Types of Muscle Tension

There are many forms of Muscle tension:

Does massage relieve muscle tension?

YES, IT DOES. I personally get at least 1 1/2 hrs of massage every week, deep painful bodywork but it keeps me going. Massage helps to reduce tight muscles by reducing tension. High muscle tone causes an increase in tension. Massage helps to reduce high muscle tone by increasing blood circulation, increasing the temperature of the soft tissues, and removing waste products. Massage increases blood circulation into the muscles.

What is Muscle tension?

Also, see:

Muscle injuries

Muscle tension refers to the condition in which muscles of the body remain semi-contracted for an extended period. Muscle tension is typically caused by the physiological effects of stress and can lead to episodes of back pain.

Stress may change the body’s nervous system by constricting blood vessels and reducing blood flow to the soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, and nerves in the back. This process causes a decrease in oxygen and a buildup of biochemical waste products in the muscles, resulting in muscle tension, spasm, and back pain.

Muscle tension is typically treated using nonsurgical options to relax the muscles including exercise, water therapy, and heat therapy.

What muscle tension feels like?
Muscle tension is when your muscles stay partially contracted for a period of time, at first causing them to feel stiff and achy, and eventually leading to chronic pain. Muscle tension can be caused by stress, physical activity, or repetitive motion in daily life.
What causes tight muscles?
There may be several reasons why your muscles are always tight. The most common reasons are dehydration, poor sleeping positions, muscle weakness, and muscle inhibition.
How do you get rid of muscle tension?
  1. Rest. Allow your body to rest if you have muscle knots. …
  2. Stretch. Gentle stretching that elongates your muscles can help you to release tension in your body. …
  3. Exercise. Aerobic exercise may help to relieve muscle knots. …
  4. Hot and cold therapy. …
  5. Use a muscle rub. …
  6. Trigger point pressure release. …
  7. Physical therapy.
What disease causes tight muscles?
General Discussion. Stiff-person syndrome (SPS) is a rare acquired neurological disorder characterized by progressive muscle stiffness (rigidity) and repeated episodes of painful muscle spasms. Muscular rigidity often fluctuates (i.e., grows worse and then improves) and usually occurs along with muscle spasms.
How long can muscle tension last?
This can sometimes last for several hours or days. The longer your muscle remains contracted, the more pain you’ll feel. Muscle rigidity is often triggered by stress. Stress can adversely affect your body’s nervous system — including your nerves — and how they function.
What vitamin is good for tight muscles?
  1. Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for your muscles to function normally. …
  2. Vitamin A. Vitamin A plays an important role in muscle growth. …
  3. Vitamin C. Is another important vitamin for muscle health. …
  4. Vitamin E.
How do I stop my body from holding tension?
There are a number of ways to reduce physical tension. These include meditation, exercise, tai chi, massage, visualization, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, and slow breathing techniques. To reduce our stress it is important that we practice relaxation techniques on a daily basis.
How do I stop muscle tension anxiety?
  1. Sit in a quiet and comfortable place. …
  2. Use your hand to make a tight fist. …
  3. Hold your squeezed fist for a few seconds. …
  4. Slowly open your fingers and be aware of how you feel.
When should I be worried about muscle pain?
Get immediate medical care if you have muscle pain with:

Trouble breathing or dizziness. Extreme muscle weakness. High fever and stiff neck.
Does anxiety cause muscle tension?
Yes. Anxiety causes the muscles to tense up, which can lead to pain and stiffness in almost any area of the body.
What is the 3 3 3 rule for anxiety?
Follow the 3-3-3 rule.

Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body — your ankle, fingers, or arm. Whenever you feel your brain going 100 miles per hour, this mental trick can help center your mind, bringing you back to the present moment.
How do you relieve tension in your neck and shoulders?
  1. get a massage.
  2. applying heat or ice.
  3. soaking in saltwater or a warm bath.
  4. taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve)
  5. practicing meditation.
  6. doing yoga.
What medications cause muscle tightness?
  • Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium) Lipitor lowers levels of bad cholesterol and increases levels of good cholesterol. …
  • Glucophage (metformin) …
  • Klonopin (clonazepam) …
  • Ambien (zolpidem) …
  • Xanax (alprazolam) …
  • Ultram (tramadol) …
  • Omeprazole.
How long can muscle tension last?
This can sometimes last for several hours or days. The longer your muscle remains contracted, the more pain you’ll feel. Muscle rigidity is often triggered by stress. Stress can adversely affect your body’s nervous system — including your nerves — and how they function.
Why do muscles tighten up at night?
Sleep is critical to muscle tightness. Your brain is always sending signals to your muscles and if you lack getting the proper amount of sleep it can disrupt these signals. Not getting enough signals or even too many signals can cause muscle tightness.
How do you release back tension?
  1. Adopt a balanced, healthy diet.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight.
  3. Stay active and exercise often.
  4. Warm-up and stretch before exercise.
  5. Get up and move around for at least 5 minutes for each hour that you’re seated.
  6. When sitting, use back support at the curve of your back
What does neck tension feel like?
According to research, neck pain may feel like a “kink,” stiffness, or severe pain. This pain may spread to the shoulders, upper back, or arms, or it may trigger headaches and cause numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arms.
Are tight muscles weak?
Muscles that feel tight are generally short and weak. The common misconception surrounding strength training is that it will make your muscles really tight.
Is stretching tight muscles good?
Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight.

Muscle Strain Symptoms

A strain can happen in any muscle or tendon and can cause pain. It may also limit movement in the affected muscle group. A muscle strain usually occurs when undue pressure is put on muscles in our daily activities.

Minor injuries can only over-stretch the muscle or its tendon whereas severe injuries can lead to a partial or complete tear of the tendon.

The common signs and symptoms depend on the severity of a muscle strain which is as follows:

  • Sudden pain or tenderness
  • Swelling, bruising, or redness
  • Soreness
  • Pain even at rest
  • Pain when the specific muscle is in use
  • A ‘knotted-up’ feeling
  • Inability to use the muscle, limited motion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle spasms or cramps

Muscle Tension Caused By Trapped Emotions




When we feel weighed down by the stress of life, we tend to accumulate these feelings on our shoulders. Ever heard the expression “carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders”? Shoulder tension seems to be intimately linked to social and emotional responsibilities, including unconsciously carrying the burden of other people’s pain. As such, many empaths, healers, and caretakers struggle with chronic shoulder muscle tension.


Neck tension is often connected to throat chakra issues such as the inability to communicate clearly or be your authentic self around others. Fear and anxiety are also frequently stored in this area, particularly as a physical response to danger (as the neck is a vulnerable area) or strange environments. Neck muscle tension is also related to trust issues.


Unexpressed and unreleased sadness tends to build up within the upper back region. As this area is close to the heart, it is also where emotions connected to heartbreak and loss are stored. For instance, if you carry around grief regarding a loved one or your family at large, you will likely feel tense in this area.


Healing traditions such as reflexology link middle back pain to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and insecurity. If you’re feeling unsupported by other people or life, you probably carry tension here.

Are you regularly suffering from middle back pain below your neck and above the bottom of your rib cage? Referred to as the thoracic spine, this is one of the most common areas to experience chronic pain and a common reason why patients seek treatment with a chiropractor. Here is what you need to know.

Common Symptoms of Middle Back Pain

The thoracic spine or middle back is composed of twelve bones called the T1 to T12 vertebrae. In between these bones is what’s called disks. The job of this part of your body is to protect the spinal cord, and there are numerous muscles and nerves that can become injured or irritated in this region.

So, how do you know you’re experiencing middle back pain? The most common symptoms include muscle stiffness, sharp pain, sudden achiness, or a burning sensation. In minor cases, you might feel a dull pain that never quite fully goes away.

Causes of Middle Back Pain

There are numerous causes of pain in the thoracic spine. For example, chronic middle back pain can be caused by something as simple as sleeping wrong or poor posture. Those who are overweight or live a sedentary lifestyle also seem to experience it more.

But the problem could also be something more serious, too. Herniated disks, osteoarthritis, and joint fractures can all cause middle back pain. Severe injuries like falls, car accidents, sports injuries, and more can also be the culprit of severe thoracic spine pain.

Treatment of Middle Back Pain

So, how is middle back pain treated? Visiting your chiropractor is generally the first step in achieving relief. During the first appointment, they will generally evaluate your pain and take x-rays to ensure there are no fractures or visible damage to your spine.

In the case of degenerative disk disease or arthritis, there will be evidence on the scans and an appropriate course of treatment is prescribed. If it is simply muscular, your chiropractor will perform a manual adjustment and recommend special stretching exercises to improve posture, heat, or ice therapy at home, along with other treatments.


Lower back issues often correlate with feelings of low self-worth and lack of self-acceptance. Feelings such as guilt, shame, and even sexual inadequacy or trauma can be stored here as well.


