Tame Your Holiday Tension!
While the Holidays are a great time to celebrate and reconnect with friends and family, there's no doubt that they can also be stressful and put our already hectic lives into overdrive. Unfortunately, the path of stress frequently leads down the tight muscle road.
Muscle tension is like a car that's idling too fast. The engine is revved up and working hard but nothing is happening with the exception of more wear and tear on the motor. Not only that, but the motor is burning more fuel and creating more pollution. It's the same with muscle tension - your muscles are working hard, but nothing particularly useful is coming from it. The tension doesn't help you move, and it certainly doesn't improve muscle strength.
It does, however, cause a lot of wear and tear on your body. Tension:
* Strains the tendons that connect your muscles to your bones.
* Puts increased pressure on your joints.
* Limits your movement and range of motion.
* Interferes with your co-ordination and may even make you more accident-prone.
Tense muscles also burn up fuel in your muscles, making you feel tired and create the equivalent of car exhaust – toxic waste products (called metabolites) that fatigue your muscles and make them feel sore and achy.
You know from experience – tension is not good.
It's important that you get your tension under control. Not only will you feel more comfortable, but you'll also prevent a lot of problems from occurring, from pains in your neck to early arthritis. To manage your tension, it helps to know what causes it.
Stress is one of the major sources of muscle tension. When under stress, you become like a turtle trying to pull its head into its shell. Your shoulders round forward and lift up as your head pulls back. If your stress level is high, you may actually notice your shoulders around your ears. More often than not, the stress isn't quite so significant and the shoulder muscles simply tighten up.
Just sitting or staying still for periods of time will also cause your muscles to tighten up. By remaining static, you are in a sense training your muscles to lock your back or neck in a certain posture. When you begin to move, your muscles remain tense in an effort to maintain your position. It takes some time for the muscles to realize that they can let go and relax. The longer you sit without moving, the more you train your muscles to lock into position and the longer it takes to release them.
Although tension can develop in any muscle in your body, your neck, shoulders and back are must vulnerable and are the areas that are most commonly affected.
Tenderness and tension
How do you know if your muscles are tense? One of the best indicators is tenderness in your muscles. Tenderness is the discomfort you feel when you press on the muscles.
When your muscles are healthy and relaxed, they won't be tender. You won't feel any discomfort even if your massage therapist is applying lots of pressure.
Blood vessels normally deliver oxygen and nutrients to a muscle and flush away waste products. When your muscles are tense, they essentially squeeze their own blood vessels. The muscles are working hard and creating excess waste that doesn't get washed out of the muscle. As these metabolites begin to accumulate, they start to irritate pain nerves. If the tension is significant, you'll actually start to feel achy. If the tension is less severe, the nerves become sensitive and any added stimulus, like a squeeze to the muscle causes discomfort.
Massage to the rescue
Massage plays an important role in helping you deal with your tension. Massage has a twofold action.
First, it helps induce a relaxation response. This reduces the common defensive reactions in your body, including that turtle-in-the-shell action of your neck muscles. Relaxation causes your brain and nervous system to slow down and this in turn lowers the tension level of all the muscles in your body.
Secondly, massage pulls and stretches your muscles, physically relasing them. In addition, the sensations that your muscles feel, both conscious and subconscious, give your brain information about the level of tension that exists in your muscles. This helps your nervous system to adjust your muscles to a normal level of tone.
The wonderful thing about massage is that its effect on tension is almost instantaneous. You feel the tension leaving your body immediately. You don't have to wait days or weeks to see results.
However, don't expect long-lasting results from just one massage. Although this may happen, factors like stress and a sedentary lifestyle are likely to perpetuate your tension. For this reason regular massage is important.