Ways to Loosen Up Tight Muscles

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A woman stretching in a park before going for a run. (Image: Kane Skennar/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Whether you're physically active or a dedicated couch potato, muscle tightness is a common condition that, if left unaddressed, can lead decreased joint range of motion and postural misalignment. Depending on the degree of muscle tightness, you can employ a variety of therapies and treatments that can provide either instant or gradual relief.

Warm Muscles Respond Best

A primary property of muscle tissue is elasticity, and muscles are at their most elastic when warm. Before engaging in any therapy, make sure your muscle tissue is warm. This can be achieved by performing light rhythmic exercise like walking that elevates your heart rate and increases the flow of blood to your muscles. You can also precede therapy with a hot bath or shower, or several minutes in a hot sauna. Apply therapy immediately afterward, before the muscle tissue cools off.

Go for the Stretch

Regular stretching is the most effective and least expensive way to permanently loosen muscles and connective tissue. To stretch effectively, begin with warm muscles. Stretch all the muscles that work at your various joints, not just the ones that feel tight. For example, if you stretch your hamstrings, make sure to also stretch your quadriceps and gluteal muscles, and your inner and outer thighs. Stretching is most effective when you hold your muscle at its longest length for 15 seconds to one minute or longer. Relax into your stretch, and do not bounce. Yoga is an effective practice for maximally stretching the muscles throughout your body. For best results, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends you stretch all your major muscle groups at least twice per week.

Sweet Release

Self myofascial release is a form of therapy you can do on your own with a hard foam roller. It addresses both the muscle and the tissue that connects muscle to bone. Foam rollers come in various lengths, and are about six inches in diameter. They are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased almost anywhere that fitness equipment is sold. To perform the treatment, place the roller on the floor beneath the muscles you wish to loosen. Position yourself so that your body weight presses against the foam as you roll it the length of the muscle. Perform the action slowly from end to end, and repeat until the muscle tension is released.

Massage Can Work Wonders

A professional massage can be highly effective for loosening tight muscles. Massage therapists are trained to locate and manipulate muscles and connective tissue in ways that release tension and muscle spasm. Both traditional Swedish and deep tissue massage may be effective for relieving muscle tension. If you are unable to work with a professional massage therapist, you can perform a self-massage. Begin by preparing an area where you can comfortably sit or lie down. Use an oil or lotion to allow your hands to glide freely across your skin. Apply firm pressure, running your hands the full length of the tight muscle, and palpating for pressure points where pain is localized.

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