What is Muscle Tension?
Muscle tension is a condition in which muscles remain semi-contracted for a prolonged period. It is normally caused by the physiological effects of stress and can lead to episodes of joint aches and pain. Common causes of physiological stress are demanding occupations, poor posture, repetitive motion, anxiety, tactless gym work outs, etc. It can lead to chronic pain, discomfort in the joints, headaches, may contribute to lack of concentration, limit your range of movement and even affect your physical performance. Muscle tension is typically managed with correct exercise, massage and rest.
Now that we have established what muscle tension is, lets look deeper into what it actually means.Â Muscle consists of a very smart tissue, it has the ability to shorten and lengthen in order to produce movement or stabilisation. On top of that, all muscles work in pairs or groups, there is no "I" when it comes to our muscles, they all work as a team to move or stabilise the body. For each tight muscle group there is a subsequent weak muscle group and vice versa. This is the foundation for muscular imbalances which make us prone to injuries and poor posture.
For example a muscle group that bends your knee will have an antagonist, that straightens the knee. Once a muscle flexes to the full range of motion, it automatically inhibits the antagonist from activating. If you keep that muscle shortenedÂ for long enough it will start to become that shape, (shortened), causing the antagonists remain stretched.Â Right away, you will not notice this change but as tightness continues to remain, it will weaken its antagonist, all which will leave you lop-sided. If this is not counterbalanced in time, the imbalance will develop by changing your posture, alternating your movement patterns and developing aches in some areas. Eventually the imbalance will reduce your capacity for physical performance, ability to perform sport, or picking up those socks that you have dropped on the floor.
Massage is a great way of giving your body that extra help with tension in short and tight musculature. The manipulation of soft tissue will encourage removal of biochemical waste in the muscle, encourage tissue nourishment and help to iron out those bundles of semi-contracted muscle fibres, permitting you to move in better range and make stretching a little more pleasant. Massage plays a very important role in preventing injuries in people that train hard and for those who just sit behind the desk for forty hours a week. By helping to re-balance the "tightened" vs "weakened" muscles, massage promotes a healthier posture and reduces imbalances, and of course, leaves you feeling just that little bit better about yourself too.
Exercise is also equally important, if not essential in correcting the muscular imbalances as massage. In fact for a complete re-balance you must combine massages with training and vice versa. If massage helps to relax the tight muscle, exercise will help to strengthen the weaker muscles, effectively pulling you back into balance. Fundamentally, exercise and massage complete each other, when we refer to correction of muscular tension/imbalances.