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.

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.

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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.

Understanding your Nervous System

A healthy nervous system allows us to perform at a high level. Using particular methods we can tap into the subconscious side to improve the running of vital bodily functions.

You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails

Our nervous system has a connection to all structures in the body. Without a healthy working nervous system most bodily functions suffer, our performance in life situations and sport are hindered and recovery from injury is impacted.

The Nervous system

Part of our central nervous system, within our subconscious is a mechanism for handling stressful situations. This is called the Autonomic Nervous system. It branches into two parts; the Sympathetic NS (SNS) and Parasympathetic NS (PNS). The SNS stimulates the bodily functions preparing us for the “fight, flight or freeze” in life threatening situations. The PNS is the other branch that prepares us for “rest, digest and heal”. It’s the PNS that should be the primary driver of our physiology.

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Using the mailman and dog as an example. Most canines are territorial and when unknown visitors arrive they become defensive, will bark and jump at the door. It’s ready to fight. When the postman leaves, the dog quickly forgets what happened and is able to fall asleep within minutes. It recognises the threat has gone and can immediately relax.

Consider yourself in the same situation, feeling threatened of an intruder. You might shout at them to leave or prepare to engage with them. When the person retreats could you relax straight away or will you be on edge for hours or even days?

The SNS is important but only has a purpose for the short term, to allow us to deal with threatening situations. Unfortunately with hectic lives, our brain interprets these physical and mental stresses as life threatening, which frequently triggers the SNS on a daily basis. Constantly stimulating SNS can lead to chronic issues…

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disorder
  • Non-working muscular tension
  • Hyperventilation
  • Adaptation failure
  • Cognitive dysfunction

The brain struggles to identify physical stress’ and imagined stress’. Anxiety of an electricity bill, job cuts at work or relationship issues will fire up the SNS.

Throughout exercise/sport our PNS and SNS working in balance. Depending on particular stressors like speed, distance, duration, the SNS may start to have a greater influence. It’s important to get into our PNS state for improved decision making, better oxygen delivery and for achieving optimal recovery.

Ways of Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System

The PNS is the system we should be using most frequently . Therefore finding methods of staying in this state even when put under perceived levels of stress are important.

1. Breathing Mechanics

The way we breath has a deep connection to the autonomic nervous system. Shallow, apical breathing has a direct link to our SNS. But taking Deep diaphragmatic breaths stimulates the PNS. Using breathing exercises daily can help train you into a more relaxed state.  Methods such as….

Wim Hof Method

Apnea Breathing

Kapalbhati Breathing

2. Meditation Practices

Through channeling your thoughts and breathing, meditation can help induce a state of relaxation. Following this 5-10 minutes daily can help improve many different functions. Easy to use apps for this are…

Head Space

Wildflowers

                      SoundCloud – Mindfulness Works

3. Muscle relaxation

Using methods like meditation or yoga are ways of achieving muscle relaxation. Having massages and soaking in a hot bath also offers a way of relaxing muscles. The release of tight muscles indirectly sends signals to the brain to activate the PNS and switch off the SNS.

Continue reading “Understanding your Nervous System”

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Whether your running, rowing cycling or lifting. Repeated knee flexion may irritate structures on the outer knee. It is important to get on top of this condition to stop it hindering your training.

Setbacks are the perfect opportunity to grow

Iliotibial band syndrome is most commonly experienced with runners. But also in all sports that require repetitive knee flexion under high load. Early signs and symptoms often go unnoticed (or ignored) until it’s blown up into a fully-fledged injury.

What is the Iliotibial Band?

Iliotibial band

The Iliotibial Band (ITB) is a thick fibrous band of strong connective tissue running down the lateral side of the thigh. Its attachment points at the hip are from the Glutes at the back and Tensor Fascia Latae at the front. The bottom connection feeds into the outer border of the knee and patella. It’s at this attachment point that pain and inflammation develops and would be classed as Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS).

The role of the ITB is to provide the knee with stability and to abduct the hip outwards. When we walk, run or squat it’s working hard to keep the knee in the correct position and force is distributed evenly.

What are the symptoms of ITBS?

Problems arise when the lower limb moves in abnormal directions repeatedly, causing the band to flick over bony structures of the knee, leading to irritation. It may also get tighter than normal through shortening or over activity of the Glutes and Tensor Fascia Latae. This results in the ITB becoming a tighter band pulling more at its attachment and compressing other tissue around it.

