In this post we look at why you have tight muscles and what you can do to release them.
You will no doubt have read many theories as to why your muscles are tight. These will have included sitting for long periods of tine, not stretching and even possibly weight training.
Let’s start by first clarifying what muscle tightness actually is.
What is muscle tightness?
Tightness is a sensation. It’s not usually qualified with any objective measure. “My hamstrings feel tight” is a very common phrase used by those who exercise and many who don’t. Feelings are by their very nature subjective and not always an accurate representation of what’s actually going on.
I remember a client telling me her hamstrings felt tight as she pulled one leg towards her chest. She had about 170 degrees of hip flexion with a straight leg, about twice as much as me and mine felt just fine.
Assuming there is a measurable difference in range of movement between one side of your body and the other, what does this represent? Why would some muscles decide to tighten?
Think about this for a second, your muscles are controlled by your central nervous system (CNS). They can’t contract unless it says so. What is the primary goal of your CNS? Your safety and survival.
Is muscle tightness a mistake therefore? No
Think about a joint of your body, your knee for example. Part of it’s stability comes from the muscles that act upon on it. Imagine these as guy ropes that hold a tent stable. If for some reason one of these ropes becomes overloaded and stops working as a result, the other ropes must be tightened to keep the tent from blowing away.
Your CNS applies the same principle when managing the stability of your joints. If a muscle or group of muscles become inhibited as a result of overload or trauma, then your CNS increases the tension in the other muscles that act on that joint to keep you safe.
Muscle tightness is both deliberate and ingenious
We tend to think of muscle tightness as something that’s bad which should be released by whatever means possible. Although it may be uncomfortable sometimes, it’s a solution to a problem, the root of which may be muscle weakness elsewhere.
If we choose to work against the best decisions of our CNS, the likely response will be a return of the tightness as soon as we begin to move. That’s because we haven’t addressed the underlying cause, muscle weakness.
Try this approach to muscle tightness instead
The next time you notice a difference in range of movement between one side of your body and the other, try very gently pushing in the direction that you can’t go against a fixed object.
Use 10% of your available effort and push for 6 secs. Repeat the process 6 times and you will usually see your range of movement improve and the tightness dissipate as you improve the ability of muscles to contract.
For a discussion on hamstring tightness go here.
If you’ve been told you have overactive lumbar spine muscles and suffer from back pain, take a read of this post for a different perspective.