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 a sensation of your muscles knotting that feels uncomfortable and abnormal. This happens when the muscles stay contracted for a prolonged period of time and are unable to relax normally.

Characteristics

Muscle tension of this type may be associated with:

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

Muscle tension is usually not life-threatening and resolves on its 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 physician promptly in order to get appropriate care.

Muscle Tension Causes

The causes of underlying muscle tension are broad and varied.

Inflammatory

Inflammatory causes that can lead to muscle tension include the following.

  • Infection: Infections can cause inflammation in the muscles that can lead to tension and stiffness. For example, a serious bacterial infectioncalled tetanusthat affects the entire nervous system can result in excessive muscle contraction that can result in rigidity and stiffness [1]. 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

Environmental causes can be related to certain exposures or lifestyle habits.

  • Stress: Stress can adversely affect the body's nervous system, particularly the nerves and how they function [2]. 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 when your symptoms begin.
  • 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.

Traumatic

Traumatic causes of muscle tension can be related to the following.

  • Injury: Direct injury to a body part can result in stiffness via fractures, bruising or resultant swelling [3]. Tension and stiffness after trauma are 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.

2 Possible Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced muscle tension. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

  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.

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

    Muscle Tension Symptom Checker

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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.

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

Muscle Tension Treatments, Relief and Prevention

Muscle tension can likely be helped significantly by a few at-home treatments and lifestyle adjustments [4]. However, if your muscle tension worsens or persists, consult your physician.

At-home treatments

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:

  • Heat: Applying a heating pad or warm compress to the affected area can facilitate relaxation [5].
  • Stretch: Use stretching techniques to help relax your tense muscle, especially after exercise.
  • Avoid strenuous activities: These may trigger the muscle to tense up and become rigid again.
  • Alternative measures: Try therapies such as massage, yoga and sometimes acupuncture to facilitate relaxation of the muscles.

When to schedule an appointment

If home treatments and remedies do not help your 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.

Further recommendations

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

  • Practice good posture: This is especially important if you sit for long periods of time; however, you should try to maintain good posture while standing as well.
  • Use supportive furniture: Make sure your furniture/desk chair at home and at work provides comfort and support.
  • Take regular breaks: Getting up to walk around, stretch, and move throughout the day can reduce stiffness and keep the muscles loose.
  • Maintain a healthy diet: This should consist of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

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

These 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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References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated January 10, 2017. CDC Link
  2. Stress effects. The American Institute of Stress. AIS Link
  3. Howell JN, Chleboun G, Conatser R. Muscle stiffness, strength loss, swelling and soreness following exercise-induced injury in humans. The Journal of Physiology. 1993;464:183-196. NCBI Link
  4. Cheung K, Hume P, Maxwell L. Delayed onset muscle soreness: Treatment strategies and performance factors. Sports Medicine. 2003;33(2):145-164. NCBI Link
  5. Muscle Cramps. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Reviewed June 2017. OrthoInfo Link