ITBS usually is a sharp pain or burning sensation in the lateral knee. Generally, felt during exercise when the knee flexes repeatedly through mid-range. This range of 30-40 degrees is when pressure of the ITB against the bone is at its highest. If this movement is repeated enough, it causes friction and irritates the tissue.

What causes ITBS?

There are a number of factors that can cause a stir up of ITBS. Physically there could be a muscle imbalance, with tightness or weakness around the pelvis, hip or knee, reduced balance, and reduced ground reaction time. Mechanically, often due to the physical limitations that cause incorrect movement patterns, poor weight transferring and distribution of load.

On top of this are issues with training error. How quickly a programme is progressed, especially if it involves load or speed. From running to weight lifting, training loads need to be gradually increased to reduce the risk of injury.

Management of ITBS

Initially you may be restricted from doing the activity that caused your pain while your body recovers. An assessment will help you identify what factors are triggering your ITBS. Treatment will be multifaceted providing advice for tissue loading, gait retraining and specific muscle strengthening and stretches. Additionally, soft tissue manipulation, strapping and dry needling.

With the improved running form, increased strength and flexibility you will gradually be introduced back into the activity. This will make you overall better at your sport and reduce the risk of this problem returning.

Evidence shows that ITBS responds well to conservative management with a success rate as high as 92%.

If you’re struggling with recovering on your own contact me on 09 5290990

Strength Training for Endurance

This is a literature review of the benefits of including resistance training into your running or cycling training programme.

Rønnestad 2014

For recreational runners and cyclists, strength training is not always considered important when developing increased pace, endurance and mechanics. But this paper from 3 years supports the involvement of explosive strength training as part of a training program for endurance runners/cyclists. With benefits of improved endurance to muscle fibres when in an anaerobic state, increased tendon stiffness and greater explosive power.

The study went on to find numerous benefits with the addition of strength training. And provided these recommendations.

  1. To improve the chance of increased endurance performance following a strength training program, the resisted exercises should engage similar muscle groups and imitate sport specific movements. This will result in firing up the same neural pathways connected with the motion of running or cycling.
  2. Force output may increase the ground strike in runners or force velocity in cycling if an explosive focus is put on the concentric phase of the muscle. For example pushing fast out of the back squat.
  3. At least 2 sessions per week of strength training to develop maximal strength over a 12 week program. Beginning with lighter loads in the first 3 weeks to learn correct form before increasing load. Working within 8-12 reps and 2-3 sets.

Some beneficial lifts for runners and cyclists would include back squats, dead lifts, hip thrusters and bent over rows.

Abstract

Here we report on the effect of combining endurance training with heavy or explosive strength training on endurance performance in endurance-trained runners and cyclists. Running economy is improved by performing combined endurance training with either heavy or explosive strength training. However, heavy strength training is recommended for improving cycling economy. Equivocal findings exist regarding the effects on power output or velocity at the lactate threshold. Concurrent endurance and heavy strength training can increase running speed and power output at VO2max (Vmax and Wmax , respectively) or time to exhaustion at Vmax and Wmax . Combining endurance training with either explosive or heavy strength training can improve running performance, while there is most compelling evidence of an additive effect on cycling performance when heavy strength training is used. It is suggested that the improved endurance performance may relate to delayed activation of less efficient type II fibers, improved neuromuscular efficiency, conversion of fast-twitch type IIX fibers into more fatigue-resistant type IIA fibers, or improved musculo-tendinous stiffness.

Rønnestad et al (2014). Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports

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Lunge Hip Mobility

The 2nd part of hip mobility focuses on your lunge shape. Having full access to hip extension will improve your running, throwing and kicking abilities.

This is the second part of the hip series. These hip shapes are positions that we should all be striving for to have confidence and feel safe to function if exposed to complex positions. 

Following on from the blog hip opener for the hinge shape is our next hip position we should try to achieve. The lunge shape is full extension and internal rotation of the hip with the knee positioned behind the hip and foot pointing forwards. This shape is most seen in lifters doing split jerks, kicking a football, ball throwing. But most commonly seeing this lack of range with runners, not utilising the full hip extension in the push off at the end of stance phase.

Over the years adaptive changes happen either through injury or more with positions we adhere to. The most common being sitting, which results in anterior structures of the hip becoming limited. Lacking the end range of this movement could mean we’re selling our self short of momentum, power or endurance.

