Stiff Muscles: How To Loosen Them Up

11/23/2021 | 7 min. read

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Our muscles can get pretty stiff sometimes! Whether you are young, old, an athlete, recuperating from an accident, or prone to stress, you may have noticed by now how hard muscles can become.

Sometimes they can feel a little tight due to stress or physical activity, other times they can cramp up and cause mild to extreme discomfort. Sometimes it seems like it’s for no reason! But whether you’re dealing with some routine soreness or something more abnormal, there’s always a way to loosen up those muscles.

Here we’ll discuss some of the causes of muscle stiffness, so you can hopefully avoid them, but first we’ll discuss some methodologies for bringing them some relief.

What Are Solutions for Muscle Stiffness? 

Fortunately, if you struggle with stiff muscles there are several different solutions you can test out. Muscle stiffness can surely be uncomfortable, but a few home remedies might be able to bring you relief.

If your muscle stiffness is severe and is causing you intense discomfort, it is best to consult your doctor before attempting any at-home means of relieving discomfort.

Severe symptoms may indicate muscle injury that requires medical attention, and your doctor may recommend certain medications for temporary relief.

Stretching and Exercise

Stretching is one of the easiest ways to prevent muscles from stiffening and alleviate some of the stiffness once it has already started. Stretching may feel like you are tensing up your body for a moment, but it relaxes the muscles and allows blood to flow properly.

For this reason, athletes should seek to combine their routine workouts with routine stretches as well to keep their entire muscular system intact.

Stretches require consistency in order to see results, just like any other physical routine. They are meant to increase your flexibility, which would keep your muscles from stiffening as often, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

Seeing a physical therapist or health expert is crucial because they can tell you which can help you the most and even which ones to stay away from since sometimes an improper stretch can only be counterproductive.

Various exercises ensure that your blood flow and your muscles keep working instead of getting stiff.

For maximum results, you may want to combine stretching and exercising consistently, as much as you can. By the end of just a few weeks, you should begin to see results so long as you are exercising not only consistently but properly according to your own body’s needs.

Massage

Massages are another great way to loosen stiff muscles. They can help in a number of ways. At the very least, massages can be quite relaxing, and the very act of complete relaxation can help your muscles become more pliable and accepting towards the massage.

Physically stimulating any stiff areas seals the deal by increasing the temperature around the area, which soothes the muscle and provokes proper blood circulation.  

An extra pair of hands ideally performs massages to add friction and an external source of body heat, not to mention help in reaching the back or finding tight muscles that you might have grown numb to.

Despite this, there are ways to massage your own stiff muscles if the need arises. Simply rubbing an area gently can be enough to bring stimulation to an area, and adding various pressure levels can start to bring relief.

Finding a physical therapist could be important for you if you find yourself with continuous muscle aches. They can teach you how to massage an area properly on your own or direct you to specialists for help.

Keep in mind that relaxation is key for loosening muscles, so don’t push yourself to try getting a massage from someone else if you know it makes you uncomfortable. Not only does your comfort matter, but it can also be counterproductive if it only makes you tense up.

Warm Baths

As was mentioned before, relaxing is key to giving your muscles a break and loosening them up. So taking a nice, hot bath is a great way to treat yourself.

Baths don’t just help you relax, however. If the bath is at the proper temperature, then the water can encourage all of your muscles to loosen up at once. Warm temperatures also help your blood flow into areas that lack the right blood flow.

On top of blood flow, baths can also help control muscle spasms and improve your skin. Steam treatment, like saunas, can also be just as relaxing, but they may be more beneficial for your skin than your muscles. The submergence of all your muscles usually brings the most impact, but you can try both to find your preference.

One good way to really stimulate those muscles is to combine stretches and/or massages while you are in the bath and your muscles are the least tense because of the hot water. Similarly, physical therapists use a method of therapy called aquatic therapy when a patient needs some help from the water to alleviate pressure from their joints during therapy. The water is usually at a warm temperature to soothe the muscles while they are being strengthened.

What Causes Muscle Stiffness?

Muscle stiffness can be brought on by a variety of factors, and honing in on what may have caused your symptoms can help you prevent the issue from occurring in the future.

Stress

One of the number one causes of stiff muscles (and maybe a few grey hairs) is stress. Stress plays a role in your emotions, yes, but it takes a physical toll. In fact, the mind and body share a very close relationship, which is why staying attuned to mental health is so important.

Stress and tension cause muscles to stiffen and cramp and after they’ve done this, they further contribute to stress as you bear the weight of feeling uncomfortable in your own body and thus begin a vicious cycle.

Sleep

Sleep also plays a role in muscle health. Specifically, not getting enough of it, since this can lead to stress, leading to further stiffening muscles. But sometimes, we toss and turn in our sleep or go to sleep in a poor position and wake up sore.

Sometimes you can do nothing for this other than treat the soreness after it comes, but you can find proper starting positions that may bring relief through the night. Other times, it is as simple as elevating your legs, putting a pillow between them while you are on your side, and elevating your head slightly to keep your spine in just the right spot.

Exercise

Workouts can cause muscles to stiffen or feel tight afterward; who would have guessed. This is perfectly natural. While your muscles break down only to rebuild themselves, the discomfort can sometimes grow to be pretty extreme, and giving yourself a break before the next workout could be vital.

In fact, most workouts shouldn’t be performed for hours on end but instead interspersed consistently throughout your schedule. However, be careful considering cold therapy and ice baths since many studies have shown this to be more detrimental than helpful.

Stagnancy

When your muscles are at complete rest for too long, this can be a major cause of stiff muscles. Many hospital patients require physical therapy simply because they have been in a bed for too long.

Our routines could lead us to the same issues if we sleep, lay down too much, or never get up to stretch after sitting down for extended periods. Most classrooms and work environments require you to take breaks, offering you a chance to stretch or cool down for reasons such as these.

Age

As we grow older, we become less flexible, and our muscles stiffen easier. Stretching is usually vital at this point in our lives since it’s easy to become stagnant and damage our muscles even more.

In the same way, typical solutions for stiff muscles can still work in old age, as well as workouts--although they may be harder to push through--and provide you with a nearly ever-healthy body if you’re consistent.

Conclusion

Stiff muscles are a common ailment that can be brought on by many different factors, including age, exercise, and even sleep or stress.

Taking steps to prevent muscle stiffness can keep you from experiencing discomfort in the future, but stretching, massaging, and using hot or cold therapy can relieve any current discomfort.

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Sources:

The importance of stretching | Harvard Health

Tight muscles - When massage can help | Manchester Physio

The varying effects of warm-water bathing therapies: partial bathing decreases exercise tolerance to levels similar to full-body bathing | NCBI

Healthy Directions Staff Editor