Muscles become tense for a lot of our patients at Perth Allied Health Clinic. General muscle tension is probably one of the most under diagnosed and under treated conditions going around. It affects a lot of people’s lives, can result in a whole range of different symptoms as a result. It can be an indication of what your resting state is. I.e. How your nervous system is functioning. Remember back to our previous blog on how your nervous system works and the difference between sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve function.
Muscle rigidity, also known as muscle tension, rigor, or stiffness results in a whole range of effects, most commonly muscle pain. It is characterized by your muscles inability to return to a normally relaxed state. The condition can affect any of your muscles (there are about 600 in the human body!!) resulting in pain, loss of function, or an inability to move as well as you should.
Human Resting Muscle Tone – A look at your anatomy and how your nervous system works
We must remember what controls muscles. Research shows that our bodies maintain a certain amount of tone to keep us upright. This is called HRMT (Human resting muscle tone) This is the total tone seen in muscle, fascia, and tendon/ligamentous structures. Some tone is normal and good and appears to be intrinsic (Central Nervous System Independent – not resulting from neural innervation) However this “resting state” is relatively weak. Neural innervation (Central Nervous System control) plays a much larger role in the resting muscle tone. (Masi, Hannon, 2008)
For the most part muscles do not just do their own thing. They are in the direct and constant control of your nervous system. Remembering back to the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions of your nervous system, when under sympathetic control, your nerves exhibit fight or flight characteristics, readying you for a stress reaction. This contrasts with the parasympathetic function which will keep you in a resting and digesting state.
This is important when considering someone’s resting state. In the clinic a look at general muscle and body tone is important in assessment of particularly the spine and which key areas may need to be addressed. Muscles can contract a little bit or a lot, depending on the type of signal the brain sends. After contraction, the muscles relax until the next time you need to use them.
What Causes muscle tension – More than just a resting state and when it is more serious!
Muscle rigidity happens when a muscle or a group of muscles stays contracted or partly contracted for an extended period. The brain continues to send low level nerve signals telling the muscle to contract even when the muscle is no longer needed for movement.
This can last for hours, or a lot longer. Muscle rigidity is often triggered by stress. Or sympathetic stimulus. It can also influence the blood vessels and their resting state. Are they open or closed (vasodilated or vasoconstricted) It is important to note that certain medications, such as statins, can also cause muscle rigidity as well as a whole range of more chronic neural disorders and conditions.
Examples include: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, chronic exertional compartment syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, claudication, ( a condition in which cramping occurs due to a lack of blood flow to the muscles), dehydration, delayed-onset muscle soreness, dystonia, fibromyalgia, lupus, Lyme disease, (a tick borne disease), myofascial pain syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, polymyalgia rheumatica, repetitive strain injury (we see this one a lot in clinic), some viral infections and mental health conditions.
If you have any of the following symptoms as well as unexplained increase in muscle tension contact your doctor immediately: difficulty breathing, dizziness, severe muscle weakness, a high fever and neck stiffness.
How Is Muscle Rigidity Treated?
For the most part, an increase in your general muscle tone – muscle tension is usually not sinister. It is often a reflection on the current state of your nervous system and whether it is working in fight or flight (sympathetic) or rest and digest (parasympathetic). It can however become painful and debilitating so important to get assessed and treated as generally it will worsen over time if you do not address it correctly.
Seeing our chiro, physio and massage team will help get you heading in the right direction. Chiropractors deal with restoring normal vertebral function, taking pressure off the nerves resulting in a return to parasympathetic function. Physio’s will deal with rehabilitation programs to restore correct biomechanics and massage therapists work with the muscle and fascia directly to loosen and reduce muscle tension. If your feeling tight, tense or in pain, we would love to help. Get in touch today or book online!