It might surprise you to know how many muscles we have in our bodies. With anything between 650 and 800, it’s hardly surprising that we experience pain, stiffness, and tightness in our muscles. But why does this happen and what can you do about it?
The Causes of Muscle Tightness
Stiff and tight muscles can make movements to be painful, and you might find it more difficult to move than usual, especially after you have been resting. You might also experience pains, cramping and general discomfort. Tight muscles can be caused by several things, but generally, they get sore because of prolonged periods of inactivity, during exercise, following continuous exercise, or because of an injury.
You’re probably already aware that prolonged periods of inactivity, especially sitting, can be bad for your health. Not using our bodies in the way that they are designed to work can not only lead to postural issues but stiffness in the muscles of our back, neck, shoulders, knees, and legs. And it’s all down to being in the wrong position and not giving our muscles much work to do. It’s common to feel stiffness in your muscles when you move after sitting for a long time or when you get out of bed in the morning. It’s also common to feel aches and pains due to bad posture.
Why do muscles tighten up during exercise? As we exercise, the fibres in our muscles expand and contract. Occasionally, the fibres will contract but, instead of expanding, they will seize up to leave you with a feeling of tightness or even cramp. This often happens if you are dehydrated. Therefore, you need to keep your body well hydrated for it to work efficiently.
Exercise can cause your muscles to feel stiff. You may have heard of DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) that you usually feel a day after you exercise. When we exercise, particularly if we’re doing an activity that involves a lot of repetition such as weight training, the muscle fibres tear slightly. When we rest, the muscle fibres are repaired, and the muscles become slightly stronger. And, when that is happening, we feel these slight tears as pain or tightness.
Stiff or tight muscles can make it more difficult to train well and, if we work the muscles too hard, it may result in a more serious injury. So, it’s best to always treat tight muscles gently.
Muscle stiffness can also occur after a sprain or strain. In this case, in addition to the tight feeling you might also experience pain, redness, swelling, bruising and your movement may become limited.
Other Causes of Muscle Stiffness
Occasionally, an infection or an autoimmune disorder can lead to feelings of stiffness. If you suspect that this might be the case, it’s best to consult a physician, particularly if the stiffness doesn’t seem to be easing or you have other symptoms such as a fever, muscle weakness, redness, pain and swelling.
How to Treat Muscle Stiffness
If you consult a physician about your muscle stiffness, they will recommend treatment based on their diagnosis. However, if you know that your muscles are just tight and stiff due to inactivity or from a hard exercise session, there are several things that you can do at home to ease the tightness. Rest, massage and alternating hot and cold compresses are all great ways to help the muscles to relax and repair.
Rest, Repair and Recovery
It’s important to schedule sufficient rest periods into your exercise program. Adequate rest and sleep will help your muscle fibres repair and regenerate. In fact, both are essential. You should also ensure that you’re drinking enough water to keep those fibres hydrated and that you’re eating a well-balanced diet. Staying well hydrated will ensure that essential nutrients can be delivered to the muscles.
Massage is a great way to ease tight muscles. Regular massages are a natural part of an athlete’s recovery program and for good reason. They help to reduce inflammation by encouraging the removal of lactic acid build-up and other toxins. They also promote the movement of fresh blood into the area. If you prefer a hands-on massage, book an appointment with a masseuse or someone who specialises in sports massage.
Another excellent alternative is to invest in aREBELTMPRO massage gun These massage guns utilise percussive therapy – a type of soft tissue massage with a striking or pounding action that helps to ease sore or tight muscles after intense workouts. The continuous pounding action of the massage gun sends forces deep into the muscle fibres. These forces help to increase the flow of blood, reduce inflammation by removing lactic acid and break up any internal adhesions. Some guns can reach speeds of up to 3200 reps per minute and deliver up to 60lbs of force – so you can see why they are so effective in easing pain, relaxing muscles, and speeding up recovery. You just simply run the gun over your sore muscles for a couple of minutes.
Foam rolling is also an excellent way to speed up muscle recovery and reduce soreness as the rolling action smooths out the fibres and connective tissues. It can feel painful at first, so take it slowly but gradually you will start to feel the tightness decrease.
Heat and Cold
Using heated pads or heat therapy patches can help to ease muscle tightness while cold packs will have more of an effect on muscles that are swollen or inflamed. Whether you are using heat or cold, you should not apply it to the affected area for more than 20 minutes.
Your sore muscles can also benefit from a warm bath with the addition of some Epsom salts. The magnesium in the Epsom salts helps to draw out toxins and the warmth of the water will help you to relax.
Simple stretching is a great way to ease sore muscles. It will also keep the muscles flexible and help to prevent excessive stiffness in the future. It’s recommended that you incorporate a stretching routine into your exercise program. And always remember to warm up and cool down in every exercise session. Your body will thank you for it.
How to Prevent Muscle Tightness
Most of us will experience muscle stiffness at some point – even if we take the time to warm up and cool down but there are some things you can do to minimise it.
Check Your Posture and Stretch
To prevent muscle stiffness caused by general inactivity or postural issues, you should ensure that you’re sitting or lying on comfortable and supportive furniture. If you’re sitting at a desk, make sure that you get up and walk around for a couple of minutes every hour and perform some general stretches to ease out the muscles. You should also check your posture and straighten out those hunched shoulders.
Pay More Attention to Your Diet
Making sure that you are well hydrated and getting plenty of the right nutrients will go a long way to helping those fibres stay healthy. Dehydration during exercise increases the chance of soreness and damage. It may also be worth making sure that you eat plenty of food containing calcium and magnesium, such as milk and other dairy products or rice, soy or almond milk if you are vegan. Canned salmon and sardines are also great sources of calcium. You’ll find magnesium in nuts, seeds, avocados, bananas, dark leafy greens, and fish.
The Bottom Line
Some muscle soreness is inevitable, especially if you train hard, but our suggestions will help you to relieve some of the tightness and help your muscles to recover more quickly.