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Three Ways to Tame Muscle Tension

Employ these at-home tactics at night to help keep your fascia supple and prevent stiffness.

upward-facing dog pose
Photography by: fizkes/Getty Images

Releasing your sorest, achiest spots isn't simply about stretching your muscles. In fact, it may not be about that at all. Experts say that understanding fascia, the layers of collagen‐based connective tissue weaving through your body, could be the key to untangling tightness. Fascia is separated by a slippery lubricant called hyaluronan, which allows the tissue and its neighboring muscles to glide over one another. When the hyaluronan becomes dehydrated—a result of limited physical activity and chronic conditions like arthritis—it can turn sticky, and tightness will ensue. Here are three ways to help keep things fluid.

 

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Bend Backward 

Any physical activity is good, but it's best to move against whatever's creating the tension. "If you work at a desk and then go straight to spinning, you'll have more tightness," says Jessa Zinn, the structural integrator (like a masseuse, but for fascia) at the Yinova Center, in New York City. So mix in some yoga. Beginner poses like upward-facing dog and cat-cow counteract all-day hunching. 

 

Go Tubular

Foam rolling may work the way massage does, says Zinn. While the research is limited, one International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy study found that two to five 30-second to one-minute sessions may increase range of motion in the hips, knees, and ankles. (It might feel excruciating at first, but trust us: The release is addictive.) Hips and glutes are good to target; here's how: Sit on a roller, and put your right hand on the floor behind you for support. Cross your right ankle over your left knee, shift your weight to the right, and roll for about 30 seconds, focusing on sensitive areas. Switch sides; repeat. 

 

Raise the Temp

Dehydrated hyaluronan turns liquid when heat is applied, says Antonio Stecco, MD, Ph.D., a research assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine at NYU Langone Health's Rusk Rehabilitation. Take a warm shower, or use a heat pack.