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What Causes Muscle Tightening?

By Chris Sherwood ; Updated August 14, 2017

Your muscles provide strength and structure to your body, which allows you to do just about every motion throughout the day from driving to work to cooking dinner. However, these basic actions can quickly become more difficult and painful when they involve a tight and achy muscle. When this occurs to a muscle, there are several different possible explanations.

Poor Posture

Poor posture is a common cause of tight muscles. Your body is made to stay aligned in a specific way, with your spine straight and relaxed, supported by the muscles of your body. However, when you slump your back, roll your shoulders forward or stick your neck out, you change the alignment of the body. This poor posture can place stress on certain muscles, especially the muscles of your neck, shoulders and lower back, resulting in tight muscles.

Incorrect Exercise Technique

Incorrect exercise techniques also can be the culprit behind tight muscles. Just like with your posture, exercise movements rely on a specific alignment to place resistance on the targeted muscles. However, incorrect form can place resistance on muscles that may not be prepared for the level of intensity of the workout, resulting in tightness or injury. For example, when using a treadmill, the correct stance is to keep your hands to your side or lightly on the support rails and your head relaxed and facing forward. When you use poor posture on a treadmill, such as leaning on the handrails or looking down at your feet, you place stress on muscles in your neck, shoulder and back, resulting in tightness.


Overuse may also contribute to tight muscles. When you exercise intensely or participate in physical activities where your muscles are performing the same movement repetitively, the muscle tissue can incur small injuries or tears. Your muscles respond to this injury by tightening up as a protection against further injury.


Although stress is more of an emotion-related ailment, the effects of stress can create physical responses in the body. Stress activates the unconscious reflex system of your body. This system is designed to automatically cause muscle contraction in times of danger, such as when you touch something hot and automatically jerk back your hand. However, stress is constant, causing muscles to contract on a more consistent basis over time. These constant contractions lead to tight muscles, especially in the neck, shoulders and back.

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