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How To Relieve Muscle Tension

Have you ever had pain or muscle tension in one area of your body and the pain just melts away when a massage therapist rubs a different place on your body?

If so, you’ve experienced the result of “trigger point therapy”.

Muscle tension, joint flexibility and the feeling of being tied up in knots can all be caused by a phenomenon called trigger points.  Trigger points are also called muscle spasms or muscle knots.

Technically trigger points are areas of hyper-irritability in a muscle that may refer pain and/or numbness to another area.  In other words, a trigger point is a “knot” in muscle fibers which prevent the muscle fibers from lengthening to their fullest ability.  Since muscles generally attach to the bone at a joint when the shortened fibers pull on the insertion it causes muscle tension, limits range of motion and weakens the entire muscle.

How muscles move you:  A muscle originates on a bone, crosses over a joint, and inserts onto a bone that will move when the muscle contracts.  This is the way the body moves and it functions perfectly until a trigger point forms in the muscle.  As the muscle shortens it pulls on the insertion point (where the muscle attaches to the bone) and as you try to move in the opposite direction you feel stiff.  Stretching with trigger points could cause tiny tears to occur in the fibers and could cause even more stiffness or pain.

Imagine a tree:  Imagine tying a rope around a strong, solid tree.  Now go tie the other end of the rope to a flexible tree.  Tug on the rope and watch the flexible tree bend.  Now tie a knot, or two, or three in the rope and watch as the flexible tree begins to lean over.  Push the bent tree so that it stands up straight.  See how the knot in the rope tightens and the fibers on either side of the knot are overstretched.  This is exactly what happens when you try to stretch a muscle that is shortened by knots in the fibers without first releasing the trigger points!!!

Here are Five Tips to Effectively Release Trigger Points & How To Relieve Muscle Tension

  1. Treat:  Press and apply pressure on each trigger point.  You will know when you are hitting a trigger point in your muscle when you feel tenderness to the touch.  Hold the pressure for 30-60 seconds.

  2. Understand the Muscle Movement:  To best treat (release) and stretch a trigger point you need to know what movement the muscle makes.  For example, the muscles in the back of your neck will pull your head back so you can look up at the ceiling.

  3. Stretch:  To stretch you need to go in exactly the opposite direction as the movement of the muscle.  So in the case above you need to lengthen the back of the neck by looking down at your chest.

  4. Press and Stretch for Optimal Benefit:  To optimize the treatment (release of the trigger point), when possible, continue to apply pressure on the deactivated trigger point area and stretch so the muscle is forced to lengthen.

  5. Slowly Move the Joint in a Smooth Circle:  Stop pressing on the trigger point and now make slow, relaxed movements at your joints.


The more often you limber up your joints, the more flexible you will feel.  And just for extra measure take a deep breath, relax in a hot bath, roll your shoulders down your back, take a walk or get some quiet time.

Always go only to the point of “feels so good”.  Never overstretch or make a movement that is beyond your comfort level.

Stretching feels great when you have untied the knots that have held you bound!

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