Muscle tension has become more than a common health complaint – it’s practically a fixture of our modern lives. And there are many possible contributing factors. Luckily, there are also a number of natural approaches to increase muscle flexibility and reduce tension, while supporting other areas of health in the process.
Most often, stiffness and tension result from issues with circulation, inflammation or acidosis (over-acidity in the body). Manual therapies and exercises, as well as foods, botanicals and nutrients, can all help encourage more flexible muscle tissue and faster repair processes.
Here are some basic guidelines and specific recommendations to help get your muscles moving again.
- Deep breathing breaks down lactic acid, reduces inflammation and can improve circulation and relieve tension.
- Dehydration increases muscle tension. Make sure you drink plenty of filtered water to flush out lactic acid and toxins, and keep joints and tendons lubricated.
- Warming and stretching your muscles with movements and exercises, topical heat or hot water can help a great deal. Stretching should follow warming rather than the other way around.
- Regular walks are an excellent way to get circulation moving and warm major muscle groups. Ancient mind-body exercises like yoga, Chi gong (qigong) and Tai chi are also excellent – and proven — tension relievers.
- An anti-inflammatory diet offers powerful support against pain and stiffness. Eliminate sugars and refined flour products, and emphasize nutrient dense whole foods, such as whole grains and legumes (sprouted is best), grass-fed and organic meats, lots of organic vegetables (particularly green and cruciferous varieties), probiotic-rich cultured foods like sauerkraut, kefir and miso, and low glycemic fruits. Use healthy fats in moderation, such as olive oil, krill, flax and coconut. Avoid trans-fats and most vegetable oils. This type of nutrient-dense diet can offer a number of other protective benefits – and you should be able to notice a difference in your muscles and joints after a just few weeks.
Magnesium can help relieve muscle tension. Topical magnesium creams and lotions can be applied to tense areas or the bottoms of the feet. Epsom bath salts, which contain magnesium, are another tried-and-true method to relieve aches and pains. Magnesium is also a laxative, so increase the dose gradually. Dietary potassium is also important and can be found in beans, yams, potatoes, bananas, greens and cooked tomatoes.
Circulation support is also important, to bring oxygen to tense tissues and remove lactic acid and other waste build up that can cause stiffness and soreness. Padma Basic®, a Tibetan-based herbal formula, has been extensively researched for its benefits in supporting circulation.*
Other natural solutions for muscle tension include:
- Ginger root
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Bromelain and other natural sources of enzymes
- HonoPure® 98% pure honokiol is shown to protect against normal, exercise-induced inflammation and next-day muscle soreness.*
Stretching and Massage
To avoid injury, only stretch after muscles are warmed up, and avoid stretches that cause significant or lasting pain. Gentle, slow stretching, combined with deep breathing, is an excellent way to relieve muscle tension. Know your limits.
Massage, particularly cranio-sacral and trigger point manual therapy, can also work wonders to relieve tension. Trigger point and cranio-sacral techniques target specific points in the musculoskeletal system that hold tension, gently manipulating and realigning ligaments, tendons and muscles.
Fire and Ice
Heat therapies, such as warm compresses, hot water bottles and saunas, are recommended when there is no acute injury or inflammation. Heat increases circulation and improves muscle elasticity, allowing more blood flow and reducing stiffness. Infrared saunas or lamps in particular can be a wonderful form of heat therapy, reducing chronic inflammation, improving circulation and reducing muscle and joint pain.
Cold packs are often used for acute injuries, inflammation or swelling. They are best applied immediately after an injury to constrict blood flow to the site and reduce damage caused by swelling and inflammation.
Work and Home
Posture is important. Take a look at your work environment to identify areas that produce chronic muscle strain. Make sure you take breaks to move, stretch and BREATHE. At home, make sure your mattress and pillows provide proper support.
Healthy stress reduction and relaxation methods can dramatically reduce muscle tension. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, Chi Gong, Tai Chi, laughter, social support, music, art – it’s about what works best to help YOU relax. For some, that even means a stroll down a busy city street. Embrace your method wholeheartedly.
Proper hydration, an alkalizing diet, adequate rest and healthy stress relief can all help to reduce muscle tension and improve overall health. If you have chronic muscle pain, there may be underlying issues that need to be assessed by a physician. For many of us though, muscle tension can be addressed by embracing lifestyle habits, exercises, foods and supplements that can help support flexibility and flow.