Contractures: what they are, why they occur and how to treat them

What is muscle contracture?

A muscle contracture as an ailment is a muscle contraction that does not fully recover. This contraction of the muscle or any of its fibers is continuous and involuntary, causing the muscle to be in constant tension and cause pain or discomfort.

This injury is quite common, not only among athletes, and it can prevent making gestures normally and without pain. It is very common in people who are sedentary or who spend many hours a day doing repetitive movements at work or in the same position. It is important to know how to identify muscle contractures, differentiate them from other injuries and remedy them.

Contractures can be classified according to when they originate:

During the effort:

While we perform physical exercise, the body metabolizes active substances and produces waste or inactive substances (metabolites). If the effort is excessive, due to difficulty or lack of training, the body does not purify the metabolites in the bloodstream, toxins are not eliminated and pain and inflammation can occur.


The muscle is unable to return to a resting state. Sometimes it happens that after intense exercise, if the muscle has been subjected to great work, it is not able to return to a state of relaxation. For this, good hydration and stretching exercises are very important before and after the activity.


When there is a serious injury, the surrounding muscles, tendons and fascia tend to contract for protection. This causes that, although the main injury is healed, the surrounding tissues remain contractured.

This is a minor but bothersome injury that can get worse if not treated properly. If it is delayed excessively, it can be very difficult to regain normal range of motion.

Symptoms of muscle contracture

Normally the muscle contracts and stretches but, in certain cases, the muscle does not relax and continues to contract, keeping the area hard and swollen. The symptoms, therefore, are a bulging of the region to the touch, known as a “knot”. Normally this type of injury occurs in the long and flat muscles - quadriceps, soleus, triceps and back muscles are the most frequent.

There are other types of contractures common in smaller muscle groups that we call trigger points, also produced by muscle overload, poor posture and accumulation of toxic waste.

Common symptoms are pain and limitation of movement, with greater limitations depending on the severity of the injury.

Therefore, we can distinguish these four symptoms:

  • Joint and muscle pain and stiffness

  • Reduced movement

  • Muscular weakness

  • Limited use of the affected area

Tests for muscle contracture

The diagnosis is based on palpation of the affected muscle, to detect possible bulges or areas with greater tension. By moving the fingers, an attempt is made to detect a point with greater resistance, where the muscle fibers are contracted. In addition, it will also be assessed if there is pain in the area, test the mobility of the affected muscle, starting with the reference of the muscle on the opposite side. All these evaluations must be made by a physician or physiotherapist to assess that there is no other anomaly attached.

How to prevent them

If you practice sports, you can prevent muscle contractures by doing a good warm-up prior to physical exercise, to prepare the muscle and its subsequent stretching. It is also useful to make a progressive programming of exercise intensity (from less to more). Likewise, stretching will prevent muscle contractions, by improving the relaxation and recovery of the muscle after exercise.

In daily life avoid repetitive movements. If it is not possible due to work or other reasons, it is recommended to stop every two hours to stretch for five minutes in the area most affected by repetition. Maintain correct posture and ensure your chair, mattress, etc. is made from a good material.

Good muscle hygiene, habits such as massages or the application of heat are positive for the muscles, which in addition to healing injuries serve to prevent new ones.

It is not recommended to treat muscle contractures by yourself, since the massages we do or the medications we take may be inappropriate. It is advisable to go to a specialist so that they can classify the contracture and carry out the most appropriate treatment. At Livebetter we can advise you and help you prevent and heal muscle injuries with one of our plans and always under the supervision of a doctor or physiotherapist.

Local heat achieves muscle relaxation and has an analgesic effect, under supervision or advice.

Massage increases blood flow, which improves the recovery of tissues and cleanses of metabolites, in addition to relaxing the muscle and reducing pain.

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