What Is C.E.M.&.N.T. * ?
WHAT Conditions & Syndromes Does it Cause?
HOW Does Excess Muscle Tension & Nerve
Stress Cause Chronic Muscle Pain?
What Can YOU Do To Reduce or Resolve It?
* Chronic, Excess Muscle
& Nerve Tension & Stress …
Learn About BodyMind Breakdowns
from Muscle Tension & Nerve Stress …
How To Relieve Excess Muscle Tension & Physical or Mental Nerve Stress, Chronic Muscle Pain & Negative Habit Patterns
Learn HOW & WHY Chronic Nerve Stress & Excess Muscle Tension (AKA “Tight” Muscles) Could Be Your Primary Cause of Poor Posture, Aches & Pains, Reduced Range-of-Motion, Lost Energy & Other Dysfunction
And the Resistance to Going Deeper Into & Achieving Better Alignment & Performance in Your Yoga Postures, Exercise or Athletic Pursuits.
What YOU are Going to LEARN Here:
- Why Your Muscles Tighten — and Why They Stay Tight
- How C.E.M.&.N.T. is a Primary Source of Resistance in Yoga Postures & Exercise
- What Is C.E.M.&.N.T.? — Chronic, Excess Muscle & Nerve Tension & Stress
- How C.E.M.&.N.T. causes Pain & Dysfunction in many parts of your body
- How C.E.M.&.N.T. & Imbalanced Muscles are THE primary cause of Poor Posture (It’s NOT about “weak muscles”)
- The vast difference between “Tight Muscles” and Muscle “WEAKNESS”
- Why NOT “Weakness,” but C.E.M.&.N.T., is more often your REAL Problem in So Many Soft Tissue Issues
- How Muscle Tension drains energy while interfering with most body processes
“It’s JUST A Tight Muscle. …”
One of my Clients heard THIS from her medical doctor several years ago:
Sitting in his office, she pointed to a muscle in her left, upper, chest that had been hurting her for MANY years (actually, about 50 years, ever since a teenage injury). She told him it had been hurting her for SO long, and cause MANY problems. His response was:
“It’s JUST a tight muscle. …”
A simple phrase, but packed with meaning.
Well, this woman, at the time in her sixties, had at 14 years old been hit by a trolley car (!). A piece of metal was sticking out the side of the car, and the trolley’s bell was not working, and the operator was drunk. (!!!)
She was next to the track facing away from the coming trolley car and was talking with her friends. She had not heard the trolley (the cars were electric) nor seen the protruding metal object. She turned toward it at the last instant, and was hit in her LEFT upper chest with the protruding metal. It knocked her several feet away.
The muscle in her chest hurt her ever since.
When we started working with her chest muscle — my approach is much different than most therapists — she began having reactions in various parts of her body, sometimes all the way down her left OR right leg, on the opposite side of her body. Sometimes her leg would stiffen and lift up off the table, hovering, seemingly by itself.
She told me sometimes at night, her leg would “levitate” up in the air with NO conscious control on her part. Her husband had tried to help it, but he didn’t know what to do. Partly because they were focused on her LEG, and NOT her chest muscles.
Yet her upper chest was a primary trigger area for the issues in her legs.
It took a LOT of work, but we got all that calmed down, and she started feeling a LOT better. She started sleeping better, too.
The NEW “Missing Diagnosis”?
Chronic, Excess, Muscle Tension Not
Generally Recognized As A “Diagnosis”
Yet It Sure Causes A LOT of Trouble!
Yet her doctor had spoken as if the “tight muscle” was irrelevant to anything at all. Many physicians assume anytime from that far into the past are no longer relevant. THAT reveals a DEEP and VERY unfortunate lack of understanding of the reality, physiology & neurology of the psycho-neuro-musculo-fascial system.
Regardless, that’s a really good way to build trust with a patient. RIGHT?
Totally discount what they’re feeling & thinking, while not giving them any other useful explanation. Imply that a tight muscle is of NO consequence, with NO insight into why it’s still tight after all these years. Then, give NO reasoning as to why the pain in the muscle is of no meaning, and has no effect on other symptoms, even though there clearly WAS an effect.
Yet WE discovered that tight muscle was the trigger for many issues in her body, even some very different body parts, even on the opposite side of her body.