The expression “I can’t stomach it” appropriately describes stomach muscle tension. If your stomach feels stiff or sore, you might struggle to process both negative (and even positive) emotions.


Are you nervous and untrusting around other people? If you struggle with social anxiety, you might also have inner thigh pain. Because our legs are biologically programmed to run when we first spot danger, fear towards others is often stored here.


How fast do you live life? The more quickly and mindlessly you live, the more likely you have frustrated and impatient energy stored in your outer thigh muscles. Our jobs and personal lives can also contribute greatly to muscle tension in this area.


How often do you have to deal with people who are a “pain in the bum”? Anger and suppressed rage are often stored in the buttocks. Pay attention next time you feel your head boil: is your but tensing up as well?


Allow yourself to “feel it to heal it.” One of the easiest ways to let go of muscle tension is to actively feel and let go of emotions when they come. Of course, this is not always possible, so at the end of every day, make sure you allow yourself the space to feel the emotions you’ve had through the day. Feeling these emotions might involve crying, punching or screaming into a pillow, or any other form of catharsis.

Adopt an attitude of non-judgment. When we judge our emotions as something “bad” or “wrong,” we actually deepen our suffering and solidify the tension within our muscles. Instead, simply realize that an emotion is an emotion. It doesn’t need to mean anything about you unless you let it.

Be gentle with yourself. Muscle tension tends to add to our negative inner voices which cause us even more tension. To break this cycle of the body feeding the mind and the mind feeding the body, be kind towards yourself. Treat yourself as you would a child or best friend. This practice is a simple but profound way to relax.

Stretch your muscles. Do simple stretches or try yoga to relax your muscles. Even just five minutes a day is beneficial.

Breathe deeply. Shallow breathing causes a restriction in air, blood flow, toxin removal, and increased anxiety. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve which calms the mind.

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Meditate. Meditation is a great way to become more present and conscious of muscle tension as it arises.

Headaches & muscle tension?

This could be coming from your posture! Muscle tension and headaches are common complaints that can develop from looking down, or slouching for prolonged periods of time as the neck develops a forward head posture. Typically, both of these problems develop with office workers who sit in front of a computer with little movement, but it can also happen in a range of other scenarios! Spending too much time on your phone can result in a forward head posture and even some athletes have been known to develop it. Surprisingly, sleeping posture can also have an effect on your body if you are sleeping in an improper position or with an incorrect pillow.

A tension headache is the most common type of headache. It is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck, and is often associated with muscle tightness in these areas.


Tension headaches occur when neck and scalp muscles become tense or contract. The muscle contractions can be a response to stress, depression, head injury, or anxiety.

They may occur at any age but are most common in adults and older teens. It is slightly more common in women and tends to run in families.

Why does a forward head posture result in headaches and muscle tension?

When we look down or slouch for prolonged periods of time our neck or cervical spine gradually starts to shift forward. If left unchecked, the whole neck can be moved a few inches.

During this process, our body readjusts and begins to compensate. Some muscles become weakened and stretched while other muscles become shortened and fatigued. As the head moves forward, the brain actually begins to perceive the head as being heavier. Research has discovered that for every inch that the neck slides forward, it becomes perceived as being 10lbs/4.5kgs heavier.

Any activity that causes the head to be held in one position for a long time without moving can cause a headache. Activities may include typing or other computer work, fine work with the hands, and using a microscope. Sleeping in a cold room or sleeping with the neck in an abnormal position may also trigger a tension headache.

Other triggers of tension headaches include:

  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Alcohol use
  • Caffeine (too much or withdrawal)
  • Colds, the flu, or a sinus infection
  • Dental problems such as jaw clenching or teeth grinding
  • Eyestrain
  • Excessive smoking
  • Fatigue or overexertion

Tension headaches can occur when you also have a migraine. Tension headaches are not associated with brain diseases.


The headache pain may be described as:

  • Dull, pressure-like (not throbbing)
  • A tight band or vise on or around the head
  • Allover (not just on one point or one side)
  • Worse in the scalp, temples, or back of the neck, and possibly in the shoulders

The pain may occur once, constantly, or daily. Pain may last for 30 minutes to 7 days. It may be triggered by or get worse with stress, fatigue, noise, or glare.

You may have difficulty sleeping. Tension headaches usually do not cause nausea or vomiting.

People with tension headaches try to relieve pain by massaging their scalp, temples, or the bottom of the neck.

