Definition of tension in US English:



  • 1The state of being stretched tight.

    ‘the parachute keeps the cable under tension as it drops’
    • ‘In string theory, as in guitar playing, the string must be stretched under tension in order to become excited.’
    • ‘When the continental crust stretches beyond its limits, tension cracks begin to appear on the Earth's surface.’
    • ‘I then dial in the cable tension so it lets the chain drop easily to the inner ring and not rub on the cage when on the largest cog.’
    • ‘He examined strings made of the same material, having the same thickness, and under the same tension, but of different lengths.’
    • ‘The competing forces of gravity at the lower end and outward centripetal acceleration at the farther end keep the cable under tension.’
    • ‘The stretchy film is held in place by its own tension and provides 360 degree coverage for hundreds of different bottle shapes and sizes.’
    tightness, tautness, tenseness, rigidity
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    1. 1.1 The state of having the muscles stretched tight, especially as causing strain or discomfort.
      ‘the elimination of neck tension can relieve headaches’
      • ‘As you learn to relax, you'll become more aware of muscle tension and other physical sensations caused by the stress response.’
      • ‘This increase in number seems to depend on the growth of the long bones putting tension on the muscle through its tendons.’
      • ‘Bringing the weights together can relieve tension from the muscle, which decreases the total amount of time your pecs are working.’
      • ‘Visualize that you are exhaling any feelings of discomfort and muscle tension.’
      • ‘Decreased muscle tension on the vocal cords produces lower pitch sounds.’
      • ‘You'll also be less likely to fall victim to the muscle tension and strain that most keyboard-tapping cubicle dwellers are afflicted with every day.’
      • ‘Additionally, you can relieve neck and shoulder tension with the following three yoga-inspired stretches.’
      • ‘One-minute breaks every 20 minutes or so can help relieve tension and loosen stiff muscles.’
      • ‘Reiki is believed to be helpful in decreasing pain, relieving sleeplessness, soothing muscle tension, and increasing healing time.’
      • ‘While you are at it, do some stretching exercises to relieve tension in your back, shoulders, and neck.’
      • ‘Music therapy contributes to reduced anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate and to relaxed muscle tension.’
      • ‘And learning how to release undue tension in our necks is one of the best things we can do to improve our overall functioning.’
      • ‘He also describes cold shivering, increased muscle tension, and a delicious taste, and he swallows repeatedly.’
      • ‘Participants were taught to perform the techniques independently from the fifth week and to avoid unnecessary tension in the neck muscles.’
      • ‘This improves circulation (the flow of blood around your body), relieves pain, and relaxes tension in the muscles.’
      • ‘During a massage, your practitioner kneads your skin, muscles and tendons in an effort to relieve muscle tension and stress and promote relaxation.’
      • ‘Do you experience physical reactions such as muscle tension or a racing heart when you get angry?’
      • ‘Then I begin to relieve the muscle tension and restore mobility with some stretching and gentle manipulation.’
      • ‘It typically produces muscle tension, making it difficult to relax.’
      • ‘Strangely she felt her muscles relieve some tension.’
    2. 1.2 A strained state or condition resulting from forces acting in opposition to each other.
      • ‘An answer was provided by inflation: the idea that the universe was born in a state of tension, forcing it to expand enormously fast.’
      • ‘Controlling the oil in the crankcase significantly reduces ring tension to unlock even more power by minimizing friction.’
      • ‘The water going down your plughole, the planets going around the sun, the electrons spinning around a nucleus, they all reflect the same dynamic tension between opposing forces.’
    3. 1.3 The degree of tightness of stitches in knitting and machine sewing.
      • ‘They can recognise their own capabilities in it - someone adjusting the tension of their knitting is intuitively doing what I do when I adjust the difference between lines.’
      • ‘Observe the stitch, adjusting the tension until the stitch is formed correctly.’
      • ‘To prevent breakage, tension problems or machine malfunction, use high-quality thread.’
      • ‘Uneven stitches usually indicate the tension is out of balance.’
      • ‘Test on fabric scraps for the best tension and stitch length.’
      • ‘The only adjustable tension for the chain stitch is the needle tension.’
      • ‘Thread should unwind from the spool and enter the first tension guide on the machine without kinking, twisting or puddling.’
    4. 1.4 Electromotive force.
      • ‘It's the electromagnetic tension field, not the power that stand for the interdimensional interaction.’
      • ‘Tsagas found that the magnetic tension in bent magnetic field lines tends to flatten the surrounding space.’
      • ‘Researchers believe this tension results in stripes that are stable under magnetic fields of a certain strength.’
  • 2Mental or emotional strain.