The real truth is, most doctors are NOT educated much AT ALL on muscles & fascia, at least not from the point-of-view on this website, nor the significant part muscles can play in producing pain.
Orthodox or “Allopathic* “ doctors or medical researcher never went into the medical libraries and researched the Questions we are asking or describing here. Since they were not asking the Right Questions, they never found the Right Answers. They were focused on What Drug or Surgical Procedure will repair the situation? They never even THOUGHT about muscle tension, nor the part it plays in SO many afflictions of the human bodymind.
* Allopathic: Treatment by Opposites, as described by GALEN, an ancient philosopher and practitioner of medicine. This is in contrast to Homeopathic: Treatment by Similars.
Allopathic is best know by remedies which try to evoke an opposing reaction in the physiology from “opposite” elements. The problem is the remedies are VERY often very toxic to the system.
An early example is in the 1800s, calomel pills, containing mercury, were given to sick patients, especially soldiers in the Civil War. The mercury, because it was so toxic, triggered a purging reaction in the patient’s body, causing them to throw up. It was thought they were purging negative elements from their system.
(The “sick joke” is more northern soldiers died from the calomel [mercury] pills than from Confederate bullets. Little did they know the highly toxic mercury was actually killing the patient.)
Homeopathic is best known for using similar elements to the pathology at hand, such as vaccines, which attempt to use “like” remedies. So if you have measles, they inject microscopic elements of the measles disease to trigger an immune response, producing antibodies to the measles disease elements. The idea is to use VERY low doses of the measles to not trigger the potential illness, just the hoped for immune response.
One problem with “modern” vaccines is they insert elements such as aluminum and mercury as preservatives. These elements are too toxic for many human bodies to tolerate, especially very young people. These toxic elements therefore cause MANY negative or fatal reactions to vaccines that are SO WELL documented.
So without asking the Right Questions, and without the resulting and necessary basic information … the orthodox trained doctors just have NO IDEA what’s really happening when it comes to “tight muscles,” nor what to do about it. EVEN THOUGH the information is right in their own orthodox medical research, and has been there for DECADES.
Osteopaths and Chiropractors know a lot more about muscles, yet most are not set up to do much or any musculo-fascial work.
Fascia … The thin, smooth, very flexible, very tough sheaths, tubes or coatings of tissue containing the muscle fibers. The facial sheaths contain and protect the muscle cells. The fascial sheaths also continue beyond the lengths of the muscle cells to become the tendons, which travel to and become the attachment points to the bones.
These attachments themselves are also continuations of the fascial sheaths / tendons, becoming the periosteum, the thin coatings of the muscles.
The periosteum contains a VERY large number of sensory nerves burrowing into the bones. This is one reason why “tight muscles” can often feel like the bones are hurting, because a majority of the pain sensitive nerves are embedded in the periosteum. The muscles have comparatively fewer sensory nerve endings. Yet when the muscle contract, they pull on the tendons / periosteum, triggering nerve pain in the periosteal nerve endings at the bones and joints.
How LONG Do Muscle Injuries Last?
Also, along with having little understanding of how muscles really work — or of muscle tension physiology — and their many potential effects on many and various conditions, dysfunctions, and pain in the body, many doctors assume that something happening that far into the past must NO longer be relevant. They seem to think something that far into the past MUST have — somehow — resolved itself ONLY because of the passage of time and “normal” healing processes.
I guess that’s a reasonable assumption for naive, dis-educated or VERY inexperienced people, even doctors, but is a totally wrong assumption. Yes, many, maybe even most, “tight muscles” do eventually relax and most or all trouble disappears. Yet this is not always true. Often, the underlying irritation lies unnoticed in the background, sometimes for years or even decades, before it causes trouble again.
This is why SO many people end up looking like this:
Part of the problem is long-term chronic muscle tension is held in place by chemical modification at the synapses. Synapses are the “switches” in the nerve pathways turning nerves and muscles (and other systems) on or off as necessary . …
It’s called neurological facilitation.
If your synapses are too hyper-facilitated, they become, to use layman’s terminology, “stuck” in the “ON” position. Effective therapy is achieved by reversing the chemical facilitation of the nerves. That can only be done by indirect means, and can take a LONG time. And HOW long is a very subjective term here.
