and joints

• Muscle strain: When we strain an area of the body, it causes injury to the soft tissue and can impact how our muscles and tendons function. Maintaining consistent massages and stretching can help address this.

• There are many disease processes that can cause tight muscles; I won’t talk about those in this blog.

Fascial Stretching Therapy (FST) is a great way to help release fascia and loosen tight muscles, as it can help keep us flexible and moving freely with greater range of motion and reduce injury. A regular at-home stretching regimen has been shown to minimize the amount of pain you may experience throughout various areas of the body. There are stretches for almost every part of the body, and when done safely and correctly, can provide a lot of relief.

Massage therapy is also a great way to keep our muscles loose and free of tightness. While there are many reasons why massage can be beneficial for you, one of the greatest components is its ability to enhance circulation and blood supply to tight muscles.

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