Effects of Muscle Tension and Stress:
C.E.M.&.N.T. AKA … “Tight Muscles,” or
( Chronic, Excess Muscle & Nerve Tension )
Effects of C.E.M.&.N.T.
— Excess Muscle Tension —
(Tight, Hard, Over-Short/-Long Muscles)
Today, I’m going to tell you what happens to YOU when your muscles get too *toned* or too *tonused,* meaning too tight, too hard & too over-shortened or over-lengthened.
CLUE: Muscle TONE is probably NOT what you think it is.
There is a BIG difference between muscle TONE and muscle TONUS. You can learn more on that very critical topic in Lesson #6 of this series, which you’ll be receiving in the not-too-distant future.
A NOTE ON WHETHER MUSCLES “SHORTEN” OR NOT
I’ve often come across people or writings, including doctors and personal trainers, who claim you can not make a muscle *too short* or *too long.* This statement has always been a mystery to me since I have not actually met one of these doctors. So, I must admit, I’m not really sure what they are thinking. It seems so obvious that degrees of muscle tension generally correspond to degrees of lengthening or shortening of a muscle.
Yet a few people are using certain “science-based” ideas to challenge such assumptions. Hopefully, I’ll find time to dissect their articles and critique them.
But … in case you are one of them, or have been influenced by such thinking, here’s the thing:
Lengthening & Shortening of
Muscles Moves Bones
Muscles obviously MUST shorten and lengthen, otherwise, they could not do their job of moving bones through space. Lengthening & shortening is just the Main Thing they do.
Actually, it’s ALL that they do as far as producing physical motion is concerned. Every function they have is a result of contracting or DE-contracting. (Yes they have various metabolic functions and such, but their MAIN thing is to produce tension, movement & action.)
The Question is whether they can get *re-set* to be chronically shorter or longer lengths, or tighter & harder, which for the most part go together. The answer is definitely YES They Can, and that is just basic muscle physiology you can find in many orthodox physiology books & courses.
Also, it is well known to medical researchers that, depending on how much a muscle is used, and how much muscle tension is being generated or not, the body will add or subtract sarcomeres to or from the ends of muscle cells. Sarcomeres are the microscopic units that actually do the contracting & relaxing. This function can without question add to or decrease the length of the muscle fibers.
When Muscles Shorten,
Tighten & Harden, They:
• Restrict Blood Flow: Compressing of blood vessels decreases the flow of Blood. (Think of squeezing or pinching a garden hose, and what happens to the flow of water through the hose.) This can, at best, produce cold feet and hands because of lack of blood providing warmth. As this progresses toward the worse, you can feel like your limbs are tingling or going to sleep.
Eventually, you can get numbness, or loss of feeling, and worse.
Reduced or no blood flowing into an area means few or no nutrients coming in, and few waste products being removed. Later, and at worst … a host of other degenerative conditions & diseases can set in.
So let’s see, lack of nutrients plus excess of toxins building up (eventually becoming poisons) …
Not a good idea.
Restricted blood flow results from either a muscle external to the vessel pressing on it, OR, blood vessels themselves are made of smooth muscle. If increased stress is expressed in the smooth muscles, then they will contract, decreasing the diameter of the blood vessel, like the garden hose example above.
• Increased Blood Pressure: Lots of medical research indicates that when the contraction of muscles go up, blood pressure rises too. This is also true of isometric exercise when a muscle is held in a contracted state without the muscle actually moving. Large numbers of people in America are in sedentary jobs & lifestyle and have elevated, chronic muscular tension.
It’s like they’re in a state of constant, semi-isometric contraction much of the time, even if just sitting at their desk all day. They are, therefore, quite prone to heightened blood pressure.
• Restricted Lymph Flow: Tight muscles restrict the flow of your Lymph — another fluid that carries certain kinds of waste products out of your body — through the lymphatic system. This, too, is like the garden hose problem. Waste products begin building up inside the various tissues of your body, turning toxic rather than being eliminated. … That’s not a good deal either.