This is just one reason why so much of modern medicine is ineffective in the treatment of many long-term chronic issues. They don’t really understand what’s going on in there, even though it is VERY clearly described in modern medical textbooks going back several decades.
But again, they can describe the physiology, but if you are looking at the physiology in the wrong context, you’ll never figure out the physiological basis of the pathology caused by “tight muscles” nor what to DO about it.
So, to summarize, if you are studying physiology or neurology, if you’re not asking the Right Questions about the neuro-musculo-fascial systems, you will not find the Right Answers!
Muscle Tension & Metabolic Function & Disease
Knowing, for example, that intestines are made of smooth muscles and subject to nerve stress & excess muscle tension, gives you a wider range of possible solutions to digestive problems. Or that many “lung” problems are from excess tension in muscles of the rib cage or abdomen.
I talked to one cardiac physician who, after decades of practice, was convinced a large portion of heart problems, including heart attacks, were muscle spams!
Or headache, dizziness & nausea can be indirectly triggered by muscular-induced irritation of the vagus nerve. A properly functioning vagus nerve is critical to many health & well-being functions. …
Many years ago, I corresponded via email with a physician asking about the vagus nerve and its ability to produce simultaneous dizziness, nausea and headaches (because that’s what I had!). I also asked whether muscle tension in the neck could induce it. He sent me this message:
Certainly not vagus entrapment but vagus stimulation occurs with pressure on the neck. The neurologist should remember his internship and the use of carotid sinus stimulation, which stimulates the vagus, as a non-pharmacological way to slow heart rate. Spasm of scalenes and SCMs do cause headache, dizziness and nausea. Had a patient on Friday who had just been D/C from hospital with a unilateral headache, dizziness and nausea; neurologist’s workup showed nothing. Examination of SCMs [sternocleidomastoid muscles in the neck] and saline on the right showed incredible spasm. [Emphasis Added]
Regarding the vagus nerve, which has become VERY popular in the last few years, in many therapeutic approaches, therapists usually, in some cases always, focus on allegedly under-stimulated nerves. So they always talk about stimulating the nerves, and vagus nerve is no different. In recent years, LOTS has come out on stimulating the vagus nerve. It’s almost like it’s a FAD nerve now-a-days.
Yet in many cases, it is over-stimulated nerves causing the Client’s or Patient’s problems. Reducing excess activity of over-stimulated nerves often requires the OPPOSITE approach compared to increasing under-active nerve activity. The vagus nerve is no different. It can be chronically over-active as easily, or more easily, than it is under-active.
Ironically, and counter-intuitively, reducing excess nerve activity is the way to get nerves MORE functional. Knowing which is which — under- versus over-active — in any particular case is critical to Proper Client Care and Therapeutic Results.
However, for a massage or bodywork practitioner, this is NOT practicing medicine. It is seeking the shortest, tightest muscles and helping them relax. And that’s IT! Because the shortest, tightest muscles will generally have the most excess nerve charge activating them.
And usually, if a client has such complaints, they will have been checked for everything else by a physician or physical therapist anyway. I prefer they get cleared by a physician if they have anything that could be problematic if it really IS more than a “Tight Muscle” bothering them.
Such knowledge gives you insights into conditions not just of muscles & skin, but in proper functioning of internal organs, and how you might be able to affect them with manual therapy, simply by relaxing the involved muscles.
Missing The Point On Muscle Healing & Repair
To be fair, there are many people in the *alternative massage & bodywork* fields today — including a few nationally known educators — claiming, as do many doctors, those tight muscles have little or nothing to do with long-term, chronic pain & dysfunction. Some say that’s because muscles have a rich blood supply, so the tissue is, they say, repaired within a few weeks of any injury.
They then blame the pain on other things, like strained ligaments, “tight fascia,” “trapped energy” in acupuncture meridians, “weak muscles” and a myriad of other theories (actually hypotheses).
I’m not saying those theories are without merit in all cases. It’s just that much of the time, chronically “tight” (overly contracted and/or out of balance) muscles are FAR more likely to be the problem than other explanations. But when you read the other explanations for many of their theories, they often do not hold up to physiological nor anatomical reality.
As previously mentioned, one hypothesis sounding plausible, but easily dismantled, is that because muscles have a lot of blood supply, any problems with them are healed within a few weeks.
