Today there are plenty of ways, tools, and tips to relax your muscles. These include muscle stretching exercises, hand massage, massagers for individual body segments, massage rollers, heating pads, massage vacuum cups. Too many choices? Confused about how to choose the right method? Let us help you to correctly navigate muscle rehabilitation.
What constitutes a healthy muscle?
Human muscle is the largest formation of the body and makes about 40 percent of body weight. It is the activity of muscle contraction and relaxation that allows all our movements. The normal muscle should be soft and elastic. When touching through the muscle you should be able to feel the bones and joints, and it shouldn’t hurt when pressed. Healthy muscle contracts and returns to its original position, and when overly tense it can contract but is unable to relax. It may become more rigid than the norm as well as painful to the touch. When it happens, it is necessary to rehabilitate such a muscle as soon as possible, meaning to restore its elasticity and get rid of the tension. Why is this important?
In a tense, shortened muscle the circulation of blood, lymph, nerve tissue metabolism is disrupted, and muscle movement is impaired. Besides, the tension accumulated in it can cause symptoms that spread to other parts of the body. Thus, the condition of the muscles determines the health of the whole body.
It is crucial to understand that it is not appropriate to relax all the muscles in the body, which is often a popular goal, for example, in yoga classes. Overly relaxed muscle is unable to contract and perform the movement effectively, the skin covering it collapses, and the blood circulation beneath it slows down.
General rules should be followed with caution. Each individual should have their musculoskeletal system evaluated before following any exercise or muscle relaxation plan. However, some basic guidelines should be kept in mind to purposefully relax your muscles. So, what are they?
Attention to antigravity muscles!
Specialists of the Spine treatment center state that since the primitive man stretched out and stood on two legs, the greatest load to maintain this position was being placed on the posterior body muscles - neck, back, thighs, calves. As soon as we get out of bed in the morning, get up on our feet, these muscle groups tense up and stay tense all day thus trying to keep us in an upright position while standing, walking, sitting. Physical medicine specialists say that it is because of the constant vertical position of the body, that it is especially important and expedient to stretch posterior group muscles daily. Hand massage, massage chairs, warming pads are helpful daily care means to help those antigravity muscles relax. The other excellent tool is a massage roller which requires a bit more personal effort and suits best for a physically fit, well-coordinated, and not overweight person.
However, if the hind muscles have been neglected for too long and have become extremely tense, it won’t be easy to rehabilitate them. Those muscles will need to restore the lost fiber length. The most effective exercise is stretching and holding the position for a certain period. If you are doing the stretching exercise by yourself, experts advise you to stretch and hold the position for 20-40 seconds; you don’t have to feel any pain, just a pleasant, gentle stretch. If you stretch too hard and try to suffer through the pain, the effect will be quite opposite - the tense muscle will strain even more.
There are special muscle stretching techniques used by musculoskeletal specialists. During them, the stretching of a muscle is combined with specific breathing and resistance movement.
The dangerous extremes
The most common reason for muscle tension and pain is a constant strain of that muscle. This is usually related to a certain long-term body position (raised shoulders, tightened chest muscles, hunching, excessive lumbar inclination (hyperlordosis)) or repetitive physical activities (prolonged sitting at a computer, snow shoveling, running, cycling, etc.). Even if it seems that you are doing nothing, just sitting at the computer, still, certain muscles are engaged in an intense physical activity just to keep the body in such a position.
After intense physical activity, pay special attention to those muscles that were most actively involved. Things to do: targeted massage with segmental body massagers, massage rollers, heating pads, and stretching exercises. However, if you know that certain muscles of your body are overly elastic and/or relaxed, it is not advisable to stretch them even after an intense exercise. Increased tension in those loose muscles is beneficial.
A painful touch
Sometimes the trigger points (areas of hypersensitivity) appear in/near the tense muscle. When touched those trigger points can be very painful, even make you jump when pressed. Although they can occur in any muscle in the body, they are most commonly formed in neck rotatores, upper trapezius, levator scapulae, infraspinatus, quadratus lumborum, gluteal muscles and muscles of the lumbar ant thoracic spine.
It is advisable to perform a trigger release massage technique called ischemic compression, where enough sustained pressure is applied to a trigger point with a tolerable amount of pain for 15-20 seconds. As discomfort is reduced, additional pressure is gradually given. During ischemic compression the blockage of blood in an area of the body is deliberately made, so that a resurgence of local blood flow will occur upon release. Often, after an ischemic compression massage, it is appropriate to apply a cold compress at the same time as passive stretching of the tight muscle.
If pressure doesn’t help, it’s worth trying vacuum cup therapy: a trigger point, as opposed to applying inward pressure, is decompressed which means it is stretched/raised outwards. It is expedient to move the vacuum cup gently away from the trigger point (not to hold it in one position) so that the tension accumulated in that trigger point would spread out.
Most importantly, do not seek to relax all the muscles of the body by random means. Rather, visit a musculoskeletal specialist or physiotherapist to find out which muscles in your body are overworked and which means of relaxation/tension relief are best for your body.