Stiff Muscles Relief – 9 Simple Ways to Get Rid of the Tightness

Now and then, we experience various forms of body aches and pains. Perhaps, we went to the gym and gave our bodies a really good workout! What usually follows after is a period of soreness that typically goes away within a couple days. In some cases though, we might not have done very much physically and yet, we may feel this tightness and pain. You know that stiff, painful neck and shoulders you get sometimes? Yeah, that experience.

Why does that happen though? Shouldn’t our bodies NOT become stiff and tight? Things might not seem to match up here, but it actually does. Let’s first dive into how muscles even work.

How Do Muscles Work

Muscle fibers are like elastic bands. I like to imagine a bundle of rubber bands stretched out. Naturally in this stretched state, they have this force of energy to want to pull and glide past each other into the bundled up state. Muscles work similarly. When muscle fibers pull closer together, that’s what allows for a muscle contraction to occur. This is where the muscle starts to look bigger since it is being flexed.

For example, we should be fairly familiar with the bicep muscle. It is that muscle that connects our arm bone to the forearm bones. When we want to pick up our arm, the muscle attached to those 2 bones will contract. This allows for the arm to bend (flex) to perform whatever activity we had planned (picking up an object, touching face, eat, etc.)

Antagonistic Muscles

Now, muscles do not necessarily have a “pushing” type of force. So does that mean that bicep would stay contracted forever and our arm to exist in that bent state? Not necessarily. The bicep muscle will relax and the arm will gradually return to the original relaxed position. But what if after bending the arm, you now want to reach for or catch something quickly? The bicep muscle will not be able to help with that quickly enough.

Fortunately for every muscle group, there is an opposite, antagonistic set of muscles. To allow for our arms to perform the extending type of motions, we have another muscle called the tricep muscle. The tricep is located behind our arm bones and will also contract to allow for that extension movement.

This is essentially how muscles work: they work by being attached to bones and pulling which allows our bones to move. What is amazing is that there are these sets of muscles all throughout our body! This is how we are able to move in such sophisticated ways! (Click here to read about how to build muscle)

How Muscle Fibers Work

One thing to keep in mind is that although one muscle group seems like just “one muscle”, it is not necessarily just one muscle. In fact, each muscle is composed of MANY fibers. Going back to the rubber band example, if it was just one, it, alone, would not have much strength. Now, if there was a bunch of them, that strength would be quite significant.

Some muscles like the eye muscles can have as little as 5 muscle fibers per type of muscle whereas some muscles can have well over 1,000! Of course, this can get quite complex with motor units, action potentials, and all that gibberish. But in short, the more fibers there are, the stronger the muscle contraction is.

Optimally, each set of muscle fibers would contract and glide past each other smoothly. When a contraction is no longer needed, the fibers would relax and allow the muscle to slide back to their original position. However, we go through so many experiences throughout the day that may affect how these muscle fibers function on a daily basis.

What Causes Muscle Stiffness and Tightness

Imagine that as a set of muscle fibers to ONE muscle group are gliding past each other, they somehow are unable to let each other go efficiently (due to undesirable conditions). If it was just one small set (of let’s say the 1000 fibers), you might not feel anything since there are so many of them. But if it was a more significant amount of them, let’s say 50% of them, you will definitely feel it.

After sitting for such a long time in front of the computer especially during this time of COVID-19, your neck and shoulder muscles might be contracted the entire time. Since it has gone through undesirable conditions, it is unable to relax as it normally would and some of those muscle fibers aren’t able to glide back smoothly. Some of those fibers might even be stuck.

Before you had the tightness, you might have been able to move with 100% flexibility and this was when the muscle fibers were gliding smoothly during the contraction. Now that it is in a stuck state, your flexibility is now reduced. Trying to move AS IF you were still 100% flexible, will equate to pain.

You might have even experienced this while jogging or running. Sometimes a more significant amount of the fibers of the calf muscle have gotten stuck and are unable to let go. This phenomenon is known as the muscle cramp!

These experiences can be frustrating and even painful! What are ways in which one can prevent muscle stiffness and potentially cramps?

