Muscle Relaxation Techniques

In this article I am going to explain you how muscle relaxation techniques for muscle and joint pain work, and why they are so important. Afterwards you will be linked to some exemplary exercises.


The Optimal State

Your Nervous System Needs Help

The Contrast

Your Nervous System Searches For An Optimal State

All techniques for muscle relaxation I know of, boil down to one thing: Contrast and/or sensations. Why is that? Our muscle tension is regulated by our nervous system and our nervous system is always searching for an optimal state. Optimal is what serves the current situation best.

Thus, this optimal state is relative and a matter to the situation we find ourselves in. Certain circumstances – physical exercises, accident – might ask for more tension on certain muscles in order to protect/stabilize certain joints. On the other hand, when you are relaxing in a spa this is not functional and your nervous system will lower your muscle tension.

For Relaxation,Your Nervous System Needs Help

Although your nervous system is incredibly intelligent, sometimes it gets lost and needs some help. This might be the case when you twist your ankle. The muscle tension in your lower leg will increase to stabilize and protect your ankle. Very often this increased tension endures even after the injury has healed. Especially if there was not enough focus put on mobilizing the ankle and releasing tension in the surrounding muscles.

The reason for the maintained tension is the following. Muscles send their state of tension to the brain. The brain associates high tension with danger. As a result of that it will not release it. Whenever our body detects danger, it will elevate muscle tension, especially in the affected area.

This accounts for all injuries or traumas - physically and mentally -. Muscle tension rises. With no counteraction - e.g. proper relaxation or stretching exercises -  it will stay elevated to some degree and thus result in abnormal muscle tension. Over time it will become normal and the new reference for your nervous system.

Thus, you have to show your nervous system that this is not an optimal state to be in. To do so, you relax your muscles and lower their tension. Your body will realize it as a better condition. It will take some time, but if you do it often enough, your body will adapt. To achieve that, muscle relaxation techniques are the way to go.

The Contrast And Muscle Relaxation Techniques

But how do muscles relaxation techniques work? Here on Painotopia you will find mainly two types.

  • 1st Hold – release techniques
  • 2nd Movement techniques/coordination exercises

Additionally you can  relax your muscles via massage, too. But as this is no muscle relaxation technique in the common sense, I will not explain it here in more detail. Still, they are a part of the relaxation exercises you can find painotopias exercise section. The underlying principles why they work are the ones just outlined above.

The hold release techniques imply that you voluntary contract and then release a muscle. The movement technique on the other hand demands that you move a certain joint slowly in the most focused and smoothest way you are able to.

What you are watching out for with both muscle relaxation techniques, are the sensations they create and how they feel during and after their actual execution. This is the contrast I was talking about above. I already told you that the nervous system is striving for an optimal state. But if you want it to change, you have to show it better alternatives, a contrast so to speak.

This “showing alternatives to your nervous system” is done by concentrating on how your muscles and joints feel during and especially after the relaxation techniques. So, you may do a muscle relaxation technique and afterwards listen to your body for a minute and just concentrate on how it feels. You make comparisons. Again, you are watching out for changes, for contrast.

Examples for created contrast - this is not an exhausting list -. Those examples account for the body part treated AND the rest of it. Always try to detect what happens to your whole body and watch out for the tiniest changes.

  • treated area gets warmer
  • treated area feels more loose and more connected to your body
  • changes in muscle tension in your face
  • tension of the eyes during movement - if there, let go -
  • tension of the tongue during movement - if there, let go -
  • impact/influence of the movement on other joints and muscles
  • ...

The nervous system and you will need some time to detect changes that took place. If you do not take this time afterwards, changes will occur – if they will at all – slower and less dramatic. If you need a minute of inaction to feel and detect changes after an exercises, than you need that minute!

I want to give you an example. Let us say you do a muscle relaxation exercise for your lower leg by moving the ankle in very small circles. During the movement you might feel that you cannot rotate the ankle smoothly. After you finished the exercises you lie on your back and feel into your ankle. It might feel warmer and more connected to you than your other, non-treated ankle. But it took you some time to realize that.

If you do not feel "big" changes, really concentrate on the tiny things and keep your focus on them. You have to learn to listen to your body. Mostly, it does not happen overnight.

The differences that the muscle relaxation techniques generate are needed by your nervous system for adaptation. If it recognizes lower muscle tension as better and more functional, it will adapt over time – of course you have to repeat those exercises a lot –. You really have to learn to detect those differences. The more dramatic they become the better and the faster your nervous system will initiate changes.

In the end it is all about concentration and creating contrast, so that your nervous system is able to learn. Attention to details and feelings within your body during and after an exercise is the key to success here.

And do not worry, with the muscle relaxation techniques on Painotopia I will give you lots of hints what to watch out for. This will make it easier and more effective for you. And even if you do not get me here, I promise you will as soon as you start to do the exercises.

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