Exams and Tests

If your headache is mild to moderate, without other symptoms, and responds to home treatment within a few hours, you may not need further examination or testing.

With a tension headache, there are usually no problems with the nervous system. But tender points (trigger points) in the muscles are often found in the neck and shoulder areas.


The goal is to treat your headache symptoms right away and to prevent headaches by avoiding or changing your triggers. A key step in doing this involves learning to manage your tension headaches at home by:

  • Keeping a headache diary to help you identify your headache triggers so that you and your health care provider can make changes in your lifestyle to reduce the number of headaches you get
  • Learning what to do to relieve a headache when it starts
  • Learning how to take your headache medicines the correct way

Medicines that may relieve a tension headache include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen
  • Narcotic pain relievers are generally not recommended
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Tricyclic antidepressants to prevent recurrences

Be aware that:

  • Taking medicines more than 3 days a week may lead to rebound headaches. These are headaches that keep coming back due to overuse of pain medicine.
  • Taking too much acetaminophen can damage your liver.
  • Too much ibuprofen or aspirin can irritate your stomach or damage the kidneys.

If these medicines do not help, talk to your provider about prescription medicines.

Other treatments that you can discuss with your provider include relaxation or stress-management training, massage, biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, or acupuncture.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Tension headaches often respond well to treatment. But if the headaches are long-term (chronic), they can interfere with life and work.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 if:

  • You are experiencing “the worst headache of your life.”
  • You have speech, vision, or movement problems or loss of balance, especially if you have not had these symptoms with a headache before.
  • The headache starts very suddenly.
  • The headache occurs with repeated vomiting.
  • You have a high fever.

Also, call your provider if:

  • Your headache patterns or pain change.
  • Treatments that once worked are no longer helpful.
  • You have side effects from medicines, including irregular heartbeat, pale or blue skin, extreme sleepiness, persistent cough, depression, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, cramps, dry mouth, or extreme thirst.
  • You are pregnant or could become pregnant. Some medicines should not be taken when pregnant.


Learn and practice stress management. Some people find relaxation exercises or meditation helpful. Biofeedback may help you improve the effectiveness of doing relaxation exercises, and may be helpful for long-term (chronic) tension headaches.

Tips to prevent tension headaches:

  • Keep warm if the headache is associated with a cold.
  • Use a different pillow or change sleeping positions.
  • Practice good posture when reading, working, or doing other activities.
  • Exercise the neck and shoulders frequently when working on computers or doing other close work.
  • Get plenty of sleep and rest.

Massaging sore muscles may also help.

Alternative Names

Tension-type headache; Episodic tension-type headache; Muscle contraction headache; Headache – benign; Headache – tension; Chronic headaches – tension; Rebound headaches – tension



Another system affected by our slouched posture is the nervous system. Spinal researcher Dr.Nikolai Bogduk has found that head pain may arise from overstretched and compressed nerve roots from the upper cervical spine (neck). Due to forward head posture, the upper joints of the neck can cause compressive forces on the spinal nerve roots. One particular nerve root actually communicates with our limbic system. The limbic system is part of the brain area that is involved in our behavioral or emotional responses important in survival. You may have heard of the fight or flight response which is the way we respond to stressors. The limbic system is important as it also controls our motivation, emotions, learning, and memory. Dr. A.T. Still has discovered that dysfunction through the upper neck can disrupt this limbic system resulting in increased stress and increased muscle tension.

Forward head posture therefore not only results in muscular imbalances but neurological imbalances resulting in increased stress and even more muscle tension.

How can I prevent forward head posture?

Be body aware and diligent with your self-care.

Self-care includes exercise, mindfulness, and correct workplace ergonomics.

  1. Exercise program aimed at strengthening weakened postural muscles and stretching shorted tight muscles devised by your health care practitioner
  2. Stay mobile, get up and move more
  3. Correct workplace ergonomics. To see more about this, look at our blog on workplace ergonomics.
  4. Bring your phone or devices to your eyes, not the other way around!
  5. Ensure adequate breaks. Every hour, get up to stretch and mobilize the areas that have been still.
  6. Practice mindfulness and look after your mental health
  7. Stay hydrated.

What causes a muscle strain?

A muscle strain can have multiple causes but predominantly these injuries involve a rapid eccentric contraction (muscle is lengthening whilst contracting) that takes the tissue outside of its tolerance; we usually see this occur at the site of the musculotendon junction (where the muscle meets the tendon). As a consequence of this, we see damage to the muscle fibers as well the neurovascular tissue that is connected. With being specific to the hamstrings we often see a mechanism of ‘overstretching’, this overstretching involves the muscle (and associated joints it acts on) being taken above and beyond the range of motion it can tolerate. Examples of this are kicking in ball sports, any sports that may involve the splits like tennis (reaching and sliding for the ball), dancing, and even water skiing.

