How to relieve muscle tension

Muscle tension affects everyone. Learn how to tackle tension the intelligent way, with science-backed methods and proven tactics.
How to relieve muscle tension
minute read

The muscles of the neck, shoulders, back, and even the face are prone to tension, no matter the lifestyle you may lead. Tight and tense muscles are common, even if you check all the boxes for healthy living, exercise, and recovery. 

From the office to the gym or lying in bed at night, muscle tension can be a hindrance — but with the right approach, you can ease your muscle discomfort and maintain an overall healthy lifestyle. 

What is muscle tension?

Muscle tension is a broad concept in the wellness community, with a wide range of symptoms, effects, and root causes. On an anatomical level, muscle tension occurs when muscle fibers tighten or “contract” for extended periods, causing strain and discomfort over time.

For instance, athletes might experience tense muscles after a strenuous workout, while office workers could feel tense following a stressful day seated at the desk. Whether it’s overuse, underuse, or chronic misuse of muscles, tension can follow — and it takes some self-reflection to determine the core cause in your specific case.

It’s also worth noting that while muscle tension is a physical phenomenon on the surface, there is also a psychological and emotional component. Stress is the culprit in many cases of chronic muscle tension, so remember that calming the body and mind is just as important as exercise, stretching, and other physical aspects of self-care.

What are some common causes of muscle tension?

Although muscle tension can occur for a wide range of reasons, there are a few core causes that have been detected through years of scientific study. 

Let’s examine some of the main reasons why muscle tension happens and see if any of these causes might speak to your personal situation.

Lack of physical activity

We usually associate tense muscles with stress and strain put on the muscles through vigorous activity, such as running or weightlifting. However, the majority of modern muscle tension cases are rooted in the opposite — a sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity.

Modern conveniences have made it so that we need to move less and less to go about our days, but that ease of living has come with a price. More people are seated in a static position for prolonged portions of the day, causing muscles to remain stationary. 

While this might be fine for a few days at a time, years and years of sedentary living can lead to muscle imbalances that cause tension, discomfort, and even worse. 

Poor posture and positioning

Standing or sitting in place for hours isn’t the end of the world, that is, if you have the right posture and position yourself to fend off muscle tension. It’s an ongoing battle, and everyone struggles at first to find a comfortable yet sustainable position that won’t lead to structural issues long term.

Incorrect posture might seem harmless for a while but can lead to tension in the neck, shoulders, and back after a few hours or days. Over time, muscles begin to stiffen and tension is harder to address. Even while sleeping, muscles can remain tense and lead to chronic issues that can lead to much bigger problems.

Stress and anxiety

Stress is the hidden killer of our modern world, and it’s difficult to even gauge our own stress levels from day to day. Between overstimulation from tech and the whirlwind of personal responsibilities, more people are living in a constant “flight or flight” state, whether they know it or not.

A bit of stress can be motivating or uplifting, but too much stress can cause muscles to remain tense for excessive durations. Also, everyone “holds stress” in different areas of the body, meaning that your road to recovery will be unique.

Nutrition and hydration deficiencies

The food we eat becomes who we are — literally. Unfortunately, much of the standard modern diet is calorically dense but nutritionally scarce, with too many “empty” sugars, fats, and artificial extras. 

Your diet might not directly cause muscle tension or discomfort, but if you’re not choosing foods wisely, it certainly doesn’t help. The same goes for hydration, which ensures muscles stay loose and limber with lubricated joints and tendons. 

A mix of dehydration and nutrient deficiencies can cause the perfect storm of muscle tension and more serious health issues long term.

Overuse and injury

The human body is capable of great feats, but even the most talented, well-trained athletes encounter muscle tension from overuse and injury. Muscles have their limits, and when these limits are tested, muscle fibers can seize up

In severe cases of muscle tension, cramps, and spasms can cause sharp pains in short bursts. However, most cases of muscle tension from overuse are chronic and less acute but uncomfortable nonetheless.

Fatigue and lack of sleep

Sleep is when the body hits the reset button and repairs itself, requiring a deep state of relaxation and calm. But if the body doesn’t get the sleep it needs for nights or weeks in a row, things can start breaking down, and muscle tension is one of many possible outcomes.

That’s why fatigue has notable physical symptoms along with its cognitive and emotional components. Over the long term, muscle tension can worsen sleep quality, leading to a vicious cycle that is harder to break. 

What are the best ways to relieve muscle tension?

We’ve covered the most common reasons why muscle tension occurs, and some of these points may have resonated with you. 

There’s good news, however, because many, if not all, of these issues can be addressed with the right therapeutic approach and some self-awareness. Let’s explore the best ways to relieve muscle tension and offer a roadmap to recovery and wellness.

