Muscle tension

Muscle tension is an unwanted, persistent and painful contraction of a muscle section or the entire muscle.

The affected muscle is hardened and due to the excessive state of tension of the muscle fibers (hypertension), the movement of the joints connected to it is restricted.

The hardening causes muscle pain, which can be mild, but also stabbing and may limit everyday activities.

Muscle tension can have many causes, so a diagnosis is sometimes difficult. Muscle tension is different from muscle spasm and muscle strain.

A muscle spasm is a strong, unwanted muscle tension, an uncontrolled movement of a part of the muscle that is visible under the skin.

A muscle strain is an excessive stretching of the muscle fibers that does not cause lesions or tears of the tissue structures.

Most often, the following muscle groups are affected:

  • Wade (Gastrocnemius and Soleus).
  • Back of the thigh (biceps and other hamstrings).
  • Adductors and gracilis muscle (inner thighs, especially in football players).
  • Front of the thigh and hip (quadriceps and Sartorius).
  • Neck (trapezius muscle).
  • Back and lumbar region.
  • feet, hands, arms, abdomen and buttocks; hardened gluteal muscles are often confused with piriformis syndrome.

Only rarely are muscle tension of the adductors (in the groin or thigh inside) or pectoral muscles observed.


Causes of muscle tension

There are numerous causes of tense muscles, each of which depends on predisposing factors, the affected body regions and the working environment of the body.
Tension is especially noticeable when the muscle is overexerted and tired.
If the muscle cell is left without energy and fluid, it is overstimulated and develops a strong contraction.
The tension can affect part or the whole muscle, in some cases the adjacent muscles are also involved.
Overload is the most common cause of skeletal muscle tension; This mainly affects athletes who train intensively in warm environments or people who perform heavy work at high temperatures.

Muscle hardening in the neck, shoulders, back and right or left flank can also occur during everyday routine activities, such as shoveling snow or mowing the lawn.

In pregnant women, tension of the lower back and abdominal muscles may occur due to the child’s weight and unnatural posture.
Muscle tension can also be caused by new sports activities, for example, if someone wants to strengthen their abdominal muscles and does the exercises too often or too quickly.
In the same way, writing cramps are caused by the permanent strain on the small hand muscles.
It is commonly believed that a lack of fluid (dehydration), magnesium and potassium leads to hardening and cramping. Muscle cells need a sufficient amount of water, glucose, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium so that the proteins can interact and allow a deliberate tension. A lack of these substances can lead to irritation and tension of the muscle.

Dystonia is a movement disorder in which a muscle group contracts unintentionally, energetically, so that the usual posture can no longer be maintained and posture-related tension occurs, especially in the lumbar region.

Initially, mild discomfort may occur, which increases continuously over time and becomes more frequent and intense. Only rarely does a progressive increase fail. An example of this type of muscle tension is a stiff neck; here the tense neck muscles cause a forced posture in which the head is kept turned to one side.

The tension of the neck muscles (occipitalis) can cause headaches and mental confusion.
Tension headaches can be caused by the tension of facial muscles, such as the jaw muscles.

When kidney stones travel to the ureter, the smooth ureteral muscles that connect the kidneys to the bladder can cramp and cause stabbing pain. This type of pain often occurs in conjunction with nausea and vomiting.

The muscles surrounding the esophagus may cramp if irritation is caused by heartburn (reflux oesophagitis).

Diarrhea can also be associated with colicky pain, the muscles located in the colon wall cramp shortly before bowel movement.

Muscle tension in newborns and children

Newborns and children can suffer from tension and muscle spasms for various reasons. Potassium deficiency can cause muscle tension in a newborn.
Triggers can also be serious illnesses, such as epilepsycraniocerebral trauma or high fever. Since newborns cannot speak, it is important to see a pediatrician who can rule out serious medical conditions as a reason for the muscle hardening.

A child may suffer from muscle tension as a result of growth spurts.
Growing children feel this painful tension because the bones become longer too quickly, while the muscles remain shorter. As a rule, the cramps occur at night and can last from 1 to 15 minutes; although they can sometimes be very painful, they are no cause for alarm.
Daily stretching exercises and drinking plenty of fluids can help relieve the pain.