• Organ Interference: Chronically contracted muscles interfere with the function of your Organs and Glands. Actually, your intestines, for instance, are made of a kind of muscle tissue called smooth muscle. When they get chronically contracted, their ability to push waste products through your body is impaired. Waste begins building up in your large & small intestines, at some point becoming toxic. Sometimes pockets of waste matter form, increasing toxic build up. Similar effects occur in many different organs. …
Years ago, one cardiovascular physician I worked with told me he was convinced a large portion of heart trouble was muscle spasm of the heart muscle and/or the fact that blood vessels are made of muscle too, and potentially subject to too much stress and resulting tension. (See above at Restricted Blood Flow.)
More recent research points to coronary artery muscle spasm as a possible precursor to angina and heart attacks.
There are many chronic illnesses resulting from tensions & stresses accumulating in your various organs.
• Diaphragm & Lungs: Another organ example is your Lungs. A spasm in your diaphragm, a muscle that inflates & deflates your lungs (like a balloon), can make it difficult to breathe.
Or when the muscles of your abdomen and chest chronically contract, they restrict the ability of your diaphragm to move up and down, which is, again, necessary to keep your lungs easily inflating and deflating to move air in and out of your body. Your available lung capacity decreases, your breathing rate speeds up to compensate, and, because you are fighting the resistance in your very own muscles, it takes more energy to take a complete, full, proper breath.
The amount of fresh air coming in is therefore limited, sometimes severely. Not as much air, therefore not as much oxygen (a primary fuel of your body) can get into your bloodstream.
You’ve probably, when a child, tried holding your breath as long as possible. How did THAT feel? Oxygen gets burned up and you run out, and carbon dioxide, a toxin to the human body, builds up, producing a toxic effect in the bloodstream by way of excess acid (acidosis).
[RE: Carbon Dioxide: Being *toxic* to the human body does NOT make CO2 an environmental *pollutant.* CO2 is THE fuel for all plant life, while oxygen is the toxic by-product of plants. We have a symbiotic mutual exchange relationship with plants on the carbon dioxide/oxygen cycle.]
While too much to go into here, MANY symptoms people experience just GO AWAY when they start breathing better & deeper. But if there is too much tension in their muscles, it is more difficult to get their breathing to cooperate.
• Irritated Nerves: Tense and/or hardened muscles stimulate, excite and/or compress your nerves, eventually irritating them, causing them to work overtime. Since your nerves don’t get paid for overtime, they get unhappy. Any organ, gland, or muscle attached to that nerve will, in turn, become overly stimulated, then over-stressed, leading to chronic irritation and over-activity. Then, because they don’t get time to rest & regenerate, eventually become exhausted.
Over time, this irritation recycles even MORE stress into other areas of your body, sending even more signals to other muscles, organs, and glands, further irritating or contracting them, leading to more exhaustion and various kinds of breakdown and dysfunction, and eventually, pain … then pathology.
Left unchecked, this eventually becomes systemic. This vicious cycle keeps going unless something happens to break it. This degenerative process was commonly called Enervation by the old time (around the turn of the 19th/ 20th century) osteopaths and naturopaths. It can explain much of the illness and disease affecting many people in this day and age. You don’t hear that term much nowadays, however.
• Excess Exertion: This loss of functional strength from over-shortened muscle fibers needs to be compensated for by exerting EVEN MORE force or recruiting other muscles somewhere else to accomplish a particular task. These “other muscles” and their corresponding joints are not usually designed to be as effective at a particular movement, so improper forces are applied to *other muscles,* tendons, ligaments, joints, and bones. This increases overall wear & tear and dysfunction on the whole system.