9 Things You Can Do to Relieve and Prevent Muscle Stiffness

Muscle stiffness can happen to the best of us and when we least expect it. Here are 9 methods you can try to relieve yourself of muscle stiffness.

1. Stretching

I like to imagine a balloon. It is made of an elastic material but when fresh out of the bag, it can be difficult to blow it up. This is because it is stiff and tight. So what do you do? You first stretch it out. When you blow it up after that session of stretching, it becomes much easier to inflate.

This is the same with our muscles. Stretching will allow for them to be more elastic and more flexible throughout the day. Your movements will feel more free flowing and less restricted. If you are working at your desk for very long hours, be sure to do some stretches periodically.

2. Drink More Water

Water is an essential substance. It helps lubricate our muscles so that the fibers can glide easier during contraction. Without that slippery factor, muscle fibers may get a little sticky and become stuck. If it is just a few fibers, it might not be a problem but if it is a lot of them, then it means a cramp has probably already occurred.

Water is a substance that also has high specific heat capacity. That just means it has the strong capacity to help prevent other things from changing their temperature too quickly (like with freezing or overheating). A quick and significant change in temperature can be damaging to certain things. Water will absorb any excessive amount of heat generated almost like a shield and also prevent massive heat loss like an insulator.

That’s why on the days you have fever, it is recommended to drink more fluids, it prevents that drastic change in temperature from 98 F to like 102 F, and that can be uncomfortable. Fever causes you to lose more water through sweating and urinating in an attempt to get rid of the foreign species infecting you.

When sitting at the computer for too long, our neck and shoulder muscles will be contracted for a long period. This will result in more water loss and muscles fibers that can get stuck. Therefore, like with fever, it would be good to stay hydrated.

3. Engage in More Exercise

Almost like the stretching concept, your muscles will be more elastic and have more range of motion. In addition to that, by taking part in more exercise, your body will start to release various chemicals and hormones like adrenaline and endorphins. These chemicals are basically like your body’s natural form of pain killers.

When you exercise, you are essentially inducing pain to your body. As a result, a self defense mechanism would be to negate the pain so you can survive whatever “danger” is being done to the body (in this case, the exercise). Your body won’t be able to tell the difference between exercising and running from a large animal chasing you. Therefore, in both scenarios, your body will produce those pain negating substances.

When you do not exercise, the body does not feel that it is in danger. It does not anticipate the possibility of feeling pain and so there would be no need to produce those natural chemicals to negate pain. Thus, whatever pain you have (even if small), you will feel the full effect of it.

4. Keep Your Body Warm

Have you ever noticed right after you wake up, that is when you feel the most pain? As you go about your day, the pain gradually disappears or is minimized? That is because in the morning, your body temperature and even the environment is cooler. You most likely did not move very much in the past 6 to 8 hours. This is why those who have knee pain tend to feel it most in the mornings. (Click here to read about knee pain and supplements)

As you finally start to move about, you start to generate heat which warms up your body. During colder seasons, it would be good to dress a bit warmer or be near an external heat source.

5. Massage

Probably by far one of the best things one can do to relieve their muscle tightness is massage. Let’s go back to the concept of when muscle fibers glide past each other during contraction and get stuck. How do we get them to unhook and return to their original position? We apply some form of pressure like massaging!

Tip When Massaging

It is common to think that wherever the pain is, that’s where we massage right? One is not wrong to think that, but massaging ONLY that spot can only get so far to reduce the pain. If you refer to the diagram below, you will see the different whole muscles.

Image from HealthPages.org

As an example, most people tend to have tightness and pain in their upper shoulders. Let’s just say someone has some upper back pain about the size of a quarter on the right side of back. Now when you look at the chart, the upper back muscle is called the trapezius muscle. The trapezius muscle is definitely MUCH bigger than the size of a quarter.

If one were to massage just that spot, what may happen next? They might say that spot feels better, but now that pain has traveled somewhere else on the upper back. Interesting right? Why does that happen?

Why Did the Pain Travel?

Well, when muscles ache, it is never just that one spot. In fact, it is that entire muscle group just as can be seen in the diagram above.

