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You know that uncomfortable feeling: The muscles in your neck and back bind so tightly you can barely move. But once you understand the causes of that muscle tension, you can work to stop the problem at its roots. Then you can prevent that constricting pain and stiffness.
Muscle tension is a common health issue with many possible root causes. To combat it, you need to understand your own personal triggers. Part of this process involves deepening your awareness, or becoming “mindful.” It means paying close attention to the where, when and how of muscle tension.
Muscle tension and pain often result from poor circulation, inflammation or acidosis (over-acidity in the body). There are many simple ways to prevent and treat these causes.
- Sitting or lying down allows your body to process metabolites that would otherwise contribute to inflammation and pain.
- Deep breathing breaks down lactic acid, reduces inflammation and can also improve circulation and relieve tension.
- Dehydration increases muscle tension. Make sure you drink plenty of filtered water to flush out lactic acid and toxins and keep joints and tendons lubricated.
- Warming and stretching muscles with movements and exercises, topical heat or hot water can help a great deal. Stretching should follow warming rather than the other way around.
- A short walk can get the circulation going and warm up major muscle groups. Chi Gong (Qigong) and Tai Chi are also excellent tension relievers.
- An alkalizing diet high in fresh, organic vegetables offers powerful anti-inflammatory support. Reduce sugars and white flour products in favor of whole grains, legumes, fish, vegetables and low-glycemic fruits. Seek out limited use of healthy oil sources, such as olive oil, fish, krill, flax and coconut.
Magnesium can help relieve muscle tension. Topical magnesium creams and lotions can be applied to tense areas or the bottoms of the feet. Epsom bath salts, which contain magnesium, are a tried-and-true method to relieve aches and pains. Magnesium is a laxative, so increase the dose gradually. Dietary potassium is also important and can be found in beans, yams, potatoes, bananas, greens and cooked tomatoes.
I highly recommend a Tibetan-based herbal formula, which has been extensively researched for its benefits in supporting circulation. Start with two to three capsules, twice daily. Once you feel the beneficial effects, reduce to one capsule, twice daily, on an empty stomach.
Other natural solutions for muscle tension include:
- Ginger root
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Bromelain and other natural sources of enzymes
- Modified Citrus Pectin
Stretching And Massage
To avoid injury, stretch only after muscles are warmed up, and avoid stretches that cause significant or lasting pain. Know your limits and gently push a little further each time. Gentle, slow stretching, combined with deep breathing, is an excellent way to relieve muscle tension.
Massage, particularly craniosacral and trigger point manual therapy, can also relieve tension. Trigger point and craniosacral techniques target specific points in the musculoskeletal system that hold tension, gently manipulating and realigning ligaments, tendons and muscles.
Fire And Ice
Heat therapies, such as warm compresses, hot water bottles and other sources, are recommended when there is no acute injury or inflammation. Heat increases circulation and improves muscle elasticity, allowing more blood flow and reducing stiffness. Infrared saunas or lamps can be a wonderful form of heat therapy, reducing chronic inflammation, improving circulation and reducing muscle and joint pain.
Cold packs are often used for acute injuries, inflammation or swelling. They are best applied immediately after an injury to constrict blood flow to the site and reduce damage caused by swelling and inflammation.
Posture is important. Take a look at your work environment to identify areas that produce chronic muscle strain. Make sure you take breaks to move, stretch and breathe. At home, make sure your mattress and pillows provide proper support.
Stress reduction and relaxation can dramatically reduce muscle tension. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, Chi Gong, Tai Chi, laughter — whatever works best for you.
As I mentioned, proper hydration, an alkalizing diet, adequate rest and healthy stress relief all reduce muscle tension and improve overall health. If you have chronic muscle pain, there may be underlying issues that need to be assessed by an integrative medicine physician. For many of us, though, muscle tension can be solved by simple changes in our lifestyle, diet and supplements. For more information, visit www.dreliaz.org.