    ‘a mind that is affected by stress or tension cannot think as clearly’
    • ‘It's a psychological mystery with little tension or emotion, other than confusion.’
    • ‘When the driver is in a state of mental tension, the situation is all the more serious.’
    • ‘Kids can sense emotional tension and shifts in mood and react accordingly.’
    • ‘Exercise improves posture, aids weight loss, increases flexibility and relieves emotional stress and tension.’
    • ‘Pain occurs in individual's experiencing anxiety, or emotional tension.’
    • ‘Motherwort is reputed to release tension caused by emotional and mental stress.’
    • ‘It is said to help people with depression, stress, tension and high blood pressure and to also improve circulation.’
    • ‘Mental tension and physical stress are not needed when you are vulnerable and sensitive to pressures of any kind.’
    • ‘This will relieve much of the mental tension of students in getting to school on time and back.’
    • ‘‘He is not a robot; he feels tension and emotion just like you or I,’ said Ferrari technical guru Ross Brawn at the time.’
    • ‘There is, understandably, a great deal of stress and tension and pressure.’
    • ‘Stress, particularly severe or prolonged emotional tension, may aggravate acne.’
    • ‘Many people today live lives of tension and stress.’
    • ‘Youth of this area are regular victims of mental tension, unemployment, low self esteem and fear of failure in life.’
    • ‘You need to avoid mental tension and stress as they can manifest health problems.’
    • ‘Family obligations, too much debt, unrealistic expectations, all of it can cause tension and stress.’
    • ‘Mental tension can lead to constipation in some individuals.’
    • ‘Doctors said that both women were suffering from tension and mental agony, but were physically fine.’
    • ‘Yoga reduces physical and mental tension and promotes recuperation.’
    • ‘We can say, then, that physical tension is emotional or mental tension stored in the physical body, in the muscles.’
    emotional strain, mental strain, stress, anxiety, anxiousness, pressure
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    1. 2.1 A strained political or social state or relationship.
      ‘the coup followed months of tension between the military and the government’
      ‘racial tensions’
      • ‘There is so much hatred brewing between the ruling party and the opposition, creating unnecessary tension.’
      • ‘As a result there were tensions in the relationship, which involved regular arguments.’
      • ‘Sexual and romantic tensions cause further strain within the group which culminate in a violent ending.’
      • ‘The poet Seamus Heaney was careful to distance himself from the political tensions of his native Ulster.’
      • ‘This has already had the effect of increasing tensions and is fomenting political hatred.’
      • ‘The real economic and class tensions are coming to the surface of American political life.’
      • ‘The danger of war is growing even now as social tensions and conflicts increase.’
      • ‘When Chris came down he found his parents sitting stiffly opposite each other, the tension palpable.’
      • ‘Yet there was still scope for tensions in the British - Australian relationship.’
      • ‘When food and fuel subsidies go, people riot and social tensions stoke the flames.’
      • ‘This was not a school rife with racial tensions, nor was it a failing school, and I look back on it fondly.’
      • ‘A horrific attack on father and daughter exposes the unspoken tensions in their relationship.’
      • ‘It could ease tensions and improve ties between the bitter political rivals.’
      • ‘Gold Ridge was a productive gold mine until the ethnic tension on Guadalcanal forced the owners to close in 1999.’
      • ‘It can only mean an escalation of political tensions throughout the Middle East.’
      • ‘Ellen and Allison came into therapy because they were having arguments that created tension and distance between them that lasted for days at a time.’
      • ‘Markets remain fragile and are easily upset by international tensions.’
      • ‘The political struggle touched off traditional tensions between the two groups.’
      • ‘Some regard his positions as a reckless manoeuvre that will exacerbate racial tensions.’
      • ‘The union officials called the strike in an effort to diffuse explosive social tensions.’
      strained relations, strain, unease
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    2. 2.2 A relationship between ideas or qualities with conflicting demands or implications.
      ‘the basic tension between freedom and control’
      • ‘The tension between access and quality that exists in any healthcare system is aggravated when that system is seriously under-resourced.’
      • ‘The violent contest of battle causes war to be characterized by the constant tension between dialectically opposed ideas.’
      • ‘This tension between image and interpretation was also at play in the early days of photography.’
      • ‘There is a basic tension between the idea of the rule of law and other aspects of the Constitution which still reflect an alternative principle that the law must serve the party state.’
      • ‘It is also about the paradoxical tension between human freedom and divine providence.’
      • ‘These positions are in considerable tension with each other.’
      • ‘There is a creative tension between Pagan ideas and more Christian ones.’
      • ‘Herein lies the primary tension between the two conflicting and apparently contradictory trends regarding immigration throughout the west.’
      • ‘Consequently, in McCaig's view, there is always a tension between the demands of the marketplace and the will to remain authentic.’
      • ‘The tension between these two interrelated concepts has been dramatised most strongly in the Indian public sphere after independence.’
      • ‘There has often been tension between conflicting ideas about the scope of EU competence and the policy-making process.’
      • ‘Peden's work helps shed light on the apparent tension between artistic freedom and mathematical constraint.’
      • ‘But naturally, these considerations are almost always in tension with each other.’
      • ‘The panorama of the world shows a conflict and a tension between polar opposite qualities, for which humans have always been the via medium.’
      • ‘Here is the basic tension between the tradition of philosophy in the west, and the science of biology once the Great Chain of Being had been abandoned.’
      • ‘In both cases, the architecture and lights operate in tension with each other.’
      • ‘In addition, his support for the growing claims of the clergy as professionals was in tension with his opposition to similar claims by physicians and lawyers.’
      • ‘The tension between individual freedom and society was a popular theme in Dublin's literary revival, but in the North this topic had further implications.’
      • ‘From the outset there was tension between the demands for office space and the feelings of the families of those who died at the World Trade Center.’
      • ‘There's a growing tension between the idea of law as a professional service to the community and the idea of law as a business, and the business increasingly of government services.’


