How does one stop tensing muscles unconsciously
March 10, 2019 5:10 PM   Subscribe

My tendency to tense and clench certain muscles is aggravating lower back and other skeleto-muscular issues I have. Do you have any tips for stopping this? More inside.

I have the proverbial bad back. I have flat feet and chronically tight achilles, hamstrings, glutes, etc, and it goes right up to my lower back. I also have a herniated lumbar disc, which is relatively un-symptomatic, compared to others' experiences. I

've gone through some PT for these issues, and it's relatively helpful. I've also done yoga and alexander technique training. I'm fairly conscious of my posture and how I hold my body during the day. I have a desk job but do have a sit/stand desk, and make a point of getting up and moving frequently throughout the day.

However, I have a tendency to unconsciously clench my ab muscles, which leads to fatigue of those muscles and compensatory issues, making muscles all around my ribcage very tight and sore. Whenever I notice these, I stop clenching, but I notice that I'm doing it again soon after. Thanks to my various stretching and exercise routines, I know what works to alleviate the resulting soreness and tension, but it keeps returning.

What do you think would be helpful for stopping this unconscious muscle tensing?
posted by benbenson to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I could have written this.

Short answer: Breathing. Long, slow, deep, belly-expanding breaths.

I found (find) that when i’m feeling anxious, especially about how i’ll perform on some task, my breathing gets really shallow. Not fast, just ... shallow. And then... bring on the lower back tension and pain.

This happened for years before I started to notice it. But, wonder if it’s happening for you too.

FWIW, I found Magnesium supplements to be one thing (outside of regular message, much more expensive) to help with chronic hypertonicity of my lower neck muscles. Well, that, and better breathing practices, and getting more regular movement/ exercise for my core. Anyway, Mg can have some minor side affects, IANAD, do some reading first if you try it.

But: breathing.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 5:19 PM on March 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

I too have lower back pain that starts from scar tissue in my thigh, and general tightness issues very similar to yours, so for once I think what helped me might actually help you. The change in my pain levels and flexibility since learning these five yoga poses has been dramatic. I know you tried yoga, but try these specific exercises. Not all yoga is the same. The benefit of Legs Against the Wall alone is enormous, and I do it all the time. These work so well for me I can actually stop back spasms with them, where five years ago only a shot or toradil would be able to help.
posted by seasparrow at 7:29 PM on March 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

Another seconding diaphragmatic breathing. I recently threw out my lower back, and the PT noticed I was bracing my abs to try to compensate. He then told me to take a deep belly breath and I realized I couldn't do it until I relaxed the abs.
posted by astapasta24 at 8:02 PM on March 10, 2019

Nthing the deep breathing. Also simple yoga poses have helped me, as seasparrow mentioned. I find it particularly useful during the day, to pair the standing prayer pose with deep breathing, to just do a quick check of the tension in my muscles. I have more trouble with my shoulders than you, I think, but it's made a world of difference for me. I can do it anywhere; in my office, my bedroom before I leave for work, etc.
posted by backwards compatible at 5:10 AM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

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