Therefore, if it is “healed,” it must no longer be a cause of pain. … Right? … Sounds good, I guess.
This idea appears to be based on an idea that it is exclusively micro- or macro-tears or contusions (ruptured or “broken” tissues) in muscle cells causing the pain, and once they “heal,” that’s it, no more pain from that cause in that muscle.
But NO, it is, in many cases, the chronic and excess TENSION in the muscle(s), via several possible mechanisms, causing the pain, dysfunction, or both. NO abrasion, contusion, tears of any kind, or tissue destruction is necessary to cause a pain pattern.
(We’ll discuss those later on this page.)
I’ve frequently been in treatment rooms with practitioners claiming such things as above, but — usually within minutes — they have first-hand (literally) proof that yes, indeed, it is long-term tension in the muscle bellies causing what they had been blaming on “tight fascia,” “scarring,” “adhesions,” “crystallization,” “calcification,” loose or tight ligaments, imbalanced energy in meridians, and so on.
Yet, once you feel chronic tension dissolve under your fingers, and understand the physiology behind the causes & effects of muscle tension and how to generate muscle tension relief, it’s difficult to refute what I’m suggesting here. I’ve any times had clients who were diagnosed as having “torn tissues.” But after a few minutes (sometimes MANY minutes) of relaxing those tissues, the pain is substantially reduced or GONE.
So, if relaxing the muscle relieved the pain, were the tissues torn? Or were torn tissues the cause of the pain? It’s very difficult to tell without a biopsy. But the point is, the muscles relaxed, pain went away. Not that that ALWAYS happens. But in forty years of therapy, practice, it is almost ALWAYS the case.
This is an example of the kind of questions in need of research. Yet the massage & bodywork industry do not generate enough excess capital to afford paying for such studies.
REGARDLESS, if you want to develop or apply an effective muscle tension treatment, knowing how muscles work and HOW THEY break down is a VERY good start.
Yet many “alternative practitioners” are equally uninformed, or misguided, as to the nature of C.E.M.&.N.T., and how it works, as are many, if not most, medical doctors. Many Osteopathic or Chiropractic doctors are not that much better informed either. Many of them do not really know how to treat muscle tension effectively. Or at least not long term or complex cases.
RE: Chiropractic …
Generally speaking, more Chiropractors (DCs) are clued into the muscular aspects of pain & dysfunction than the medical profession. Yet the majority of DCs are very locked into the “misaligned vertebrae” or “fixated facet (vertebral) joint” concept. While that is certainly a factor for a lot of people, many chiropractors do NOT pay enough attention to the potential musculo-fascial components of such soft tissue issues. …
Ideally, chiropractors, when indicated, treat the muscles too or have soft tissue therapists on hand to perform the necessary treatments. Many of them, though a small percentage, trained in Receptor-Tonus Technique, developed by Drs. Ray Nimmo & James Vannerson, chiropractors who taught this method to many DCs a few decades ago.
Receptor-Tonus Technique was the forerunner of modern American neuromuscular therapy, popularized by Paul St. John.
So WHAT Causes the Pain?
There is a lot of discussion and controversy on this in many healthcare professions. There is often not a lot of agreement. There is even disagreement on a good muscle tension definition. But there are a few things pretty obvious, and some things that fit with much evidence. … And any one or more of these factors could be more or less involved, and it’s often a combination of factors.
So let’s take a look.
Hyper-Tense (Clenched) Muscles
First, take a minute and clench your hand into a fist, really hard. (If you have long fingernails, you’ll have to adjust your fingers so the nails are not digging in.) Many people can feel that their muscles get really sore, really quickly. Some people get actual pain very quickly, too.
Now imagine you had been clenching that fist for many months or years, or even decades, without letting up on the pressure. What would it feel like? … It would probably either hurt a lot, or you’d have gone numb a long time ago.
So when you put a lot of internally generated pressure on the soft and hard tissues (joints) in the hand and fingers, you can, via various sensory nerves, feel aches and maybe pains developing pretty quickly. Notice, however, there was NO damage, no tears, no contusions … just excessive pressure on the tissues of your joints from the contracted muscles, and the nerves were communicating those pressures and other phenomena to your CNS (central nervous system) and Brain.
