What is muscle stiffness?

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Muscle stiffness is a feeling you’ll know all too well if you’ve pushed yourself a little harder during the workout. Some consider it the mark of a complete workout while for others the discomfort can be alarming or, at the very least, embarrassing.

Often called muscle stiffness, this common phenomenon occurs when aches, pains, or cramps cause muscle tension, making it harder for you to move as you normally would.

Although muscle stiffness can be the result of something more serious, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, swelling or weakness, most often muscle stiffness is caused by a sprain or strain and usually resolves on its own.

If you suffer from post-workout tightness, check out some of the best foam rollers (opens in a new tab)to massage those sore muscles. But first, read on to find out what muscle stiffness is and ways to minimize suffering from it in the future.

What is muscle stiffness and what does it look like?

Although we can generally characterize muscle stiffness as stiffness or even pain brought on by exercise, the general scientific definition refers to the limited range of motion that accompanies such a sensation. According to studies like this one at Nursing Research (opens in a new tab)this is often caused by a shortened muscle or muscles due to overuse, by exercise, including lifting heavy weights.

According to Gina Reinge, an experienced athletic therapist and scientist, it’s important to understand the root cause of muscle stiffness, as it can be a symptom of an underlying injury: “It can be caused by a muscle injury, in the form of scar tissue, which forms after muscle injury and creates a shortening effect on the muscle,” she explains. “Similarly, it can be caused by health conditions, such as inflammatory diseases or spasticity of muscle.”

Gina Reinge (opens in a new tab) is an experienced athletic therapist who has spent years working with professional athletes, including four years at the high performance center in Bath, UK with international elite level judo players. With her husband, she runs a multidisciplinary clinic.

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How to avoid muscle contractions?

There are, however, a few practical ways to protect against muscle strain. Although this National Library of Medicine (opens in a new tab) One study supports that the impact of stretching before or after workouts has negligible impact on reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), it is generally considered wise to stretch muscles before and after exercise.

Runner holding leg

(Image credit: Getty)

Reinge recommends that “to avoid muscle strain, it is important to stretch well after exercise. Muscles will shorten in response to the overload, so this will help return your muscles to their pre-exercise length. It should also be noted that some studies like this one published in PeerJ (opens in a new tab) suggest that the onset of pain will depend to some extent on each individual’s muscles, so as with any form of exercise, it’s wise to pay close attention to your body’s signals.

While warming up and stretching are undoubtedly helpful in relieving tension, also consider the style, frequency, and intensity of your workout. “Muscle imbalance can cause tension in the muscles,” says Reinge, so make sure your home strength training (opens in a new tab) The diet works all parts of the body evenly so that one area is not overworked over another. “If your sport emphasizes a particular area, racquet sports are a good example, be sure to use the gym to keep less used areas strong to maintain good muscle balance.”

How can you treat muscle tightness?

The easiest and most effective way to treat muscle tension is to simply strengthen the muscles. There’s a reason new converts to workouts suffer from DOMS after their initial workouts and it’s because their muscles aren’t used to the rigors of physical training. The harder you train, the more resilient your muscles will become, but keep in mind that some training approaches (such as progressive overload (opens in a new tab) in weight training) can be designed to work your muscles to exhaustion, which means that in these cases, DOMS is a near certainty.

Women stretching in the park

(Image credit: Getty)

In terms of relieving muscle stiffness symptoms, Reinge says, “Sports massage can help relieve muscle stiffness symptoms, but to prevent stiffness from happening again, you need to identify where the imbalance is and strengthen the body accordingly”. She also adds that “you can do self-checks yourself in the gym using the isolation weight machines.”

Overall, the “no pain, no gain” approach taken by some is not always the most effective route to results. Yes, muscle tightness is proof that you’ve pushed your body beyond its usual limits, but the time it takes you to physically recover from such a grueling workout might just hurt the quality of your next workouts. planned workouts. Listen to your body and always aim to train smarter rather than harder.

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