[with object]
  • Apply a force to (something) which tends to stretch it.

    • ‘After installing and tensioning the new chain, run it at half throttle for two minutes before cutting anything.’
    • ‘Rappelling is just another word for ‘abseiling’ or letting yourself drop down over a cliff while controlling your rate of descent by tensioning your rope.’
    • ‘Concrete can be prestressed in a factory by tensioning the steel reinforcement first and then placing concrete around it - ‘pre-tensioned’ reinforcement.’
    • ‘The blade is tensioned by a winged nut at the end opposite the wooden handle.’
    • ‘For example, the shelters incorporate a unique cover tensioning system that keeps their tents drum tight, reducing fabric wind noise.’
    • ‘The sling is tensioned loosely to prevent any compression of the ulnar nerve.’
    • ‘Simple bows are tensioned by the natural spring of the stick, bent like an archer's bow, which can be enhanced by the fingers of the bowing hand acting on the stick and the hair.’
    • ‘Gable end facade hanger cables are tensioned against the main roof cables, above top left.’
    • ‘Also with the sail tensioned the battens didn't catch on the cross tubes as you pushed them in.’
    • ‘This is so the tendons pick up the deflection caused by the weight of the concrete when they are tensioned.’
    • ‘Such planning can help avoid clearance conflicts when it comes time to tension the system.’
    • ‘A properly tensioned bar tape doesn't need adhesive backing, which just gums up the handlebar when you finally replace it.’
    • ‘Driver and passenger front air bags, plus a safety belt tensioning system that tightens the belts within milliseconds of a crash.’
    • ‘The design called for the tendons to be partially tensioned before the roof was built.’
    • ‘The sail is tensioned on the leading edge and that further helps to maintain tension on the whole assembly.’
    • ‘While we were tooling around up at the top of the ancient rickety ski lifts, I just had to check out the winching mechanism for tensioning the lift cables.’
    • ‘The machine has a unique frame design which allows for automatic expansion and retraction of the garment tensioning frame.’
    • ‘Chains were tensioned and wheels greased as old adversaries reforged friendships yesterday ahead of today's Imana Wild Ride along the Wild Coast.’
    • ‘A snowcat's main frame is mounted on support axles that act as the vehicle's suspension mechanism, the front axle also tensioning the tracks.’
    • ‘The mesh construction is tensioned and made rigid with spacer bars to withstand storms and it also allows individual technical components between the two skins to be removed and replaced.’
    tighten, tauten, make taut, tense, tense up, tension, contract, stiffen, brace, knot
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Mid 16th century (as a medical term denoting a condition or feeling of being physically stretched or strained): from French, or from Latin tensio(n-), from tendere ‘stretch’.