Running-lunge

Using the picture of long distance runner Mo Farah, he demonstrates a great lunge shape at the hip. While maintaining a neutral spine he manages to reach full hip extension and toes are pointed forwards, maintaining the internal rotation of the hip. Lacking hip extension can compromise running form of the upper limb and spine. But as you can see he reaches a good press shape of the opposite shoulder in the arm swing making his running style extremely efficient and balanced.

Below are a series of stretches and mobility exercises to help improve your lunge shape.

Couch stretch

If hip flexors are tight this is one of the best stretches for improving length back. A long sustained hold of this stretch with full diaphragmatic breathing over 2 minutes is extremely effective.

Illiopsoas Trigger Point Release

This muscle sits within the abdominal cavity and if tight it will feel sore with pressure through the abdominal wall towards the muscle. At first the pain can be quite high but relaxing into the pressure overtime the pain subsides and will feel looser once released. Aim for 1-2 minutes hold.

Hip flexor stretch (with band)

Another hip flexor stretch with a joint mobilisation using a band. Position the knee behind the hip. Allow the band to pull the hip forwards, contract the glutes to get the best anterior hip stretch.

Quads and inner thigh release with LaX ball

A lacrosse ball is a great tool for isolating sections of tight muscle. Rolling on the ball like you would a foam roller will be more effective, if tolerated. Then opening up inner thigh/hip adductors using the kettle bell handle. The knee flexion/extension stretches the muscle through range while being tacked down.

Suspended split stretch

This is for the more adventurous. It will help your lunge go deeper while increase stretch through the hamstrings. Throughout this movement, it is important to keep the glutes switched on to avoid hanging of the hip capsules. Spend around a minute each direction.

Continue reading “Lunge Hip Mobility”

Hip Opener for Hinge Shapes

The hip hinge is an important movement in daily activities as well as in sports. Many people are unaware this movement exists and struggle with reaching their potential.

Many lifting injuries result from a lack of movement awareness and weakness of the posterior muscles. The hip hinge is a foundational movement for so many actions like deadlifts, squats, sprinting, jumping. Lacking an effective hip hinge is like racing a formula 1 car on flat tyres.

Developing a good hip hinge will improve the strength of the posterior chain. This includes muscles like the glutes, hamstrings and back extensors. The hinge movement is primarily coming from the hip. The goal is to maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement, the hips start to bend with your butt moving backwards and minimal flexion in the knee. This will increase the tension on the hamstrings and glutes.

The majority of people find this pattern of movement unnatural, as it’s rarely practiced and in most cases, are quad dominant. This quad dominant pattern causes weight to be distributed anteriorly, which is fine with some activities, but most actions we need to be more engaged with our posterior chain.

hip hinge movements.jpg

 

Below are a series of stretches and strengthening exercises to help Improve your hip hinging abilities.

Weighted Hip Hinge

This exercises is a great way to warm up and encourage the hip back movement while fighting the resistance to maintain a neutral spine.

Banded Hip Distractions

These two movements are also great for warming up. Both encourage release of the hamstrings but also the band provides a traction force on the hip socket. This should allow the joint to move free’er and help you access more range in the joint.

Dynamic Hamstring stretch

This is a deeper stretch of the hamstrings. Having more flexibility here will help you hinge better at the hip which will off load the knees.

Jefferson Curl

This movement is a great way of developing movement segmentally and will help build strength when maintaining a stable spine. It’s important to note if you have a spinal injury to avoid this movement until you have gone through the appropriate phases of rehab.

Continue reading “Hip Opener for Hinge Shapes”

Do your hips get the green Light?

Functionally the hip has certain positions that create stability and power. We should be looking at accessing its full range to ensure the health of the joint.

Healthy joints make difficult movements easier

Just like the shoulder, the hip has an important role in allowing us to function in various positions. It’s also a ball and socket joint, with both joints acting as catalysts for power, stability and accuracy of its connecting limb.

Unlike the shoulder as you may already know, the hip is held within a deeper socket, but still has a multitude of muscles surrounding the joint, including its own rotator cuff. The hip also has a ligamentous capsule with fibres angling in different directions. Using the capsule the joint can wind up into some very strong and stable positions. Accessing these ranges of tension puts the joint into a safe place to absorb load.

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These high torque shapes held by the hip are our start and finish points of most movements of the lower limb. Most of the time we can function well within the realms of the inner movement. But if we struggle to start from these positions it becomes difficult to transition and finish in a safe end shape. The goal should be to have full physiological capacity.