A muscle strain is one of the most common forms of injury that occurs to the musculoskeletal system. This is because muscle strains develop nearly anywhere in our body, especially in the muscles that we use frequently and that undergo regular stress. This injury is the result of microscopic tears that develop in our muscle fibers that can either be caused by overuse or excessive force.

This means that anyone can experience a muscle strain, from professional athletes to people who work physical jobs to someone who is doing housework. Fortunately, muscle strains are typically minor injuries that improve in a very short period of time with basic treatments. However, this does not mean you should ignore them if they do occur.

Muscle strains require attention and proper care or you run the risk of the injury worsening or new injuries developing. Frequent muscle strains could also mean that there is an underlying condition or muscle imbalance present that requires medical attention. To help you better understand the importance of not ignoring a muscle strain, we’re happy to share the following guide.

1. A Muscle Strain Can Lead to a Compensatory Injury

If you develop a muscle strain at any location in the body, one of the most important things you can do is get rest while the injury heals. Whether you’re an athlete, a highly active person or work in a physical occupation, it may be tempting to “work through the pain.” Not only can this prolong the healing time or worsen the injury, but it can also increase the risk of suffering from a related injury.

This is because the muscles in our body are highly interconnected, forming a kinetic chain. This means that trying to stay active when you have a muscle strain can alter your finely tuned biomechanics and increase the strain on an adjoining muscle or soft tissue. For example, what starts out as a strained hamstring, can quickly turn into a strained hip flexor.

Ignoring one muscle strain has the potential to turn into a whole string of injuries.

2. A Muscle Strain Can Become a More Significant Muscle Tear

More minor muscle strains are basically the result of muscle overstretching, which actually results in microscopic tears in the muscle fiber. However, if these small tears aren’t allowed to heal properly they can continue to grow, weakening the muscle fiber. Eventually, if you continue to engage in the same activities that caused the muscle strain, this weakened muscle tissue can become visibly torn.

A more severe muscle tear can be more painful and debilitating, causing an injury that is a genuine tear at the muscle-tendon junction, as opposed to microscopic tears. These injuries can require several weeks or months of rest and rehabilitation instead of a few days. Additionally, patients may also require more involved treatment such as physical therapy.

3.  Muscles Can Become Completely Torn 

In the most severe cases, a muscle strain can become completely torn, or fully severed. While this type of injury is often the result of catastrophic mechanical stress, the presence of a muscle strain can result in the increased risk of the muscle becoming completely torn. Severed muscles/tendons occur frequently in bodybuilders and weight lifters due to the tremendous stresses they place on muscles.

Anyone engaging in an activity with a high potential for causing a complete muscle tear should take all precautions and practice proper form. If you have been diagnosed with a muscle strain or minor tear, do not begin practicing your sport or activity until cleared by a physician. While traumatic injuries that cause muscle tears may not be avoidable, in other cases they often start as a preventable minor muscle strain.

4.  A Completely Torn Muscle/tendon Often Requires Surgical Repair

A large portion of muscle injuries, even many tears, can be treated conservatively without the need for surgery. This includes rest, ice, compression, elevation, over-the-counter medication, and physical therapy. However, in some cases especially a completely torn muscle, patients require surgical repair.

Surgical muscle repair procedures require a long recovery period and there is no guarantee that patients will enjoy a full restoration of muscle function. This is why it is so important to take treatment of a muscle strain or minor muscle tear seriously. It can mean the difference between a few days to a week out of action or months.

5. Recurring Muscle Strains Could Contribute to Arthritis and Other Conditions

Another reason to pay attention to a muscle strain is that it could be contributing to the presence of conditions that lead to joint damage. This is especially true if muscle strains have become a recurring part of your life.

What frequent injuries can do is essentially speed up the degenerative forces that cause the breakdown of the protective cartilage that allows for smooth joint motion. While muscle strains do not cause arthritis, chronically increasing the stress we place on the joints, can lead to an increased risk of joint damage on a long-term basis.

While arthritis and other degenerative joint conditions can often be treated with conservative care, they are nonreversible. In some cases, joint replacement surgery can represent the best chance of relieving symptoms and improving function.

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*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
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