• Pseudo-Weakness-A: One definition of *strength* is the ability to move a mass (object) through space (over a distance) in a specific period of time. The degree to which a muscle is chronically contracted and shortened is the degree to which its muscle fibers have a less available range of lengthening and shortening. So, if your muscle fibers are chronically shortened up by, say, 5%, that’s 5% less distance your muscles can travel in either direction (shortening OR lengthening).
So if your muscle is chronically shortened, generally inevitable (without sufficient Tension & Stress Release Strategy & Technique), you also have a corresponding reduction in your ability to perform work, the true, most practical definition of strength. THAT is why, in many cases, muscles SEEM to be *weak.* It’s NOT a lack of fundamental power within the nerves & muscles, it is a lack of range of ability of the muscle fibers to lengthen and shorten without resistance. It is not a lack of fundamental power, but of functional movement, which shows up as *weakness.*
Physical Therapists call this Active Insufficiency. The opposite is Passive Insufficiency.
I once knew a body-building instructor at a health club on the near-North-side of Chicago. He could bench press WAY more than I could. But when I went to his house to help him move furniture, he could not move a desk across the room, even with help. Yet it was simple AND easy for ME to do — without anyone helping me. If I had to choose which KIND of strength I wanted, it would be functional strength, rather than brute force. Being able to lift weights up & down is NOT what I would be concerned about in life. …
Unless, of course, I was a weight-lifting champion!
• Pseudo-Weakness-B: Chronically tense muscles are working overtime and therefore produce excess metabolic waste products. These waste products accumulate in tissues and begin stimulating your nociceptors, which are nerve endings measuring chemical levels in your bloodstream & tissues.
If your nociceptors are over-stimulated from excess chemical accumulations, they trigger pain patterns as well as other reactions, attempting to bring your body back into homeostasis.
Now, a lot of times, when people use their muscles, they have pain, and they think or are told, that their pain is because of some alleged *weakness* in the area. In this particular scenario, it is NOT weakness, the problem is the pain itself. In many cases, the person actually does have the necessary strength. But the pain comes on so strong that the pain is what stops them.
Sometimes, the pain might be enough to cause you to drop or stumble, giving the ILLUSION of weakness. But it is the overwhelming pain that stops you, NOT necessarily “weakness.”
Yes, something else is causing the pain, but it is NOT “weakness.” (We discussed some of those causes in the 2nd installment of this series.)
** A SIDE-NOTE ON FIBROMYALGIA: In some extreme pain cases, modern medicine finds evidence of changes in the local and overall chemistry & metabolism causing various problems in muscles like localized pain or generalized chronic fatigue as well as fibromyalgia. Yet, based on a LOT of science, I speculate that in many cases it is the other way around. …
In many cases, it is known that chronic muscle tension itself causes an alteration in the local metabolism, which is the RESULT of the excess tension, not the cause. If the muscles can learn to Relax & Restore proper metabolism, then metabolism can in many cases normalize as well.**
• Structural Strains: Over-contracted muscles put extra strains on opposing muscles, causing them to fight each other, causing excess pressure on tendons, ligaments & joints as well as the opposing muscles, leading to even more wear, tear & dysfunction in all the involved muscles, as well as more energy consumption and waste production.
Structural Strains can even be transmitted to distant parts of the body. For instance, tight hamstrings can cause the muscles under the back of the skull to be chronically tight. Tight abdominal muscles can cause significant tension & pain in the neck & shoulders.
• Neurological Strains: Nerves are funny. Not Ha-Ha funny, of course, but you know what I mean. You can irritate a nerve in one place, and feel it in a completely different area of the body, somewhere lower down or higher up the nerve’s pathway.
To make a long story short, think of playing cards with a deck of 52 Wild Cards! (Almost) anything goes when it comes to nerves! When you have a combination of structurally transmitted strains AND neurologically transmitted irritations, Watch Out.
