Have you ever woken up to a neck that just won’t stretch on one side? Have you noticed that your shoulders creep their way up almost to your ears when you’re stressed out? Or after a workout, is it almost impossible to walk like you normally do?
If any of these scenarios sound all too familiar to you, you could be suffering from tight muscles.
Also known as muscle stiffness or muscle rigidity, tight muscles affect nearly everyone from time to time.
They make it feel like your muscles just can’t move in the ways they should. They’re accompanied by a deep, achy pain, limited mobility, and even cramping. They even have a few long-term effects that you may not be considering.
So how do you release those tight spots?
What Causes Tight Muscles?
We need to first take a look at what caused you this pain and discomfort in the first place. How do tight muscles happen?
When your muscles are tight, they are in a state of constant partial contraction. Do you know how you usually use muscle contractions to exercise or move around? Yeah, they shouldn’t be going on when you’re at rest. But in this case, they are.
Common causes of this state of contraction are:
- Overexertion during exercise
- Lack of sleep
Notice how most of these are pretty preventable? Your tight muscles really don’t need to be tight at all. But now that they are, we know how easily we can fix them.
The Dangers of Tight Muscles
Not only do they cause pain, cramping, and discomfort, tight muscles can also have some serious long-term effects.
If your muscles are constantly contracting for long periods of time, you could experience muscle damage. This is called chronic muscle tension, and it causes some ugly side effects like:
Loss of Strength
When your muscles are always contracting, they lose the ability to contract more intensely to produce force. That’s because muscle tension destroys the sarcomeres that cause these contractions.
The soreness caused by muscle tightness is actually a sign of muscle damage that makes it hard to do things that you would normally do without issue.
Loss of Length
This one comes as no surprise, but you may be a bit shocked to learn that chronically tight muscles can lessen your ability to ever lengthen those muscles again. They no longer have what it takes to become limber and flexible over time.
Finally, muscle stiffness can lead to injury during exercise. This is because the tight muscles cause weakness and shortening, leading to a muscle that’s easy to overuse.
Weak and short muscles don’t have the range of motion or capacity to handle weight as you would expect them to. This means you could overestimate your abilities and end up hurting yourself.
How to Loosen Them
Alright, now let’s get to the good part: how can you loosen up these tight muscles before they do any more damage?
Glad you asked.
Do you know how after a long day, the first thing you want to do is hop into a steaming hot shower to wash the day off of your body?
This is because not only does a shower provide you with that fresh, clean feeling that only soap can provide, but it also works as a sort of heat therapy.
Heat causes the blood vessels in your muscles to open and relax. This means there is more blood flow going to those tight muscles, saturating that muscle tissue with fresh nutrients and oxygen.
You could also get this relief by using a hot water bottle, electric heating pad, or a hot patch that you can put on your muscles for 8 hours.
Stretching is a great way to not only soothe muscle soreness but also to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Before a workout or even at the beginning of your day, start out by doing a few dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretches are just stretches that involve constant motion.
You could do a torso twist by standing and lightly twisting your upper body from side to side. Try a leg swing by standing on one foot, putting your hands on your hips for balance, and swinging each leg front to back.
After a workout and at the end of the day, try some static stretches to keep those tight muscles limber. These can be a seated forward fold, some hamstring and quad stretches or stretching out your arms a bit.
This stretching keeps your muscles long and lean, preventing them from contracting and seizing up.
If you’ve gotten a massage, you know how great it feels. But aside from just feeling great, massage therapy actually increases the circulation to your muscles and does little micro-stretches on them. This prevents tightness and even improves your flexibility.
You can go to a spa and pay for an hour with a massage therapist who will knead all of your worries away.
If you don’t have the time (or honestly the money) to go to a massage therapy appointment, you can also get pinpoint massage therapy from your home.
Using something like a massage gun or a vibrating massage ball can provide you with similar results from the comfort of your own home, on-demand. These tools work to stimulate your circulation, release the lactic acid responsible for muscle burning, and calm tight muscles.
Improve Core Strength
To stop chronic muscle tightness and prevent it from happening in the future, try strengthening your core.
Our core is the grouping of muscles in our abdomen and back that are designed to keep us upright. When we don’t work it out, we lose that muscle strength that keeps our posture healthy.
Poor posture causes muscles that aren’t designed to hold us up to work overtime. This strain and stress on muscles doing more than their job leads to, you guessed it, tight muscles.
Trigger Point Pressure
One of the best weapons you have in your arsenal when fighting muscle tightness is trigger point pressure.
Trigger points are those tight “knots” that occur in the bands of your muscle. They are actually super sensitive, tight clumps of muscle. When you press on them, the entire muscle surrounding them will feel intensely sore and fatigued.
If you apply enough pressure to these trigger points with your hand, a massage gun, or acupuncture, it releases the tension from the surrounding muscle. It will hurt a lot for a moment, but it will all be worth it in the end.
Some of us clutch our morning ch our morning cup of coffee like it’s the last thing tethering us to sanity. And many times, it really is.
But that cup could be what’s making your muscles so tight and tense.
Caffeine, though a wonderful drug, still has some serious health concerns surrounding it. One of those concerns, unfortunately, is muscle tension. Just try cutting back for a bit and see how you feel. It may just be worth it.
Easily Loosen and Prevent Tight Muscles
Tight muscles are tricky. They make it harder to go about our daily lives.
Luckily, they are easy to treat and relieve, so you don’t have to suffer from them for long.