The trapezius muscle is actually quite large and extends to the neck, shoulders, and even middle of back. When there is a tender spot on the muscle, it is signifying that the WHOLE muscle is aching and tight. It just so happens that one spot is taking more of the toll and became really tight with time. When the pain in that area is taken care of, the tightness in other areas of that SAME muscle will start to become more noticeable.

Going back to the rubber band example. If you stretch only a small section of the rubber band rather than the whole band, eventually that one spot would become quite fragile. Now when you finally decide to stretch the whole band, that one section you were stretching has gotten very weak. If you continue to stretch, it would eventually continue to be stressed to the point of snapping. Our muscles work similarly, and that tender spot happens to be the spot that has been taking the most toll. It does not mean that only that spot is hurting but actually the whole muscle is hurting.

Therefore, in short, it would be good to massage that whole muscle instead of just the painful spot.

Tool to Help with Massaging

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Typically, you can massage with your hand but if you are not used to it, the fingers and hand may start cramping up and needing massages themselves. You can also visit a massage therapist. If you are someone who has a high tendency to get muscle tightness, I recommend you to invest in something like the Theragun.

The Theragun is a tool that will imitate a percussive instrument that helps beat up and massage your muscles. In the process, it will help loosen some of the fibers that have been stuck and help them to unhook. As the muscle fibers unhook, they will return to the relaxed position which means the pain will be reduced.

The Theragun also has different head attachments to help fit your muscle pain needs. Sometimes there is a muscle that aches and is located quite deep, underneath other muscles. This is where you will need a deep tissue massage and you might want to use the more pointy head accessory to attach to the Theragun. For superficial muscle pain, you can use the larger, flatter head attachments.

Again, you want to massage the whole muscle and not just the one painful spot for best results (See the muscle group chart above to see what the muscle may be and its shape).

6. Consume More Foods With Potassium

When you are constantly using your muscle, they will become overworked and it will become harder for them to relax. That’s why for those who workout, rest days are essential. When you consume foods that are higher in Potassium, it helps with the relaxation process. As a result, your muscles will become less stiff and less likely to cramp up.

Foods that are high in potassium include:

  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Sweet potatoes or Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Beets
  • Pomegranate

7. Reduce Stress Levels

Stress is a huge factor when it comes to muscle stiffness. You start to stay in that contracted state longer and you continue to release the stress hormone, Cortisol. Temporarily, this hormone is good such as when you are being chased by a large animal.

However, when you are just at work doing your tasks, it will not be advantageous for you to have that hormone running throughout your system. There is no immediate danger, unless you have an abusive boss or the likelihood of injury is high.

In fact, the longer that cortisol is circulating in your body, the more of a toll it takes on you and it can potentially lead to many chronic illnesses. Find some time to take breaks and do some things you enjoy.

8. Get More Sleep

Sleep will help rejuvenate your body and allow for the muscles to repair themselves. This will reduce the likelihood of muscle tightness and pain. (Click here to read about how to improve your sleep).

Make sure you also do not sleep in bad positions where your neck is dangling or your arm is overstretched. That is a red flag for pain and stiffness in the next morning when you wake up. If you notice your body sinking into your bed, you will definitely have some back pain.

9. Consume More Protein

Protein is the nutrient found in certain foods that is involved with building and repairing of muscles that have been damaged or overused. You can find protein in foods like:

  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Fish
  • Lentils
  • Protein powder

By putting in the time and effort to follow these strategies, you can significantly reduce your muscle tightness and potentially avoid a cramp. You will definitely feel more pain free and better overall.

Summary of All 9 Methods

Here are the 9 methods again.

  1. Stretching
  2. Drink more water
  3. Engage in more exercise
  4. Keep your body warm
  5. Massage
  6. Consume more foods with potassium
  7. Reduce stress levels
  8. Get more sleep
  9. Consume more protein

Conclusion

Muscle stiffness and even cramps can be really frustrating and painful experiences. Although sometimes out of our control, our daily habits may sometimes contribute to the pain and tightness. Fortunately, there are many methods that one can utilize to minimize muscle stiffness. There are even tools like the Theragun that can help with reducing that stiffness.