This is the kind of thing many people feel, too widely varying degrees, day in, day out, in their muscles, because of the chronic neuro-musculo-fascial contraction. I know because many years ago, I was in constant pain in multiple areas of my own body. Yet when I (finally) got my muscles to relax sufficiently, the pain would, sometimes INSTANTLY … DISAPPEAR!
More recently, pain only happens when I fall behind on my self-maintenance work and let the muscles get “too tight” or out of balance.
(I keep putting the word “tight” in quotes because the term “tight” can be somewhat misleading. More on that later.)
We could stop right there because you can feel it happening in your hand even if you don’t know why … but let’s go on.
Pain Sensitive Nerves In Connective Tissues
It is important to note here that very few, if any, joints in the body have pain-sensitive nerves within (inside of) the joint capsules themselves. It is the surrounding tissues, the fascia, tendons, ligaments and periosteum (the tendinous attachment tissues on and surrounding the lengths of the bones), that have pain-sensitive nerves.
Also, the muscle fibers themselves have very few pain-sensitive nerves within the actual muscle cells. Any pain-sensitive nerves are most likely within the fascial sheaths encasing the muscle cells, especially in the tendons near the bones.
The tendons, fascia, ligaments & periosteum (all of those are “connective tissues”) have a LOT of sensory enervation, including pain-sensitive nerves. Yet it is the muscular contractions (tension & stress) pulling on and otherwise stressing of those tissues causing the pain.
Tension Myoneural Syndrome
(Originally Known as “Tension Myositis Syndrome”)
Many years ago, Dr. John Sarno proposed the diagnosis of TMS or Tension Myositis Syndrome. Dr. Sarno (now passed away) was medical doctor with about a 90 percent success rate in healing back pain, and many other kinds of pain, mostly with people whose pain is more emotionally- or stress-based in nature.
He points out in his several published books that a stressed muscle — be it physical, mental or emotional stress — is usually a contracted, tight muscle.
Too much tension in a muscle restricts its blood supply (ischemia), producing Oxygen Deprivation (hypoxia), leading to varying degrees of pain. (Ischemia and hypoxia are fully recognized by modern medicine as potential causes of pain, by-the-way.)
Dr. Sarno wrote the books *Mind Over Back Pain* and *Healing Back Pain,* which I recommend. My only caveat is that his approach works for people whose muscle tension is primarily from psycho-emotional stress, rather than more physical excesses and impacts. Either way, you can learn a LOT from his books. He is especially good at explaining why the usual physical or structural explanations of pain from orthodox medicine are not very reliable.
(And I have articles on this website about Dr. Sarno’s work. You can START HERE to learn about Dr. Sarno’s methods.)
Chemical Build Up
Other theories of pain also state that too much muscle tension causes certain by-products of metabolism (toxic chemicals) to build up. (The chemicals implicated by research are histamine, serotonin, bradykinin, and others.)
(BTW, it used to be said that lactic acid was a primary source of such muscle pains, however that theory has long ago been challenged and refuted.)
The blood vessels contain sensory nerve endings called nociceptors, measuring various chemical levels in the bloodstream. Too much of certain chemicals and nociceptors begin sending emergency signals to the CNS (central nervous system), which can be, at some degree, translated into pain.
[THE FOLLOWING THEORIES ARE LESS WELL RESEARCHED IN ORTHODOX MEDICINE, BUT MY EXPERIENCE & DATA I’VE GATHERED STRONGLY SUGGEST THEY ARE VALID.]
Unfamiliar Contraction & Action Patterns
Have you ever heard people speak of doing a new exercise, sport or activity, got sore afterward, then say they “used muscles they never used before?” Or “didn’t know they had?”
Well, I got to thinking about that, and it became clear it was not so much using “new” muscles, or parts of muscles, they never used before. I observed this phenomenon in various people (and myself) and realized they were indeed using the very same muscles & muscle fibers, but in different Patterns Of Movement than they were used to.
An example is when a professional violinist switches to a viola. The SHAPE of the instruments are very similar, nearly identical, but the SIZE of a viola is just a bit larger, though not much. (For comparison, a cello has a similar shape, but is MUCH larger than the violin or viola.)
