How to release muscle tension

Monday, Jan. 13, 2020

“Just relax” is usually not what we want to hear when we are tense, as trying to force ourselves to relax often simply increases tension. Still, finding a way to decrease tension can be an effective way to reduce pain and move with more ease.

It’s normal to feel tense after an injury. After all, tension is one of the body’s protection mechanisms: it decreases movement, which gives your body a chance to rest and heal. This is similar to the purpose of pain, which sends signals to your brain to get you to stop, slow down or change your behavior.

The message that tension is sending you isn’t that you need to push through and suffer to get better, it’s that changing your behaviour will help keep you safe and give you a chance to recover.

You can influence tension

Tension is an automatic mechanism. Not fully automatic though, because you can influence it. Like pain, tension doesn’t always behave the way we expect it to. As you’ve likely experienced, tension itself can make pain worse, and pain itself can make tension worse. Feedback loops like this make it difficult to release tension, but it’s important to know that we have some influence over the automatic processes of the body and that finding the right technique to help decrease tension can help us move with more ease.

Tension doesn’t always come from injury and pain. We can be tense when we are sleep deprived, when we don’t even know it or when people or events make us feel stressed. When physical therapists explain to patients the importance of releasing tension, patients often respond, “I’ve always been tense.” Tension by itself isn’t always a problem. However, when we are recovering from an injury and we want to feel less pain, being able to release tension is important.

Sometimes it doesn’t look like a person’s body is tense, yet they tell you their mind certainly is. Our mind might be gripping tightly to a thought or emotion. This type of tension seems connected to pain in much the same way as body tension.

Releasing tension

So how do we release tension? Try this quick technique:

  • Check your body, breath, thoughts and emotions. Notice if there is any tension there. Notice any pain or discomfort.
  • Now, curl your fingers into your palms gently while you breathe in slowly
  • When you breathe out, let go with your breath, and let go with your hands
  • Breathe in, purposefully slowing your breath a little bit and bending your fingers gently into your palms. Make breathing out about releasing your tension in your breath, hands and fingers.
  • Try it a few times. Gentle effort on inhale, letting go on exhale.
  • Then add this – as you breathe out, say to yourself, “It’s okay to let go like this.”
  • Remember the tension you felt before you started. Let go in those areas as much as you let go in your breath and hands each time you breathe out.

When you’ve practiced this technique a few times, see if it helps you move with more ease. Try a movement that is slightly painful. See if you can move with more ease after practicing letting tension go for a few minutes.

If you require additional help, check out our Locations page to find a Lifemark clinic near you or book online to consult a Lifemark clinician about pain and pain management.

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