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Are you a clencher?

We all do it. Men, women – you can even see it in your 3-year-old when he throws a tantrum – everyone holds stress in their body at times. Some of us do it much more than others.

As physical therapists, we see this physical manifestation of stress, anxiety, or even fatigue lead to bigger problems throughout the body, including neck, back, and pelvic pain. The problem is we grip or clench these regions in response to some stressor, but even after the stressor is gone, our body continues to hold that tension.

There are a few very common areas of clenching, including:

  • Butt
  • Abdominal
  • Neck/shoulder
  • Grinding teeth or clenching jaw
  • Clench your hands in fists
  • Curl toes in your shoes
  • Hold your breath

If you are a chronic clencher, follow these 5 steps to start trying to break the habit!

      1. Have awareness. Many people just have no clue that they are clenching some part of their body. During evaluations with our patients, we may point out one or more areas that you are clenching. You have to know you are clenching before you can STOP clenching! The easiest way to bring attention to the area is to set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour. When the alarm goes off, scan your body – are you clenching anything? Do you feel tension or tightness anywhere?
    1. A good meditation for chronic clenching is progressive relaxation techniques. The easy version is sit or lay still with your eyes closed. Scan your body. Where are you clenching or holding tension? You then go to this muscle group and contract the muscles (add more tension) and then immediately relax the muscles. One of the benefits of tensing and releasing muscles is that you learn to recognize how it feels when the muscles are tense and relaxed.
    1. Watch your posture. Bad posture means your muscles have to work harder and become fatigued faster, which leads to compensations by gripping and clenching. Fully assess your posture in sitting, standing, and even laying down to see if you are over using certain muscle groups. Myofascial Release can help with this because you might be substituting clenching for something that is not right elsewhere. Rebalance therapists can help with this.

     

    1. Look at your footwear. Are you wearing 4 inch heels all day? Are your shoes too tight in the toe box or heel? Do you have no arch support or too much arch support? Often times postural changes and compensations can start at your feet. You are standing or walking in inappropriate footwear and your body has to compensate by tightening other places in the body. Slip into that more sensible footwear ASAP!

 

    1. Gentle stretching. Yoga or other flexibility based exercises can be very beneficial in not only bringing awareness to tightened structures, but also allowing the muscles to relax into a better position. However, you do need to be aware of the position of your body and not pushing too hard into poses or stretches. Don’t push too hard into the stretch, just until you feel a stretch, but no pain.

 

We know that stress and anxiety are large causes of this gripping and you may need to seek professional psychological help to work on coping strategies for these components of clenching. But there are often many other musculoskeletal factors that go into clenching. For example, your pelvis may be out of alignment or your lower abdominal muscles or deep neck muscles may be weak and your body is just compensating.

A full physical therapy evaluation of your musculoskeletal system can be very helpful in determining the causes for the clenching and gripping. At Rebalance PT, we evaluate and treat the whole body looking for both primary and secondary drivers of pain, instability, and malalignment and get you on the right path to no more clenching.

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