What’s causing my muscle tightness?

Muscular tightness is one of the disruptions to normal movement and if not managed well can lead to possible injury. Identifying your tightness and using specific strategies will help relieve tension.

tight muscles

One of the main issues patients struggle with is muscular tightness. They get a feeling of pain or tightness and an inability to relax the muscle.

What is tightness?

When looking at patients I need to find out if they have mechanical stiffness or the “feeling” of tightness or a combination of both, as this would direct my treatment plan.

Is the range of movement limited? does it have a soft or hard end feel? Are movements a struggle at end range, feeling heavy? What’s the rest feeling like, is it a constant tightness?

While we can have mechanical tightness of a joint or muscle, there are also the “feelings” of tightness. You might get your hands to the floor with your legs straight and feel the hamstrings tightening. While another person could do the same, get to their knees and not have tightness.

What causes the feeling of tightness?

Tightness is a sensation like many others, including pain. What we understand from pain is that this is not always brought on physically, but also by the perception of threat.

pathway-of-a-pain-message-via-sensory-nerve-in-injured-muscle,2324600

So like pain, tightness is a protective mechanism from the central nervous system to avoid danger. On a number of levels it detects stressor’s that expose the whole body or specific region to threat.

Examples of this…..

  • Prolonged sitting, without movement we often notice tightness in certain areas, possibly through reduced oxygen supply and increased metabolic toxicity.
  • Stressful situations cause rising cortisol levels and increased activity of the Vagus nerve leading to muscular tightness.
  • Repetitive movement over a period of time causes increased tension.
  • Posture muscle tightnessInjury or pre-existing weakness can cause a guarding response from the nervous system.

Using tightness as a warning sign for these potential threats might allows us to acknowledge the situation and quickly act upon it.

What will help my tightness?

Like all movement patterns, we improve with practice. The same goes for muscle tightness. If we regularly bombard it with neural messages to remain tight we develop trigger points and chronic tightness through a process called central sensitisation. Which makes the tissues more sensitive to pain and tightness.

If we can regularly supply our nervous system with input that is non-threatening we can slowly help desensitise the muscle. But this takes time and regular repetition.

Stretching

Most people with tightness, especially after prolonged rest feel the need to stretch out. But depending on our intended goal there are different types of stretches.

  • Static stretches
  • Active stretches
  • Dynamic stretches
  • PNF (Contract-relax)

While these stretches will help, it might only be temporary without regular repetition and reinforcing the nervous system with good movement.

Strengthening

There is a misconception that resistance training causes our muscles to feel tighter. Mainly due to the effect of DOMS. That feeling of soreness you have the day after a hard workout. But some recent studies have shown that strengthening can be equally, if not more beneficial than stretching.

Improvements in flexibility coming from improved ability to handle higher levels of metabolic stress and lower levels of inflammation. By lowering the threat to the nervous system through increased strength, it allows you to work the muscle through a wider range, without getting a stretch reflex.

Massage and other soft tissue work

Another way to help desensitise these tight muscles is to apply pressure. This could be with the use of a foam roller/lacrosse ball or other manual therapy techniques like deep tissue massage, myofascial release, trigger point release, dry needling.

Relaxation techniques and breathing mechanics

Like in the previous blog, an overactive or dominant sympathetic nervous system can cause muscle tightness. Finding ways of breaking poor postures or shallow breathing using a range of methods like kapalbhati, wim-hof, meditation, yoga etc. Using these methods are just part of the process to lowering overall tightness.

Usually, just following one of these methods individually is not going to be as effective as combining them together. Try to deal with the tightness from all angles.

If guidance is required or manual therapy techniques feel free to call 09 5290990.

Author: Graeme Lawson

With more than 13 years working both in the UK and New Zealand, Graeme offers a vast amount of experience and knowledge when treating musculoskeletal conditions. Being part of various clubs on the grass roots level to international with the England Volleyball team he has developed a broad skill set. His patient’s see exceptional results from a progressive blend of hands on manual therapy, education and exercise prescription. Catering from the home and work related injuries to athletes from novice to elite levels. Graeme’s outlook is the same with all who visit, that prevention is better than the cure. While providing a variety of hands-on treatments, he knows how important it is to offer education, preventative advice and tailored exercises to continue long after you have been discharged, helping avoid injuries in the future. For pastimes he has played basketball over the last couple of decades at different national levels. Graeme has also been doing CrossFit for 6 years. Having both the knowledge and ability of these technical movements provides athletes confidence with the advice they receive.

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