How long have you been sitting at your desk today? Or watching television? A recent study found that Americans spend over 55% of their waking time—almost 8 hours a day—sitting. In fact, sedentary jobs have increased by over 80% since 1950. Meanwhile, often, we’re hunched in front of computers. Poor posture increases our discomfort. We then tend to stay like this for long periods of time, not getting up to move or stretch. So, maybe it’s no surprise that one of the biggest causes of muscle tension today is sitting.
Luckily, there are many natural remedies to help with muscle relaxation and ease the effects of stress.
What Causes Muscle Tension?
In addition to lack of movement and exercise, chronic stress is another major cause of muscle tension. When we are stressed, we tense our muscles and hold our breath. Then this constant tension takes its toll on the body over time, leading to other adverse body conditions such as headaches.
On the other hand, sometimes you can overdo it and exercise too much. This can result in injuries. Pre-existing injuries can cause spinal dysfunction and muscle pain. Joint and muscle degeneration due to aging can also cause muscle tension and pain.
Muscle tension can also result from the body’s response to pain and discomfort from medical conditions or external pathogens. For example, a viral infection triggers an immune system response. This immune response can then cause the lymph nodes to swell and become sensitive to the touch. In severe immune reactions, the muscles around the lymph nodes will become tense.
Chief Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician Chu I Ta from Real Health Medical clinic in Singapore, says, from a TCM point of view, “When there is no flow, there is pain; when there is flow, there is no pain.” So, basically, energy gets blocked due to tension and sore muscles resulting from stress on the body.
In the next section, learn how to get rid of muscle tension naturally.
Natural Remedies to Relieve Muscle Tension
Here are several natural ways to relieve muscle tension and relax. TCM and chiropractic practices can also help stimulate muscle relaxation.
Susan, a Nashville-based yoga teacher, says, “Muscle tension affects mobility and flexibility. Yoga helps to loosen up tension in the body by stretching and lengthening muscles. Yoga also regulates the central nervous system, which helps the body find its way back to balance”
Breathwork is an important part of yoga that can also help relieve the effects of stress. “I can’t stress how important breathwork is,” says Susan, “Breathing techniques help reduce stress and anxiety, boost the immune system, and bring your physical and mental bodies back to neutral.” Susan recommends trying some simple poses such as rag doll, child’s pose, and savasana (“corpse pose”) to aid in reducing tension in the body.
Chiropractic spinal adjustments
Chiropractors manipulate the joints in the body to help alleviate pain and correct problems of the nervous system and musculoskeletal system. Dr Simon Shen, the principle chiropractor from Real Health Medical, Singapore, explains that muscle tension can occur when the spinal joints tighten. As the joints tighten, then the surrounding muscles tense up. The longer this goes on, the stiffer a person will feel. A chiropractor uses spinal adjustments to help restore joint function and relax the affected muscles. Often in addition to better mobility, patients find their bodies feel more relaxed and loose after spinal adjustments.
“One of the most common responses to the question, ‘What did you do to make your body so tight?’ is ‘I didn’t do anything.’ That’s precisely the problem,” explains Dr Shen, “People need to know that they cannot expect the body to be relaxed if they do not take breaks during work and stretch and move around.”
Dr Shen recommends doing a few easy stretches for 5 to 10 seconds each hour to relax the neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, low back, and legs. Be sure to perform these stretches every hour, and don’t wait to do them in just a single 30-minute session at the end of the day. The goal is to prevent tension build-up before the body becomes stiff and achy.
An example of a quick 10-second stretch recommended by Dr Shen is as follows:
- Tilt your up and down and then left and right
- Roll the shoulders back 2 times and forward 2 times
- Interlock your fingers and stretch both of your arms straight up. Lean left and then lean right.
- Stretch your arms out in front of you with palms facing up. Use your right hand to gently pull the left hand’s fingers towards the ground and repeat for the other side.
You can do these simple stretches at your desk or anywhere!
Acupuncture and Acupressure
Physician Chu explains that from the TCM perspective, acupuncture needling can help relieve muscle tension by regulating the meridian (energy pathway) flow in the body. It helps to relieve the qi, or life force, blockage in the meridian channel and acupoints.
Like acupuncture, acupressure involves stimulating certain acupoints on the body. However, with acupressure, no needles are involved. In fact, you can give yourself an acupressure massage to help release tension in major body joints. Simply apply gentle pressure to certain acupoints daily.
To help with the body joints, you can do acupressure massage on these points daily:
- Wrist Joint: Hegu 合谷 (LI4); Waiguan 外关 (TE5); Neiguan 内关 (PC6).
- Elbow Joint: Shousanli 手三里 (LI10); Quchi 曲池 (LI11); Shaohai 少海 (HT3).
- Shoulder Joint: Jianyu 肩髃 (LI15); Jianliao 肩髎 (TE14); Jianjing 肩井 (GB21); Tianzong 天宗 (SI11).
- Knee Joint: Weizhong 委中 (BL40); Yanglingquan 阳陵泉 (GB34); Yinlingquan 阴陵泉 (SP9).
- Ankle Joint: Qiuxu 丘墟 (GB40); Shangqiu 商丘 (SP5); Taixi 太溪 (KI3); Kunlun昆仑 (BL60).
Cupping and tuina
Cupping and tuina are additional TCM healing modalities that can help to relieve muscle tension.
TCM Cupping therapy uses either bamboo, plastic, or glass cups applied to meridian acupoints on the body. It is believed to rejuvenate meridians and improve qi circulation in the body. It can also help to ease soreness, particularly on larger muscles from certain sports injuries. Thus, in recent years, cupping has been a popular treatment and health care practices among athletes for their muscles conditioning.
Tuina combines various forms of body manipulation. These include different techniques of massage and acupressure, which help release blocked qi by applying pressure to acupoints, and meridian channels. This oriental form of bodywork has been used in China for centuries. Similar to chiropractic treatments, it works on the alignment of skeletal structure and fixing soft tissue injuries like muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascial, etc.
A simple, hot bath filled with Epsom salt can be a soothing way to help the body relax and recover from muscle aches. The warm temperature helps to improve blood flow. This replenishes the muscles with nutrients. However, if your muscle aches and pain are due to the inflammation stage of acute injury, please AVOID hot baths. Instead, use cold water baths or ice packs to reduce inflammation and swelling. Otherwise, it may worsen and may cause more bruising.
There are many natural ways to relieve muscle tension. The key is to be consistent so the body doesn’t become stiff and achy. Make sure to move or stretch throughout the day as you are able. Be sure to get regular exercise. And if you need further muscle tension treatment, you can also consult a chiropractor or acupuncturist.
- Cleveland Clinic. n.d. Chiropractic Adjustment. [Accessed 2 November 2021]
- Front Hum Neurosci. 2018. How Breath Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. [Accessed 2 November 2021]
- Int J Yoga. 2011. Exploring the Therapeutic Effects of Yoga and Its Ability to Increase Quality of Life. [Accessed 2 November 2021]
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. n.d. Sitting Disease: How a Sedentary Lifestyle Affects Heart Health. [Accessed 2 November 2021]
- Korean J Fam Med. 2020. Sedentary Lifestyle: Overview of Updated Evidence of Potential Health Risks. [Accessed 2 November 2021]
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