Imagine a car that’s idling too fast. It’s revved up and working hard but nothing useful is happening. The motor’s burning more fuel, creating more pollution and experiencing added wear and tear.

Well, it’s kind of the same with muscle tension. It doesn’t help you move and it certainly doesn’t make your muscles stronger. So really your muscles are working hard but not doing anything useful or accomplishing anything.

In fact, muscle tension causes a lot of wear and tear on your body. It strains tendons (which hold your muscles to your bones). It pulls joints tighter together (leading to grinding/crunching sounds and worn out cartilage). It limits your movement, interferes with your co-ordination and may even make you more accident-prone.

Tension also burns up the fuel in your muscles (which makes you feel tired) and creates toxic waste products alled “metabolites” (the equivalent of car exhaust) which fatigue your muscles and make them feel sore and achy.


• You’ll feel more comfortable.
• You’ll prevent problems from occurring.
• You just know from experience that tension isn’t good.


1. Stress is one of the major sources of muscle tension. When under stress, you become like a turtle trying to pull its head into its shell. So your shoulder muscles might simply tighten up or they might round forward and lift up as your head pulls back. And if your stress level is high, you may actually notice your shoulders around your ears.

2. Just sitting or staying still for periods of time causes your muscles to tighten up. By remaining “static”, you’re basically training your muscles to lock your back or neck in a certain posture. Then when you begin to move, your muscles remain tense in an effort to maintain your position. Plus it takes some time for your muscles to realize that they can let go and relax. So the longer you sit without moving, the more you train your muscles to lock into position and the longer it takes to release them.


Simply based on the way tension is created, the areas most vulnerable to tension are your neck, shoulders and back. Although tension can develop in any muscle in your body, these are the areas that are most commonly affected.


One of the best indicators of tension is tenderness, which is the discomfort you feel when you press on a muscle.

Blood vessels normally deliver oxygen and nutrients to a muscle and flush away waste products. But, when your muscles are tense, they’re essentially squeezing their own blood vessels.

So now, the muscles are working hard and creating lots of waste that’s not being washed out of the muscle. And as these “metabolites” (i.e. waste) begin to accumulate, they start to irritate pain nerves.

If the tension is significant, you’ll actually start to feel achy. If the tension is less severe, the nerves become sensitive and any added stimulus, like a squeeze to the muscle, can cause discomfort.


Massage can play an important role in helping you deal with your tension and your massage professional, like a mechanic, can adjust how fast your “muscle motors” are idling.

Basically, massage does two things:

First, it helps induce a relaxation response. This reduces the common defensive reactions in your body, including that “turtle-in-the-shell” action of your neck muscles. Relaxation also causes your brain and nervous system to slow down, which in turn lowers the tension level of all the muscles in your body.

Second, massage pulls and stretches, which physically releases the muscle. In addition, the sensations that your muscles feel, both conscious and subconscious, give your brain information about the level of tension that exists in your muscles. This helps your nervous system adjust your muscles to a normal level of tone.

Remember too that the effect of a massage on tension is almost instantaneous. You feel the tension leaving your body immediately. You don’t have to wait days or weeks to see results.

Also, regular massage both reduces your tension and trains your muscles to maintain a lower level of tension.

And when your muscles are healthy and relaxed, they won’t be tender and you won’t feel any discomfort, even when you’re receiving a massage.


One of the areas most likely to get tense is the shoulders.

(In the nearly 8 years that I’ve been doing chair massage, the shoulders are still the Number 1 area people ask to have massaged because they’re experiencing tension there.)

The muscle that makes up the shoulders is called the trapezius, often referred to as the “traps”. It’s an easy name to remember because this is the muscle that “traps” a lot of tension.

The good news is you can help prevent tension from building up in this muscle.

If you’re sitting or standing still for any significant period of time, be sure to move this muscle through a full range of motion, at least once in a while.

Something you can try is the “20/20 Rule”:

For every 20 minutes that you are inactive, spend 20 seconds moving.

This helps ensure that your muscles don’t have the chance to lock into any particular position.

Use the two simple exercises in this article to bring your “traps” through a full range of motion and keep your muscles relaxed and tension-free.

Download your exercise illustrations here:

If you have specific health concerns, consult your medical doctor. The information in this article is educational only and is not intended to replace the advice of your personal health care provider(s).

This article may be freely reprinted or distributed in its entirety in any e-zine, newsletter, blog or website. The author's name, bio and website links must remain intact and be included with every production.

Author's Bio: 

Chris Simon is a Certified Chair Massage Practitioner specializing in relaxation massage for muscle tension and stress. He’s been providing on-site chair massage to people in their homes and employees at their workplaces in Hamilton and throughout Ontario since 1999. Visit his website at to learn more.