However, on a viola, the musician’s joints must move and muscles must lengthen or stretch (requiring relaxation) JUST a little farther with each movement to reach the proper positioning on the strings compared to a violin. Other muscles must shorten (contract) JUST a little more to achieve the necessary movement. It is those small cycles of contraction / relaxation being changed, and are sufficiently unfamiliar to the nervous system and brain, making them seem “unfamiliar.”
Then, over time, as the movements are repeated, the neuromuscular system “relearns” the patterns of action. Eventually, the new patterns become assessed as “normal,” and tho w pain patterns are no longer triggered.
When it comes to highly repetitive movement patterns, especially with high frequency and/or intensity, the nervous system prefers familiarity. Deviations from the familiar are assessed in the CNS & Brain as potential problems, the related sensations often converted to pain patterns.
That very slight change in the patterns of usage of muscles can produce pain patterns or even degrees of dysfunction. Yet they are the very same muscles.
[We could get really technical and point out that certain smaller groups of muscle fibers within a muscle belly will get used slightly more or less than before switching instruments or activities. Yet those fibers are in the same muscle belly, and the same principle of changing the pattern of usage would still apply.]
It takes a fair amount of time to adapt and adjust to such differences, even if minor. But the very same muscles are being used with either violin or viola.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re used to swinging a two-pound hammer, then switch to using a ten-pound hammer, the overall movements are similar at the macro-level, but involve VERY different patterns of action at the micro-level.
The point is even relatively mild change is enough to produce, for a while, achy & sore, or outright painful muscles. With the two- versus ten-pound hammers, it’s the degree of force that is the primary difference, not different muscles.
So, it is not NEW muscles being used, but Too Much Tension generated and unfamiliar movement in involved muscles making it difficult to perform as desired until habitual tension patterns of contract/relax have time to reset.
The human body — and mind! — does not generally like unfamiliarity. It causes neuro-muscular confusion of sorts.
Your body prefers to keep your action patterns within well-known, familiar parameters and patterns, probably a good evolutionary survival mechanism working well for certain things.
So in this view, they were using the same muscles, but in patterns of movement or action they were not used to, and that is what produced the ache or pain patterns.
And as we’ll discuss on a different web page, it was NOT so-called (true) “weakness” in their muscles!!! Although it often FEELS that way!
And a LOT of people have VERY tight muscles, but NO pain!
Something ELSE must be going on then, right?
(Yes, that’s a word in the dictionary. It means to disconcert or confuse.)
This is a theory I use based on certain facts I’ve read in physiology books, but they never quite put it in these terms. It is very closely related to the above described concept, but this takes it down a little deeper:
When muscle fibers, adjacent with or near each other, yet within the same muscle belly, get out of synchronization with each other, this produces a “confused” pattern of nerve signals being transmitted into your CNS (central nervous system).
It’s like the computer jargon of *Garbage In, Garbage Out.*
If particular groups of muscle fibers “should be” transmitting certain patterns of information to the CNS & Brain, but all of a sudden (or gradually over time) start reporting incongruent or inconsistent information, then that disconnect, that “disconcerting” or “confusion,” produces discordant patterns of neuromuscular activity in the CNS and brain. Among other things, this is another aspect of “unfamiliarity” of movement and action.
As such, pain patterns are produced warning the bodymind of some kind of potential danger or discordant impulses from or to the central nervous system.
Again, the unfamiliarity factor comes into play here, and when muscles and nerves start sending confused sensory signals, if they are “out of concert” or “out of coordination” with each other, and cannot quickly “reset” back to more normal patterns of movement and action, a warning signal is sent, be it an ache in mild situation, or pain in the more extreme.
I distinguish between “movement” and “action” in that many muscle contraction / relaxation cycles result in movement, but not a full fledged action.
For Example, the small muscles between the ribs, the intercostals, are moving with every breath. Yet the body is just doing a metabolically necessary process, and not “going somewhere” or producing an overt function of work, mobilization or travel. The distinction might seem slight, but I’ll get into that in other articles on this website.
Similar to neuromuscular discombobulation, the structural version occurs when muscles on opposite sides of a joint are used to working in concert, but then get disconcerted, or confused.
If you’ve been walking around most of your life with your head pretty well balanced on top of your neck and torso, the muscles supporting your neck and head were working “in concert” with each other. They had a familiar pattern of action and relationship to each other.