Posture improvement

Poor posture is a difficult habit to break, especially if you’ve been working or lounging in the same positions for years. Luckily, there are ways to work and relax that don’t involve sitting in a fixed position for hours, and muscle tension can be addressed slowly but surely over time. 

It starts with mindfulness, which in this case, means being aware of your body at all times and knowing how you’re positioned. Start by sitting or standing in an optimal position, and set timers to remind yourself to return to that position every 20 minutes or so. Practice makes perfect, and muscles will restore themselves naturally over time.

Restful nightly sleep

There is a science to sleep. Pinpoint where you struggle with sleep, whether that’s setting a consistent bedtime, falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up on time. 

As you improve and gain momentum with sleep hygiene, you’ll notice your muscles feel more limber, strong, and resilient. When you start to treat your sleep like a project, the results will come, whether that’s addressing muscle tension or restoring mental focus.

Nutrition and hydration

When you start prioritizing nutrition and proper hydration, your health begins to turn around in all aspects, including reduced muscle tension and fewer spasms and aches. That’s because the right balance of carbs, fats, and proteins can help your body rebuild muscles after they exert effort and break down so that they’re stronger and more functional than before.

Micronutrients play a key role in metabolism and energy pathways, while hydration and electrolytes keep everything working as it should. You don’t need perfect nutrition to help alleviate muscle tension, but these are positive steps that can turn your health around for the better. 

Mind-body techniques

Because stress is so prevalent in our modern world, we could all use a healthy outlet to overcome the tension and anxiety. Mind-body techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and positive affirmations can all make a difference here, giving you an intentional way to relax the body when you feel tension rising.

These methods can be used at any time, but they’re especially helpful when tension begins to cause discomfort or become distracting. Learn the basics of these techniques, and they can go a long way, from your daily routine to when you fall asleep at night.

Physical therapy and massage

For more challenging cases of muscle tension, consider guidance from a personal trainer, physical therapist, or massage therapist. Tension can build up for months or years, leaving your neck, shoulders, and back with hard knots of tense muscle fibers. 

A professional will know which areas to target with specific movements and tools and give you a toolkit to work with that allows you to recover safely and sustainably. It may feel like progress is slow at first, but every bit of effort helps, and you’ll notice significant improvements over time with a sustained approach.

Why is hemp extract such a good treatment for muscle tension?

Hemp extracts in the form of edibles, tinctures, oils, and topicals can be a powerful supplement on your journey to overcoming muscle tension. When you ingest hemp extracts, the active cannabinoid compounds soothe the body’s network of endocannabinoid receptors, including CB1 and CB2 transmitters in the body and brain.*

Not all hemp extracts are equal in quality or potency, however, and some are better at relieving body tension than others. 

Look for a general broad spectrum or full spectrum CBD product that provides a range of high-quality cannabinoids, ensuring you tap into the entourage effect that boosts the efficacy of these active compounds.*

To avoid pirchasing a low-quality hemp product,  make sure the brand you choose conducts third-party lab reports, confirming your formula is free from solvents, chemicals, and pesticides. Also, don't get confused with hemp seed oil, which usually contain little or no active cannabinoids. 

What is the best type of hemp extract for muscle tension relief?

Choosing the right hemp extract product might seem difficult at first with so many options, but Sunmed makes this part easy.

For instance, our Body line features everything your body needs to relax, soothe, and recover, including topical creams, water solubles, menthol gels, and plenty of tinctures and gummies. These products are great for general daytime use, helping you find routine relief do you can keep doing what you love most.*

At night, consider our CBD for sleep, which features products rich in the nighttime cannabinoid CBN and other terpenes to enhance deep sleep. The combination will give you a strong foundation of endocannabinoid support, setting the stage for a successful recovery from muscle tension at any level.* 

The bottom line

When you’re in the midst of a challenging muscle tension episode, it can feel like there’s no way to improve. This frustration can be difficult to overcome, but remember that there’s always hope with the right approach and recovery protocol.

This article has outlined all you need to know, from identifying root causes to giving you a game plan for improvement and supplementation. With consistent effort, you can make muscle tension a thing of the past and enjoy free movement at any stage of life. 

Get started on your path to relief, and let Sunmed guide the way with high-quality hemp extracts and wellness products for every part of your journey.*


Muscle Tension | BYU

Muscle Pain: Mechanisms and Clinical Significance | NIH

Understanding symptom experiences of muscle tightness from patients' and clinicians' perspectives | NIH

Effects of Cannabidiol Supplementation on Skeletal Muscle Regeneration after Intensive Resistance Training | NIH