Muscle Guarding

Ever heard of muscle guarding?  You may be putting yourself at risk for injury without being aware of it.  Muscle guarding is the state when muscles are held in a partial state of readiness to act.  A runner at the starting line that is waiting for the signal is muscle guarding, the body is holding the muscles partially contracted so they are prepared for the upcoming demands. Similar to the flight or fight syndrome. This is a useful form of muscle guarding.

Unfortunately muscle guarding becomes a bad thing when chronic stress begins to keep the body in a state of semi-readiness, leaving the muscles partially contracted, even though the speedy response time is not needed.  Your body can begin to function as though this were its natural state and there are some long term consequences.

A person can develop the habit of muscle guarding if they treat a particular area, often an area that has been injured before, with more than necessary care.  Maybe you twisted an ankle badly and even though everything has healed you continue to treat it gently or tentatively.  In this way you can fatigue the muscles around that ankle, making them more vulnerable to damage and injury.  You are, in a very real sense, shooting yourself in the foot.

We understand the risks that fatigued muscles pose and can help you work to strengthen areas that you are nervous about re-injuring, giving you the opportunity to protect the area in a healthy and pain free way.

Muscle guarding that continues longer than the short time before a race or similar situation can begin to develop pain.  You may begin to feel sore or tender in that area.  This creates a downward cycle because the pain response reinforces the “need” to guard the area.  This reinforcement will cause the brain to continue to keep those muscles in a state of unrest, continuing the cycle.

Muscles kept in this state are often fatigued.  The supporting muscles in the area, the muscles that support and oppose the muscles that are engaged, are put at risk as well because they need to compensate.  While muscle guarding is intended to protect and keep the body safe it can be carried to an unsafe and dangerous degree. By trying to prevent harm, your system can create a fatigued and weak area in the body, an accident waiting to happen.

Our office can help to identify areas that are stuck in this cycle of muscle guarding and can promote relaxation and health in those areas.