Over the past couple of months, I’ve experienced frequent muscle tension in the back of my neck, shoulders, and upper back.  As much as I’d love to get a massage, I just can’t afford it right now.  Instead, I’ve tried numerous other (free!) techniques for muscle tension.  Here are the most effective strategies I’ve found for reducing chronic pain and muscle tension.


One of the best ways I’ve found for reducing muscle tension is yoga.  Yoga strengthens, lengthens, and stretches your muscles.  Yoga can also lead to improved posture and lower stress levels, and both of these things aid in reducing muscle tension.

If you’re thinking, “that’s great, but I can’t afford to go to yoga classes”, think again!  Yoga studios typically charge outrageous prices, but there are several ways to go to yoga classes for free.

Warm Up

Hot water allows muscle fibers to loosen and relax, which relieves muscle tension.  Try laying in a warm bath or sitting in a hot tub (some public pools also have hot tubs).  If neither of those options are appealing to you, even taking a long, hot shower can help to relieve some muscle tension.  I like to take a long shower after doing yoga – this seems to work wonders.

Optimize Your Space

If you spend 8+ hours each day sitting at a desk, it’s important that your work space is ergonomically ideal.  The top of your computer monitor should be about eye level, and you should be seated an arm’s length away from your computer.

Your wrists should only be bent minimally, your elbows should be close to your body, and your back should be straight against your chair.  Your feet should be flat on the ground or resting on a foot rest.  I have two enormous monitors at work (I know, such a #firstworldproblem) that used to be on two different sides of my desk.

I was often looking at the screen on the other side of my desk and keeping my head turned for long periods of time.  I recently rearranged my desk so that both monitors are on the same side of my desk.  Now, I don’t have to turn my head in an awkward position when I’m using both monitors.


Sitting all day isn’t good for you.  It’s important to get up and move around if you can.  Go for a walk outside on your lunch break, use the treadmill (or other equipment) if your company has a gym, or take the long way to the restroom.  Do whatever you can to get some movement in during your day.  If you can’t exercise during the day, try working out in the evening or in the morning before work.

Sleep Differently

If you’re feeling tense, it’s important to get plenty of sleep.  It’s also crucial to ensure that you’re sleeping in a position that isn’t causing your muscle tension.  If you have a habit of sleeping on your arm, for example, and that arm is always feeling sore, your sleeping position could be the culprit.

Sleeping on your side with your neck elevated above your spine can cause tension in your neck, shoulders, and head.  Sleeping on your back helps to prevent keeping your neck in a strained position for a prolonged period of time.

Lighten Your Load

Do you only feeling the pain/tension on one side of your body?  If it’s one shoulder that’s bothering you, it’s possible that you are lugging around a purse (or other type of bag) that’s too heavy.  Try carrying a lighter bag and see if that helps.

Lightening your load metaphorically can also help.  If you’re experiencing muscle tension, you’re probably feeling stressed or anxious.  You can try a variety of stress reduction techniques, such as breathing deeply, making time for a hobby that you enjoy, and learning to say “no” once in a while if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Breathe Deeply

Stress and anxiety are two of the major causes of muscle tension.  It’s amazing how much we can tighten our muscles without even realizing it when we’re stressed.  Taking slow, deep breaths is one of the fastest ways to calm ourselves down when we’re feeling anxious.

Get Off the Damn Computer (or Phone)

The single most effective way I’ve found for reducing muscle tension is to get away from my iPhone.  I spend all day at work glued to a computer, and then I come home and work on my blog on my laptop.  I used to spend every spare second staring down at my phone (which puts my neck in an awkward and uncomfortable position).  Since I stopped staring at my phone all the time, I have felt so much better.

Mix It Up

When you have a job (or jobs) that require you to spend 8+ hours per day on a computer, it’s important to get away from the screen once in a while.  If you can, get up once an hour and walk around briefly or do some quick stretches.  I know this can be awkward at work, so sneak them in whenever you can.

I like to do a few quick stretches when I’m in the restroom – I’ll roll out my shoulders, stretch my arms over my head, and stretch my back.  If you can’t get up every hour, at least remind yourself to look away from the computer screen for a few seconds.  Move your body a little bit – sitting in the same position for 8 hours straight is not healthy.

A Final Note

Stress and anxiety can have an enormous impact on physical health.  Frequent muscle tension can be painful, and ironically, it can lead to more stress.  If you can’t afford a weekly massage or a relaxing vacation, you might be unsure of what to do to help relieve your tension.  Luckily, there are plenty of techniques for reducing muscle tension that are 100% free!

What have you found that works well for relieving chronic muscle tension?

Disclaimer: I am not a physician – if you’re experiencing chronic pain that doesn’t go away when you try a variety of tactics, you may need to see a doctor or chiropractor.  This advice is meant for those who are experiencing muscle tension as a result of stress – not pain that is being caused by an underlying health problem.  This article is not meant to replace the advice of a trained clinician.