Then something happens to upset this amazingly precise balancing act. Opposing muscle fibers will get “confused” or “disconcerted.” They can no longer play “in concert” with each other. Though there are usually other factors involved, it seems apparent this unfamiliar pattern of action can produce a pain pattern.
The Effects of Tight, Hard, Short Muscles
Here, I am going to tell you what happens to YOU when your muscles get too “toned” or too “tonused,” meaning too tight, too contracted, too hard & too short or overlengthened.
CLUE: Muscle TONE is probably NOT what you think it is.
Although it appears subtle on the surface, there’s a BIG difference between muscle TONE and muscle TONUS. [The following few paragraphs are quotes from my book, **Simple Steps to Let-Go Yoga.**]
No, I do not, of course, believe C.E.M.&.N.T. is the only source of health-related trouble — be it physical, mental or emotional — but it is a significant and little appreciated, nor widely understood factor. Yet in and of itself, a moderate amount of muscle tension is considered to be “normal,” so it’s seldom perceived as a problem. But a lot of people go, for instance, to the gym to further “tone up” or “tighten up” their muscles.
Little do they know what they’re asking for. All those repetitive, high tension actions while lifting weights, spinning, bicycling, step classes, and so on, facilitate neuromuscular & myofascial systems to accumulate ever-increasing amounts of neuromuscular and musculo-fascial tension. It’s just the way the neuro-musculo-fascial system is built.
Resting Tonus: The background level of motor nerve charge traveling to muscles, keeping them in varying degrees of a contracted (tensed) state. Unless we employ sufficient Tension Reduction Strategies (TRS), this background level tends to increase from various factors throughout our lifetime.
Over time, the levels of tension we can consciously “relax down to” when we feel at rest is raised, so that over the years when we think we are relaxing, we are actually relaxing down to a slightly higher level of tension than previously. This tension level gradually resets in (usually) small increments over time, to (usually) higher levels.
Therefore, when we feel like we are “relaxed” — i.e., our muscles are perceived as at complete rest — there is usually, for most people, a level of tension that is increasingly higher than in our past. Injury and trauma increase the speed of accumulation of resting tonus, sometimes dramatically. Increased Resting Tonus is a major element of C.E.M.&.N.T.
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.
But … in case you are one of them, or have been influenced by such thinking, here’s the thing:
Muscles obviously MUST shorten and lengthen, otherwise, they could not do their most obvious and critical job of moving bones through space. That’s how the body moves through space, too.
Lengthening & Shortening is the Main Thing muscles 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 (tensing) or DE-contracting (relaxing).
The exception is structural & postural stabilization. Here, muscles contract more-or-less isometrically, but do not actually shorten or move the bones, or the move body through space. Generally, in such cases, the muscles are stabilizing the bones against the force of gravity or some outside force or weight the body encounters.
(Yes, muscles have various metabolic functions and such, but the MAIN job of a muscle is to produce tension, movement & action.)
The Relevant Question is whether muscles can “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.
It helps to be able to do postual evaluation, as you can see that bones can get moved out of normal relations to ech other. And it is muscles pulling and holding them there.
Also, it is well known to medical researchers that, depending on how much a muscle is used, the body will add or subtract *sarcomeres* to or from the ends of muscle cells. Sarcomeres are the microscopic units making up the muscle cells that do the actual contracting & relaxing. This function can without question add to or decrease the length of the muscle fibers.
When Muscles Shorten, Tighten & Harden, They Can:
• 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 reduced blood flow depriving you of metabolic warmth. As this progresses toward the worst, you can feel like your limbs are tingling or going to sleep, or going numb.
Eventually, you can get numbness, or loss of feeling and tissue degeneration or tissue death can develop.
Reduced or no blood flowing into an area means few or no nutrients coming in, and few waste products being removed. And water, the largest component of blood, is critical for all metabolic processes in the body and brain. 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) …
That in itself is not a good thing.
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 mentioned above.
• Increase 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.
As their muscles habitually shorten and chronically contract, 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. The muscles cells in the walls of the muscle contract, squeezing the blood vessels to have less volume, therefore increasing the pressure inside the vessels.
They are, therefore, quite prone to heightened blood pressure.
