What Causes a Muscle to Tighten Up?

Have you ever woken up from a sound sleep and feel pain when you want to stand up? This often happens when a sudden involuntary contraction of the muscles occurs. It is known as a muscle spasm. You would find it more difficult to move than usual. Tight muscles would not only limit your movement but also cause pain, cramping, discomfort, and frustration. Even though tightening of the muscle can sometimes be a sign of something more serious, it is usually not a cause for concern. This article is going to show you what causes a muscle to tighten up and some other useful information about muscle spasms. Read further!

What Causes Muscle Tighten up or Spasms?

1. Exercise

Exercise or hard physical labor is the biggest contributor to muscle tension. Your muscles can tighten up during or after exercise. Muscle stiffness can occur when you increase the duration and intensity of your routine or start a new exercise program. In this situation, your muscles are required to work harder causing microscopic damage to the muscle fibers. It then causes the muscle to tighten up. Exercises that commonly cause the muscle to tighten up are push-ups, squats, using weights and running downhill or jogging.

But why do muscles stiffen after exercises? During exercise the muscle expands but when you stop an exercise the muscles contracts. The contraction of the muscles causes the muscle fibers to be shortened, and it increases the tension in the muscle. After a complete contraction, tension would be reduced, and muscle fibers would increase in length. However, fatigue or improper nutrition and hydration can cause the fibers of the muscle to remain shortened leading to muscle tightness.

2. Prolonged Inactivity

When there is restricted movement, some muscles can get tight. For instance, when you sit at a desk working for hours, days and weeks it affects your muscles. It puts the muscles at your upper back and the back of your hips in a constant lengthened position. Also, the muscles at the front of the hip and at your chest will be in a shortened position. In the long run, it might take a toll on your muscles causing imbalances in the muscles. The lengthened muscles may become weak, and the shortened muscles become tight.

3. Subluxation

A subluxation (pronounced ‘Sub-lux-a-tion’) is when 2 or more spinal bones lose proper joint motion where they attach to each other. They may also become slightly misaligned according to some researchers. Regardless, the result over time seems to be that the nerves in the area get irritated and the muscles tighten up, all of which can lead to pain and stiffness.

4. Other Common Reasons Why Muscle spasms can Occur

  • Infections – Illnesses such as polio, HIV, tetanus, lupus, meningitis, and influenza are some of the infections that commonly cause tightness of the muscle
  • Stings or bites – Sometimes stings and bites from insects such as spiders, bees, ticks, wasps, mosquitos and horseflies can result in muscle spasms
  • Medications – Some medications such as anesthetics and drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol can cause a muscle to tighten up.
  • Additionally, lack of proper sleep, poor diet, being overweight, damp or cold environment, and lack of physical activity in your daily life can cause muscle tightness.

‘What Are Good Treatments For Muscles Spasms?

Most doctors will recommend specific care for your overly tight muscles depending on the cause. However, as a general rule, if the spasm is not resulting from an injury or strain of the muscle then apply a warm to hot compress on the area for 20 minutes may improve the condition.

If the muscle spasm is the result of an injury or strain then ice is commonly a better choice to help reduce inflammation first and foremost. Doctors will often recommend heat for 20 minutes followed by a cold compress for 20 minutes in an effort to reduce spasm and then reduce pain.

Additionally, specific vitamins and other supplements, sound nutritional habits, improving posture, staying hydrated, stretching, and exercise can improve and also prevent muscle tightness.

If you are seeking the care of a professional, chiropractic may be a good way to relax your muscles. Depending on the cause, it may help to improve the underlying conditions that led the muscle tension. For example, if the tight muscles are in response to stuck or ‘subluxated’ spine bone(s), then an adjustment, which is a light to moderate force into the stuck joints at a precise angle, may help. By restoring motion and helping that area of the spine function normally again, the muscle spasm will be reduced.

While in most cases of muscle spasm, the condition will resolve on its own with simple postureal and lifestyle changes, there are also occasions where there is a more significant underlying condition. If you are concerned about long-term or unexplainable muscle spasm you should speak to your doctor.

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