It is normal for us to feel tension in our bodies now and then, but when the tension does not seem to ever go away, it can affect our quality of life. It can give us chronic pain that makes it difficult to sleep, exercise, or just maintain our patience with people we meet. It is important to understand how this tension occurs and what we can do to release it.
Skeletal muscles tighten up through two primary mechanisms: 1) voluntary and 2) involuntary.
Voluntary muscular contraction begins with an intention to carry out a physical action. This intention occurs in the outer layer of the brain and sends a neurological signal down to the muscles responsible for executing the action. The muscles then contract to execute the intended action.
Involuntary, chronic muscular tightness that results in pain is a result of stress that can be either mechanical or perceived. This stress stimulates an unconscious contraction that protects the associated area from danger – known as a guarding reflex. Although it serves an evolutionary purpose for immediate defense, when this tightness becomes long lasting, it limits blood flow through the area, leading to discomfort and even pain.
Resolve the stress to relieve the tension.
Mechanical stress is the result of muscle injury. Muscle injury is often caused by bad posture, repetitive motions or overly-aggressive movements. Be aware of these factors and make the appropriate corrections in your daily life.
Perceived stress stems from perceived danger. Stress in life is inevitable – one cannot eliminate stress. Instead, one must develop skills to cope with the stressors of life.
Relieve stress and muscle tension through:
Mindful stretching – taking frequent breaks from work and exercise to stretch improves the elasticity of muscles and reduces the risk of injury.
Appropriate movement – moving within your range of motion is good for the joints and great for preventing muscles from getting weak, stiff and injured.
Proper ergonomics – having the optimum setup at your work station relieves excessive strain on the body, improving productivity.
Correct posture and biomechanics – keeping your body aligned to your center of gravity in daily activities reduces risk of injury.
Healthy diet and herbal supplementation – following a healthy lifestyle keeps the blood clean, allowing it to properly nourish and circulate.
Acupuncture – regular treatments reduce perceived and mechanical stress and promote circulation of energy and blood.
Massage – consistent massage sessions loosen muscles, mobilize joints and ease stress.
Relaxation – getting enough sleep and partaking in recreation and leisure is necessary to achieve optimum wellness.