Signs and symptoms of muscle tension

The leading symptom is pain in the hardened area.
There may be a restriction of movement that corresponds to the severity of the tension.
Depending on which muscle is affected, some movements are restricted, others can be performed freely, e.g.:

  • Hardening of the trapezius muscle (positioned between the neck and shoulder) provokes neck pain, restricts the rotational movement of the neck on this side and sideways tilt on the opposite side;
  • The tension of the thigh biceps limits the prevention of the upper body (as when putting on the stockings);
  • Tension of the calf interferes with lifting the tip of the foot (which happens when climbing stairs);
  • The hardening of the quadriceps limits the bending movement of the knee.

When palpating, you can feel a hardened and pressure-sensitive area.
In some people, muscle tension becomes chronic because they cannot be treated and continue to exercise.
Muscle tension can occur together with other symptoms that vary depending on the disease, discomfort and disease state.

For example, with severe muscle tension, bruising and swelling may occur at the affected site.
If the tension is caused by a disease that affects the entire body, such as hypothyroidism, weight gain, depression and fatigue are possible as accompanying symptoms.

Serious symptoms as a possible indication of danger to life:

1. In some cases, muscle hardening is accompanied by other symptoms that may indicate a serious or life-threatening state of health; these include dehydration, acute spinal cord trauma, severe breathing or shortness of breath.

2. Hardening of the smooth muscles of the coronary arteries can lead to angina pectoris or heart attack.

Treatment of muscle tension

For tense and hardened muscles, the best treatment is physical therapy, nutritional corrections, and medication, or a combination of all three.

The therapy depends on the underlying cause; it must also be taken into account whether it is a one-off incident or a chronic complaint.
Medications, alternative and supportive forms of treatment, and natural remedies can help speed up the healing process and relieve pain.

The treatment is effective if it is supported by a healthy diet, rest, stretching exercises and possibly a Kinesio tape on the affected area.

Natural remedies also include dietary supplements; an ointment with devil’s claw, for example, helps athletes with tension and muscle pain.

Emotional stress, such as fear, panic, tension, frustration or anger, can cause a series of reactions in the body that affect the nervous system. Hardening, tension, pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders are common symptoms of emotional stress.

Serious diseases that cause unwanted muscle hardening are: dehydration, cerebral palsy, trauma, multiple sclerosis or spinal cord damage.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (for example, Voltaren, Alrheumun and Dolormin) and muscle relaxants (muscle relaxants) can release muscle hardening and bring the system back into balance.
These drugs can have different effects on individual patients and must be used together with other natural treatments, such as physiotherapy, to achieve the best possible treatment success.

Supportive and alternative treatment
There are several ways to loosen muscles and release tension:
Kinesio Taping
Stretching gymnastics
physical physiotherapy
massage therapy
progressive relaxation exercises

Taping for tension of the thigh biceps
Effect: tension-relieving. Shape: a “Y” stripe. Length: from the sit-bone hump to the fibula head.

Apply the tape without tension, with the patient bending the upper body forward, the legs remain stretched. Use the two “Y” branches to frame the muscle belly of the thigh biceps. When attaching, the patient is asked to hold the “Y” trunk so that the tape can be stretched more.

Among the physical forms of physiotherapy, Tecar therapy shows excellent results, it can relieve muscle tension within a week; the ultrasound treatment, on the other hand, works more slowly.
It is based on a flow of energy that flows between two points, which can generate a lot of heat; Blood circulation and cell metabolism are accelerated.

Recovery times

If the symptoms are caused by an organic or systemic disease, the cure depends on the triggering disease.
If the muscle tension is caused by overexertion, it can be solved within a week with the right therapy. If the hardened muscle remains untreated, healing can take 1 to 2 months and the risk of relapse increases.


Keep the muscles loose and elastic with the help of stretching exercises.
Approach the day more relaxed in terms of rhythm and physical activity.

Keep muscles warm when tension occurs; a hot bath or shower can help, as can warm clothes when it gets colder outside.
Place heat or cold packs on the affected area to loosen the tense muscles.
Heat relaxes and loosens the muscle, while ice acts on the nerve that tenses the muscle and blocks the nerve signal.

Poor posture must be corrected (the body must be balanced while sitting, standing and walking) so that the muscles do not have to fight against gravity to keep the body in a vertical position.
Drink plenty of fluids to avoid tension and cramps during exercise.
Reduce the consumption of acidic foods, such as tomatoes and vinegar.
Eat foods rich in potassium, including bananas, potatoes, soy flour, bran and apricots.

Chamomile helps to relieve muscle tension.
Tension and stress can be reduced with the help of relaxation techniques.
Increase the intake of minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium, possibly using dietary supplements (e.g. Tromcardin complex).

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