In the hip, there are 3 shapes we should all be able to achieve.


  1. The first movement is the squat/hinge a combination of flexion and external rotation at the hip. This movement takes all the glory, it’s all of our squat movements, it’s dead lifting, it’s rowing and the list goes on.
  1. Next is the Lunge/run which is full extension of the hip with internal rotation. This could be the bottom of a split Jerk, in running it would be your trailing leg before leaving the ground.
  1. Pistol is the last movement which alludes a lot of people (including myself), requiring full hip flexion but also full ankle dorsiflexion.

While the squat/hinge position is the most common hip shape used. We should also feel competent at the other 2 positions. Over the next few weeks I’ll go through the 3 movements and provide some ideas to achieve full depths.

Redefining your “Normal”

Taking a look what could be limiting your physical potential to grow and redefine what you would class as “normal”.

You are braver than you believe,

stronger than you seem,

and smarter than you think.

~ Winnie the Pooh

YOUR PERCEPTION OF NORMAL COULD BE LIMITING YOUR GROWTH?

Our bodies are constantly adapting. I see people of all ages, from different backgrounds, each individual with their own experience of pain and weakness. Most have learned to live with this feeling and avoid certain movements through fear, apprehension or a lack of practice over time.

This restricted level of function has become their new norm.


My experience of this was quite recent. In preparation for a snowboarding trip to Mt Hutt I thought I’d get some practice in at the local indoor slope. After having not snowboarded for 2 years I was already feeling a level of anxiety knowing what was coming. Getting there I decided to have a few practice runs on the magic carpet (a beginners slope, relatively flat).

My first run went as expected, with a few falls, poor coordination of my feet, but this slowly improved. I was soon at the top of the slope back to my novice level of linking turns, still with a few falls.

At that point, I was then trying to push myself to go over small ramps, this lead to a return of anxiety. But once accepting that I can overcome this challenge and then achieve it my confidence only increased more.


For new Crossfitters the box jump can be quite a daunting obstacle. For some, it’s a movement that’s not been attempted for years. This isn’t their current norm and has been lost from their movement vocabulary. With appropriate scaling of this skill and positive reinforcement they are able to clear this milestone. Confidence quickly increases and it becomes a normal skill within their training.

Our bookends of normal function throughout life are expected to change with the onset of physical deficits. But when these restrictions are defined by lifestyle rather than capabilities our limitations are instead self-imposed.

Many people think that the body only adapts to the physical, without considering that psychological barriers could be the largest hurdle.

Thinking under the premise that “we can’t do something because we haven’t tried it” only sets us up for a limited version of ourselves. Try accepting that we are capable of doing more than we perceive, through patience of developing skills and strength. This will slowly help you define your new normal.

Does your shoulder get the green light?

Are you able to achieve full shoulder range and move efficiently with speed and load. Essential to preventing injury and getting the most out of your training.

The shoulder is such an interesting part of the body. It’s a joint that’s suspended by muscles and fascia and its only point of contact with the rest of the skeletal system is a dinky little joint at the collar bone. Which means that our musculature is doing all the work to maintain stability while moving through huge ranges.

Underneath the layers of muscle, the shoulder has a capsule and it has four positions where it winds up and reaches its highest levels of tension and stability. If we can achieve these positions from start to finish when transitioning through movement, particularly under load we’ll have less chance of injury.


  1. The first movement being overhead a combination of external rotation and flexion at the shoulder and protraction of the scapula (moving forward around the rib cage). Examples of this being the start position of chest to bar pull up or end position of push press. Our arms should get past our ears with the elbow pits facing each other.
  1. Next the front rack position is also flexion and external rotation of the shoulder. Obvious examples are a front squat or the bottom of a hand stand push up. This is elbows up to shoulder level, with the hands outside the shoulders and palms turned up.
  1. Hang position is a full internal rotation of the shoulder. This can be seen when we clean or Snatch. Elbows out to the side at shoulder level and hands down to floor, aiming for the forearms to be in line with the body.
  1. The press position consists of internal rotation and extension. Seen with the start of a bench press or bottom of a ring dip. The elbows are taken past the body as far as possible with hands at chest level.

Failing to maintain shapes of stability becomes more difficult to transition and finish safely to the next position. Make sure you have competency in all 4 positions. If you’re struggling with a position you need to be mobilising. If you’re having pain with these positions you should have it assessed to avoid being side lined.