I am no physician, but have learned a lot from one. If you ever have pain that is quite significant especially after an injury, I highly recommend seeing an osteopathic doctor or chiropractor. Hope you were able to learn more about how muscles work and how to reduce stiffness to be more pain free!

Did you enjoy this article? Please leave a comment below!

26 thoughts on “Stiff Muscles Relief – 9 Simple Ways to Get Rid of the Tightness”

  1. Ooh, this is so helpful. No matter what is going on in our lives, there are some days where you will wake up feeling stiff and achy from the very start of your day. It’s essential to have a way to get rid of this tightness and get on with life. I’ve been pretty good with the first 2 suggestions, but could probably improve on the others. Thanks for giving me a different option from reaching for the IcyHot which will leave me smelling like menthol all day!

    Reply
    • Hello there, Aly! I am happy to hear that you found this article helpful. Definitely the stiffness and aches will occur almost just out of the blue in the morning at times. Icy Hot is a great tool to use also. If you can combine that with the massage techniques, it will be even more beneficial. Like a 1 + 1 = 3 type of benefit rather than 1 + 1 = 2.

      Reply
  2. I think you laid out all the possible solutions of why you have tight muscles and the ways to get rid of them. Very helpful as I can start addressing these issues in a systematic approach instead of just attacking a few of them. 

    I find yoga is the best for tight muscles as well as for getting energy flow or blood flow to all areas of my body. I just suck at finding the time to do it every week.

    Reply
    • Hello there, Dan! I am glad the article helped you to address issues of muscle tightness in a more systematic approach. Yoga is definitely a very great way to help with muscle tightness, I use it also, but not as often as I liked.

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  3. Muscle pain can be a part of everyday living and I know that because it plagues me all the time. I enjoyed reading your explanation of how muscle groups work together and how one sore spot means the whole muscle group is affected. I receive a full body massage once a fortnight and it really helps to keep my body moving smoothly. Don’t think that this is luxury as it is a very painful massage with deep tissue pressure but it really works for me. I laugh about paying to be given pain but recently (with Covid) I wasn’t able to get my massages for several weeks and it was very noticeable to my movement. 

    Great advice to use all 9 tips.

    Reply
    • Hello there, Lily! I am happy to hear you enjoyed reading my article. It can be difficult to get massages especially in this time of COVID. That’s why I think the Theragun would be good tool to have during these times. There are occasions when after a massage, you will feel more sore. This is normal. It is like the concept of exercise where you are inducing pain to your body. But that actually triggers your body to start releasing those pain killer chemicals as well. 

      In addition, there may be times when your body thinks it might’ve been enough to heal perhaps 70%. You might still be feeling pain even many years after. But when you induce pain through exercise or massage, it triggers the body to put in more effort into healing so you might even reach up to states of 80 or 90% healed. It would be good to continue this process until you reach 100%. I see many people give up on exercise when they feel some pain so they remain at the 70 or 80% mark.

      Reply
  4. Some interesting things here. Didn’t know about the potassium! I’ll have to keep that in mind. I’ve got a lot of tight muscle problems which unfortunately were pretty persistent even after months of therapy… I guess that might be why I’ve kinda been reluctant to pick up stretching again. But it’d be really nice to be flexible and not in pain all the time, haha. These are all good tips. My boyfriend is thinking of going for fire cupping, too.

    Reply
    • Hello there, Christina! Ahh, potassium would definitely help with the tight muscle problem. Even though stretching can be painful, it does remind the body that it is still not fully healed, so it will actually trigger the body to go through another session of recovery. Fire cupping is a great option too, it will improve with circulation and keeping your body warm.

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  5. I have begun to play tennis. And I am also eating bananas on court and also at home. And I have seen a drastic reduction in body aches. I believe it’s because of the exercise. And also due to the potassium I’m consuming. Potassium is one of the most important minerals in our body. I know it helps regulate fluid balance, muscle contractions and nerve signals.

    Reply
    • Hello there, Ann! That’s great to see you are already taking steps to minimize muscle tightness and pain. Good job and keep it going!

