The Different Types Of Muscle Tension

For reasons of simplicity, I’m going to refer to tension as muscle tension. Muscles make up the majority of the mass of tissue that gets massaged. I know that fascia, tendons, and ligaments also receive pressure and can respond positively to massage pressure. So fascia, tendons, ligaments and muscles will all be included as I refer to the different types of muscle tension.

The Four Types Of Muscle Tension

1. Regular muscle tension.

2. Shell-like muscle tension.

3. Leathery muscle tension.

4. Armored muscle tension.

Regular Muscle Tension
Regular muscle tension can have been there for only minutes or for years. This is muscle tension that has a ropey or thickness to it and that usually hurts when its being massaged.

Shell-like Muscle Tension
I used to call this muscle tension armored. I’ve recently gained a much deeper appreciation for what armored muscle tension is (as first described by Wilhelm Reich). I’m using the term shell-like to differentiate between this shell-like tension that is a physical response compared to armored tension that I’ll go over later on this page.

A shell-like tension is quite insensitive and hard; like a shell. This tension covers over a deeper tension in the muscle. It’s the deeper tension that needs to be corrected for function to become normal.

The shell tension can usually be broken through in five minutes or less. Some shell tension is very strong and it takes much more to penetrate through it to get to the deeper layers of muscle tension that need to be massaged.

The shell tension can sometimes fool people into thinking that the area doesn’t need massage because it doesn’t hurt when its being massaged. If the shell isn’t broken, then the underlying tension stays and the problem stays.

Leathery Muscle Tension
This is a muscle tension that has been around a long, long time. It’s in an area of the body that has had problems. The problems may be cyclical (they may come and go) or they may be more constant; with flare ups and times of relative ease, though never really fully healthy.

The leatheriness is due to the length of time of the muscle tension and that these muscles have worked hard to stay as functionally strong as they can be. It is the combination of the length of time and of the strength that is still in the muscle that creates the leathery tension.

Leathery tension takes a lot of massage to bring back to normal; much more than you think it’ll need. This leathery muscle tension can return to normal, though that is months away at best with a lot of good, therapeutic massage. Luckily for my patients I teach them how to do effective and easy therapeutic massage. Without the patients doing self massage many times each week, it would be hard to convert the leathery tension back to normal; even if the patient were to come in once a week and we focused only on that area.

It’s very rewarding when leathery tension returns to normal. When the leathery tension is there, there is always limitation in activity/function. And when a person is free of the leathery tension they can enjoy so much more.

Armored Muscle Tension
As I wrote earlier in this page I have recently developed a much deeper appreciation of what armored tension is. As I look back on my many years in bodywork I can now better identify armored tension compared to regular tension, shell-like tension, or leathery tension.

Armored tension is the most persistent, hard to get rid of and frustrating tension to have. It can take many years for armored tension to become symptomatic. And once the armored tension becomes symptomatic it can be very hard to get rid of; it’s roots are so deep for so long – and the person for so many years may not have even known that the armored tension was there. I have armored tension. I can speak of it very well. My body gave me the best learning tool to learn about armored tension and to help others be free of armored tension.

I’m having the most productive time in my life of clearing this armored tension. There is no physical cause and effect that explains why the tension is so persistent and so slow in changing. There is nothing from my physical past or what I’m currently doing that is causing this tension and the resulting discomfort/pain to be there. As I look back on this whole process for the last year I can see now that the tension is armored tension; not regular, shell-like or leathery tension. As this armored tension is clearing/leaving (through very specific efforts) I’m experiencing a lifting of a burden that has been in my life for as far back as my memory goes.

Armored tension is the hardest tension to get rid of. Armored tension is the result of very deeply held emotions; emotions that the person is probably not even aware that they are holding to such an amount. These emotions are usually fear, anger, and anxiety; sadness and depression can be there too. The majority of these emotions are so deeply suppressed or repressed that a person is not aware that they have these emotions and they are not aware of the current impact that these emotions have on their body, mind and emotional state.

The function of armored muscle tension is to keep deep anger, sadness, fear, and anxiety in and to protect you from the emotions of others. The armored tension was developed as a protective mechanism. It is painful to let these emotions come up to the surface and release. Though it is more painful to a person to keep these emotions in for their entire life. The emotions that the armored tension is trapping inside a person can become very destructive to a person’s health.

The armored tension holds in many painful feelings. As the armored muscles soften many emotions can come up. The emotions are coming up to be released. A person may have a lot of fear come up or they may cry or be angry or a feeling of depression may occur. These are feelings are working their way up and out. Breathing fully is a way to help speed up and complete the process of the emotions releasing from your body. 

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