• Restrict Lymph Flow: Tight muscles restrict the flow of your Lymph — another fluid that carries certain kinds of waste products out of your body, back toward the lungs and heart — through the lymphatic system. This, too, is like the garden hose problem. And lymph flow is propelled by body movement. Tighter muscles make movement and action more difficult and limited in potential range.
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.
• Produce 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 — peristalsis — is impaired. Waste begins building up in your large & small intestines. This can lead to various problems. At some point the bowels become toxic. Sometimes pockets of waste matter form, such as in leaky gut syndrome, 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 blood vessels carrying blood to the periphery of the body. These organ muscles are potentially subject to accumulating 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. For example, chronically tight abdominal muscles can increase the pressure within the belly, leading to reflux or hernias, and restricted movement of all the viscera.
• Interfere with 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/or 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, in excess a 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 primary fuel for all plant life, while oxygen is the by-product of plant respiration. We have a symbiotic mutual exchange relationship with plants in the carbon dioxide / oxygen cycle.
Many whole health physicians believe humans are operating on a significant oxygen deficit compared to what humans were breathing thousands of years ago.The Earth’s atmosphere has FAR less oxygen in it, by many times, than it has historically. Research indicates human bodies were FAR stronger than they were in the last several centuries. Oxygen levels — along with vastly decreased nutrient levels in the soil — might well play a significant part in that deficit.
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 FAR more difficult to get their breathing to “cooperate.”
• Irritate Nerves: Tense and/or hardened muscles stimulate, excite and/or compress your nerves, eventually irritating them, causing the nerves to work overtime. Since your nerves don’t get paid for overtime, they can 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 ever get sufficient time to rest & regenerate, eventually become exhausted.
Over time, this irritation recycles even MORE stress into other areas of your body, sending even more negative signals to other muscles, organs, and glands, further irritating, contracting or overworking 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 the cycle. This degenerative process was commonly called enervation (not the same as innervation) 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, especially compared to over-shortened muscle fibers, needing to be compensated for by exerting EVEN MORE force or recruiting other muscles somewhere else to accomplish a particular task. In many cases, a particular muscle gets chronically contracted and over-shortened. It’s opposing muscle(s) must work harder to move their common joint. This increases overall wear & tear and dysfunction on the joints and tendons, and 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 less available range of lengthening & 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 reduced range of functional movement, which shows up as *weakness.*
Physical Therapists call this Active 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!
• Psuedo-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 fundamental strength. But the pain comes on so strong that the pain 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 and strength & endurance can in many cases normalize as well.**
• Produce 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 and the Kinetic Chain can transmitted tension to distant parts of the body. For instance, tight hamstrings can indirectly cause the muscles under the back of the skull to be chronically tight by way of neuromuscular and myofascial reactions transmitting up the spine. Tight abdominal muscles can cause significant tension & pain in the neck & shoulders.
• Produce 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.**
The existence of interneurons produces interactivity between major nerve trunks that was not visible till later in the 20th Century. Until sufficient microscopic power was developed to observe such tiny nerve connections, most medical researchers rejected the idea of such interconnectivity between nerve pathways.
• Irritate 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 breakdowns in the tendon/ligament/periosteum structures.
• “Squish” Joints: Shortened muscles compress your joints, slowly and gradually squeezing water & lubrication (synovial fluid) out of them (dehydration), restricting motion, eventually causing pain. At the extreme, when the water and lubricants are sufficiently diminished, joint surfaces begin rubbing together, causing degeneration of the joint surfaces.
The same “squished joint” affect 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.
• Decrease 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.
• Decrease 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.
• Distort Posture: As certain structural muscles chronically shorten, your body is pulled out of proper alignment and relationship with gravity as well as compressing any joints a particular muscle crosses over. 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. …
And are your muscles working over-time even when you’re asleep?
• Drain Energy: 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.
• Mess with 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 enough or much at all to the instructions 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 chronic nerve stress and/or excess muscle tension. Too much muscle tension causes a very wide range of restrictions, conditions, illness, and disease. This includes chronic muscle pain.
MORE ARTICLES on C.E.M.&.N.T.
Here On The DSL Edgework Website
This, a not-so-brief summary of the results of chronic, excess muscle tension & nerve stress, should give you a general idea of how your body begins to break down, such as chronic muscle pain, 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
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