Why Tight Muscles Can Be Sore Or Painful When You Press Into Them

The most important rule with massage and with self massage is to not irritate the nerves. Click here to review this most important point.

When pressing into (massaging) a muscle, the amount of soreness/pain is usually proportional (directly related) to the amount of tension and stress in the muscle.

I’ll go through the exceptions to this rule starting with the least common reason.
1. If a person has lost feeling because of nerve damage, then the muscle won’t be painful to pressure. Fortunately it’s rare to have this type of nerve damage.
2. If the muscle has been tight for a very long time it can create a shell like hardness that is insensitive to pressure.
3. If you’ve done a lot of self massage or massage to the muscle, then you can work out what causes the pain (the lactic acid accumulation) faster than the muscle can return to normal. In this case the muscle will still have tension in it that needs to be relaxed, though you won’t feel the muscle as that painful. With experience you’ll know this tough fibery tension that indicates excessive tension without having much pain/soreness to massage pressure. I’ll go over this last reason in detail later in this writing.

Why Does Pain/Soreness Usually Indicate The Amount Of Tension In A Muscle?
When a muscle gets tight and stays tight, the muscle becomes dense or thick. This increased denseness does not let the blood flow in and flow out as much as when the muscle is relaxed. This means that the muscle doesn’t get its waste products flushed out as well when the muscle is tight compared to when the muscle is relaxed.

Lactic acid is the major waste product of muscles. With the increased density of the muscle and the blood flow going out being slowed down, this allows the lactic acid to accumulate in the muscle. The longer the muscle has been tight, the more lactic acid that accumulates in the muscle. No amount of drinking liquids can flush out the majority of this trapped/accumulated lactic acid caused by muscles staying tight 24/7. Of course drinking liquids can help some, but it will not get rid of this type of lactic acid accumulation.

When lactic accumulates in the muscle, it forms into crystal shapes. Crystals have sharp edges. The longer the muscle has been tight, the more and the bigger lactic acid crystals there are in a muscle.

When you do self massage or receive a massage, the big, sharp lactic acid crystals are being rubbed against the pain-sensitive muscle fibers. You are using the muscles and the bone (below the muscle) as rubbing boards to pulverize (break down) the lactic acid crystals. The breaking down and flushing out of the trapped waste products (primarily lactic acid that has formed into crystals) is one of the two main benefits of massage. Click here to go to the other main benefit of massage – the lengthening of the muscle; going from a tight/contractedmuscle toward a normal/relaxed muscle.

As there is less and less lactic acid in the muscle, there is less and less pain to the massage pressure. You can pulverize/flush out the accumulated lactic acid crystals faster than the muscle returns to normal length, and lets go of its excessive tension.

With experience you’ll know when the muscle that is being massaged is still holding excessive tension even though there is little or no pain/discomfort to the pressure. It’s at this point that many people think that the muscle is okay because they’ve had the muscle massaged a lot and the muscle no longer hurts to pressure. And they can be wrong. That muscle still can be functionally tight and this tension can cause pain/problems because it is too tight. I can help teach you when to know that a muscle has released its tension and when the muscle is still holding tension (even though the muscle doesn’t have pain/discomfort to moderate, or more than moderate, massage pressure). A muscle still holding tension can need more help/therapy to become normal and act normal.

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