Read below about muscle tension, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your muscle tension from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Muscle Tension Symptoms

The muscles of the body are always in a state of contraction. Whether you are sitting down or running, your muscles are continuously working to maintain your posture and allow your body to move. The muscles contract and relax in tandem in order to maintain this baseline tone and ensure your body moves properly.

Even though the muscles are always contracting, sometimes you may experience excessive tightness, rigidity or sensation of knotting of your muscles that feels uncomfortable and abnormal. This happens when the muscles stay contracted for a prolonged period of time and are unable to relax normally.

Muscle tension of this type may be associated with

  • Pain
  • Cramping
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty moving, especially after rest
  • Symptoms at rest

Muscle tension symptoms are usually not life-threatening and resolve on their own. Relief can be found in exercising and stretching properly, but in some cases, muscle tension may signal a more serious underlying condition. Make an appointment with your doctor promptly for muscle tension symptoms in order to get appropriate care.

Muscle Tension Causes Overview

The causes of underlying muscle tension are broad and varied.

Inflammatory Muscle Tension Causes

  • Infection. Infections can cause inflammation in the muscles that can lead to tension and stiffness. For example, a serious bacterial infection called tetanus that affects the entire nervous system can result in excessive muscle contraction that can result in rigidity and stiffness. Due to the tetanus vaccine, this cause of muscle tension is rare.
  • Systemic illness. Systemic illnesses such as autoimmune conditions, diabetes, and neurologic disorders can result in muscle tension and stiffness that is chronic and difficult to relieve. These illnesses cause widespread inflammation throughout the body that can particularly affect the muscles.

Environmental Muscle Tension Causes

  • Stress. Stress can adversely affect the body's nervous system, particularly the nerves and how they function. The nervous system often responds to this type of stress by putting additional pressure on the blood vessels, which can result in reduced blood flow to the area. This can cause muscle tension and pain.
  • Medications. Muscle tension can result as a side effect from certain medications. Statins, prescription medications used for lowering and controlling cholesterol, have muscle tension as a known side effect. Take note if you are taking any of these medications and the timing of onset of your muscle tension symptoms.
  • Positional. Exercise can cause muscle tension but being sedentary can also lead to stiffness and tension as well. Situations such as long flights or desk jobs in which you are sitting for prolonged periods of time can result in muscle tension symptoms.

Traumatic Muscle Tension Causes

  • Injury. Direct injury to a body part can result in stiffness via fractures, bruising or resultant swelling. Tension and stiffness after trauma is difficult to initially recognize due to the pain that accompanies traumatic injury; however, stiffness days or weeks after the event can signal an underlying issue. If you experience direct trauma, seek emergency medical attention to assess for broken bones.

  • Overuse. Muscles that are over-worked without proper conditioning and stretching can become tight and tense. This is often a leading cause of muscle tension that can be easily resolved with rest, stretching and relaxation.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Muscle Tension

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced muscle tension. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Gad)

    Anxiety is a common emotion from time to time; however, persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worrying are signs of generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a person worries more days than not for at least six months and has symptoms like fatigue, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.

    With long-term care, symptoms can be controlled with talk therapy, medication, and self-care.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, trouble sleeping, general anxiety (stress), irritability, nausea
    Symptoms that always occur with generalized anxiety disorder (gad):
    general anxiety (stress)
    Primary care doctor

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  2. 2.Acute Stress Disorder

    Acute stress disorder describes changes in one's mood or memory for less than a month following an emotional or traumatic event.

    Acute stress disorder generally lasts days to 1 month.

    Top Symptoms:
    trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating
    Symptoms that always occur with acute stress disorder:
    impaired social or occupational functioning
    Primary care doctor

Muscle Tension Treatments and Relief

Most of the time, you can alleviate your symptoms of muscle tension with simple, at-home remedies – especially if your symptoms are caused by small injuries, stress or overuse. Try the following tips and suggestions below:

  • Apply heating pad or warm compress to the affected area to facilitate relaxation
  • Use stretching techniques to help relax your tense muscle, especially after exercise
  • Avoid strenuous activities that may trigger the muscle to tense up and become rigid again
  • Try therapies such as massage, yoga and sometimes acupuncture to facilitate relaxation of the muscles.

If home treatment and remedies do not help your muscle tension symptoms, make an appointment with your physician. Your treatment plan will depend on the specific cause and may include surgery, medications, physical therapy or a combination of all three.

You can also work to prevent your symptoms of muscle tension by practicing the lifestyle changes below:

  • Practice good posture, especially if you sit for long periods of time
  • Make sure your furniture / desk chair at home and at work provides comfort and support.
  • Take regular breaks during the day. Getting up to walk around, stretch and move can reduce stiffness and keep the muscles loose.
  • Eat a diet consisting of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience muscle tension along with any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever, especially in the context of neck stiffness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Redness, swelling and tenderness in the muscle
  • Muscle pain that began after taking a new medication

These muscle tension symptoms may signal a more serious underlying condition.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Muscle Tension

  • Q.Are there specific situations that cause your anxiety, or does it seem that almost anything will make you anxious?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Q.Are you having difficulty concentrating or thinking through daily activities?
  • Q.Do you have thoughts of hurting yourself?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our muscle tension symptom checker to find out more.

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Muscle Tension Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced muscle tension have also experienced:

    • 8% Headache
    • 4% Fatigue
    • 3% Pain in the Back of the Neck
  • People who have experienced muscle tension were most often matched with:

    • 50% Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Gad)
    • 50% Acute Stress Disorder
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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