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  6. I really like your explanation of how muscles work and how it all connects together. When stretching is it a good idea to warm up before stretching, I read somewhere that warming up first keeps them from ripping. But don’t know if that is accurate or not. Thanks for all the excellent information

    Reply
    • Hello there! Ahh yes! It is definitely important to warm up first before stretching. Warmer muscles will definitely be more elastic than colder muscles. Stretching colder muscles can lead to more injury if not done carefully. Ideally all 9 steps should be considered for the best results.

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  7. This text really helps and gives concrete suggestions on how to help ourselves and our muscles. Very useful, great job! 

    Personaly I most often use stretching when I have a muscle problem and various massage aids, specifically Theragun I have not tried. It would be best if we could get rid of stress completely but sometimes that is not possible. Once again a great blog, I really enjoyed it.

    Reply
    • Hello there! I am glad this article was able to help you. Stretching and massage are great ways to minimize muscle pain and tightness. It would be nice if muscle pain can be rid of completely but at the same time, the therapeutic effects of massage wouldn’t be as relaxing.

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  8. This article is soo helpful for me and my mum. We both experience muscle pain. Hers is actually worst, and the knee pain happens more often when it’s cold. 

    That’s true, I have experienced it a lot. Just some few days ago the same thing happened. Thanks for your list, I will certainly passed it through my mum.

    It will help us out. Drinking water is one thing many people don’t do at much, that’s  why I believe many youth experience muscle pain. 

    Reply
    • Hello there! Ahh knee pains are the worse. Unlike upper body injuries, we still have to rely on our legs on a daily basis. Be sure to check out my article that is embedded in this one about knee pain.

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  9. Hey There Mike,

    This is a great indepth article on muscle aches and soreness. I like the fact that you also managed to throw in a quick biology lesson on the human muscles. This is so helpful and really help alleviate future injuries and also assist with preventative care. Thank you so much for this much needed article.

    Regards

    Lawrence

    Reply
    • Hello there, Lawrence! Biology was my major and I tried to keep the difficult terminology out of this article so that it could be a simple read. Glad you were able to enjoy this article!

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  10. You have written this article for me. My shoulders are always so stiff and sometimes it progresses to headache and neck pain. I workout every morning but I spend a good part of my day in front of the computer or at the piano. From your explanations I probably need to spend more time stretching, and consume more water, potassium and protein. I haven’t had a massage in over a year because of all the restrictions but I will have to act on these tips. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Hello there, JJ! Ahh, you have stiffness in some of the more common areas. Definitely follow the tips in the article and massage (with or without the theragun) can be beneficial too (with some slight limitations). 

      Reply
  11. Hey Mike. I like how you’ve laid out the info for readers in your article. It explains the basics of how muscles work nicely in layman’s terms and some good ways to fix stiffness.

    I would like to suggest adding a visit to a chiropractor if people are having serious stiffness or pain (seeing a doctor may lead to this referral anyways) . Sometimes the alignment of our skeletal system can be thrown off by overly stiff muscles which can lead to pinched nerves, painful joints, and lack of ROM. I’ve only ever visited a chiro for an issue once but it was extremely helpful for sciatic pain that stretching would not relieve. 

    Reply
    • Hello there, Brian! Thank you for the suggestion. When I wrote doctor, I was thinking of osteopathic doctors but it might not be assumed by people so good catch. I will definitely change it. Chiropractors are definitely really good at finding and correcting those more serious issues.

      Reply
  12. This is a great article to explain different ways to ease the pain related to muscle stiffness and tightness. I do know that I’m actually quite guilty of the fact that I forget to stretch before working out and my muscles can become quite sore after the fact. This is a good reminder to do that, as well as having several other helpful tips.

    Reply
    • Hello there, Rachel! I am glad you were able to find the article useful. Definitely stretching is a must before working out to prevent injuries.

      Reply
  13. I must say that am very glad to have found this article here. Tightness has been my biggest challenge as well. I have tried using different types of coolants including ice but the solution isnt long lived.we experience various forms of body aches and pains and mine comes from too much physical gym activity. This post is all i needed to cope up with my problem. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hello there, Paul! I am glad you found this article helpful and you are welcome. Hope your soreness from workouts can be minimized now.

      Reply

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