**SIDE-NOTE: There are many aches, pains & dysfunctions in the body transmitting from other parts of the body. These can be either structurally or neurologically transmitted strains. These relationships are overlooked by the vast majority of “strength” therapists and doctors worldwide.**
• Irritated Periosteum: Chronic musculo-fascial tension also pulls, by way of their tendons, on the periosteum, the coating of the bones that tendons & ligaments attach to. Being heavily infused with many more pain-sensitive nerve endings than other components of the musculoskeletal system, this can cause a lot of pain as well as a breakdown in the tendon/ligament/periosteum structures.
• Squished Joints: Shortened muscles compress your joints, squeezing water & lubrication out of them (dehydration), restricting motion, eventually causing pain. At the extreme, joint surfaces begin rubbing together, causing degeneration of the joint surfaces.
• Disc Compression: The same squished joint effect occurs at the spinal discs. Disc degeneration is often, if not most often, the result of muscles (primarily the psoas and iliocostalis lumborum, but others too) compressing the bony vertebrae and processes of the spine together, in turn compressing the discs, which are sandwiched in between each pair of bony vertebral bodies.
(For the most part, discs don’t just *Get Old* out of nowhere. They are more likely worn out by too much pressure on them, usually from specific muscles, especially the *psoas* muscle, which lies alongside of and attaches to the length of the lumbar spine. This means that in many cases, this could be prevented with proper tension release strategies & techniques.)
• Decreased Coordination & Balance-A: Chronic contraction of muscles slows down their response time to nerve impulses. When muscles cannot respond instantly to commands from the nerves, you lose coordination and agility, sometimes to an extreme, leading to falls or other kinds of accidents.
• Decreased Coordination & Balance-B: Habitually contracted muscles have resistance to contracting & relaxing in precise harmony with each other, making it harder to move efficiently and with ease. Your muscles fight each other. This dis-harmonization leads to loss of coordination and agility.
• Postural Distortion: As certain structural muscles chronically shorten, your body is pulled out of proper alignment and relationship with gravity as well as compressing. Your muscles must now work harder (meaning more constant tension) as it becomes increasingly difficult to hold your body up against the downward pull of gravity and their opposing muscles. This takes a constant stream of energy & nutrients to accomplish.
Some people who feel — and are told — that they are “Too Weak” are really just Exhausted. Specific muscles are not necessarily fundamentally weak, they are merely too tired from working overtime in jobs they aren’t designed to do, nor do they get paid for. … Are your muscles working over-time even when you’re asleep?
• Energy Drain: All of the above creates a drain on the energy production systems of the body, requiring more nutrients and more efficient detoxification to function well. Muscles working overtime, all the time, use up far more energy to do far less work, often leading to premature exhaustion.
• Mind & Emotions: Finally, and this can be a Big One for some people, when there is growing resistance to your muscles moving, the mental & emotional processes tend, over time, to become inhibited. They will usually put up a fight at first, trying to generate more effort to do what they (the emotions & mind) want your muscles to do. But if muscular resistance to the movements of mind becomes strong enough, and persistent enough, over long periods of time, it is, eventually, very difficult to keep up the psycho-emotional fight.
So … how much psychological depression is merely from the amount of muscular effort some people have to exert to do otherwise normal and formerly easy tasks? Or from their body not responding much at all to the directions of their mind?
• ALL of this just makes you feel tired (and you ARE, at this point, justifiably tired) and it all just plain wears you out. Literally & Figuratively. Eventually, it can lead to complete exhaustion, both physical & mental.
In short, EVERY system of the body can in some way be affected, directly or indirectly, by muscle tension. Too much muscle tension causes a very wide range of restrictions, conditions, illness, and disease. This, a not-so-brief summary of the results of chronic, excess muscle tension, should give you a general idea of how your body begins to break down from excess muscle tension.
Thanks for Reading,
David Scott Lynn (DSL*)
* DSL: Your Hi-Touch Up-Link to the Inner-Net*
* Inner-Net: Your Psycho-Neuro-Musculo-Fascial System