Living@Guelph - Choose Your Own Adventure Living
The Choice is Yours:
Tied Up in Knots OR Smooth Working Muscles

By Kathy Somers, Stress Management Clinic

Muscle Imbalance??
Are you reading this with your shoulders lifted up toward your ears?
Does your head jut forward when you are at the computer?
Are your fingers or jaw tight or clenched?
Do you hold your breath while listening in lectures or when working out in the gym?
Do you get writers' cramp, or press the pen so hard that it leaves marks on your fingers?
Do you tend to get muscle tension headaches or pain in your jaw?
Do you experience symptoms of muscle tension, muscle aches or 'knots', grinding your teeth, nervous tics, or neck or shoulder pain?

Many students sit for hours, holding positions which create muscle tension and discomfort. Holding this extra tension is like trying to drive a car with one foot on the accelerator while the other foot is on the brake. Such over-effort creates fatigue, decreased performance and flexibility, and makes you more prone to muscle injury, soreness, stiffness, and pain.

Be muscle smart...
Rather than using excessive muscle tension at school/sports/home, begin the practice of easing tension so you match the energy expenditure with task requirements. Training yourself to do this is called Differential Muscle Relaxation (ie. recruiting different muscles for different tasks, using the most appropriate and efficient levels of tension), an idea developed by Dr. Edmund Jacobson. You can practice and change your patterns of muscle tension.

If you suspect that your muscles tend to work with over-effort:

  • Take 60-second stretch breaks (move!!) every half hour, especially when at the computer.
  • Incorporate a gentle stretching routine into your day.
  • Exercise regularly to keep your muscles in good condition.
  • Begin to notice the muscle tension used during your daily tasks.
  • Experiment with varying the tension, then practice releasing unnecessary tensions during activities. Imagine or say "relax a bit" or "ease off" to the muscles. Remind yourself to breathe, while working.
  • Practice releasing over-efforts in the shoulders, arms, hands, legs, forehead and jaw while you are sitting in lecture, walking to the library, writing notes, typing at the computer keyboard, driving, studying, playing sports, preparing meals, etc.
  • For specific training in how to release muscle tension, relax your neck and shoulders, and better manage muscle tension headaches, contact the Stress Management Clinic.

    Every semester the Stress Management Clinic offers a Relaxation and Stress Management Skills Training program which provides training in muscle awareness, muscle relaxation (including the Differential Muscle Relaxation discussed above) and muscle re-education.

    Private appointments using biofeedback to measure muscle tension levels and train effective muscle function are available, in addition to a seminar on how to decrease the risk of repetitive strain injuries for people who spend more than 4 - 5 hours per week at their computer keyboard.

    For further information pick up a Stress Management Clinic pamphlet at the Wellness Centre or the Connection Desk, visit the web site or call the Clinic at ext. 52662.

    "My headaches and muscle tension have decreased tremendously. I rarely need the Advil I was relying on."

    "I am more aware of tightness in my shoulders, neck, and behind my eyes so I have fewer tension headaches."

    "At the computer I am more relaxed, and generally less tense throughout the day. It has helped me focus with my studying and increased my concentration."