Why your muscles are tight and how to help them feel better

Photo by Hanna Postova on Unsplash

“Why are my muscles so tight and painful? I hear this question often as a massage practitioner, and part of my job in unraveling the mystery is like being a detective.

Typically most people can point out an area in their bodies where they hold tension or pain, and they generally expect that most of the pain is coming from there. However, this is only part of the story, as muscles working in opposition to the ones in pain are usually the ones which need massage and stretching, not the areas in pain.

If someone complains of upper back pain from working at their computer, it is because the muscles that support the shoulders have to stay immobile for extended periods of time while the hands and forearms make small movements with typing and using the mouse. The upper-mid back muscles become overstretched and tight, resulting in painful stiffness and / or tension in this region, but the muscles that are pulling the shoulders and arms forward (chest and front of shoulder blade muscles) are the ones that are short and tight, and very much in need of massage and stretching. Stretching the chest muscles in a door-way or against a wall is a great way to relieve tension and bring balance to that stressed out upper back!

Rarely though does a client come to me and say “Wow, my chest is killing me!”, so it is usually a surprise to my clients that the place where they feel no pain on a regular basis can feel so tight and sore during a massage. Massaging just the areas that are in pain or that feel tense will not give the long-term relief that people are looking for, the opposing muscles need to be worked with in order for people to see progress.

Progress to me is the shifting of my clients’ pain and tension patterns out of their bodies, in part, through massage and reflexology. I say in part, because without a regular self-care routine, the massages that I give to my clients will be temporary pain relief, without lasting change.

Self-care is anything that helps the muscles relax and / or stretch. Muscles are designed to contract and relax, and many people spend their days in prolonged contracted (tightened) positions at their computers. Taking care of your body also brings peace of mind, the peaceful and often euphoric state of mind that people feel after a massage can also be felt post-workout, after a yoga class, soaking in a hot tub or spending time in a sauna. All great ways to encourage stretching and relaxation of muscles.

My favorite self-care routine includes one hour of zumba (cardio dance based on salsa, merengue, chacha, to name a few), two to three times a week, yoga one to two times per week, strengthening exercises at home for muscles that are weak, epsom salt baths to soothe tension away, and of course regular massage and reflexology sessions! I think everyone should get at least one massage a month, preferably more often, but at minimum once a month. I get massage at least twice a month, sometimes more often.

Even if you have mild tension somewhere in your body, you may be surprised at the amount of soreness that may be residing in your muscles when you receive a massage, so don’t delay getting a massage until you feel pain, because you will then need more sessions to get you out of pain.

Self-care does take time, but it is so worth it! Better to spend time keeping yourself healthy than to spend time in doctors’ offices.

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