Why Do Muscles Feel Tight?
Posted on 25th February 2022
Why do muscles get tight? Is it because they’re not flexible? Is it due to stress, which prevents them from relaxing? If I have tight muscles, what can I do about this?
When we say our muscles feel tight, it can mean several things:
• Poor range of movement
• The muscles aren’t in a relaxed state
• Pain or soreness
The feeling of tightness doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a physical, or mechanical, stiffness or shortness in the muscle.
In clinic, you’ll come across a lot of clients who say their hamstrings “feel tight”, but upon assessment they can easily bend forward and put their palms on the floor. Likewise, there are clients who don’t feel like their hamstrings are tight, however they can’t move their hands beyond their knees. So, the feeling of tightness isn’t always an accurate reflection of range of motion.
Then again, having the existence of “knots” also isn’t an accurate reflection of tension or hardness in the muscle. So essentially, the feeling of tightness isn’t necessarily the same thing as the area actually being tight.
Why do my muscles feel tight if they’re not actually tight?
Muscles are made to create tension, and we often feel tightness in muscles even when they’re completely relaxed. For example, when we’re sat in the same position or have been doing the same movement pattern for too long, our muscles will need a rest or a change of position. So, we tend to move around a little before resuming the position or movement.
Obviously, in many cases it isn’t just as simple as getting up and going for a walk. Sometimes the source of the discomfort may have more to do with the nervous system, whether it’s becoming more peripherally or centrally sensitised to the need for more blood flow in certain areas. The muscles feeling tight could also be due to the learned associations between an environment and a certain sensation. For instance, computer work often results in feeling pain in the upper back or neck.
People tend to associate strength training with becoming tight. However, this is not the case. During such exercise, our muscles do become tense, and they may feel stiff the next day, due to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). But the full range of motion strength training can actually increase flexibility. It does this by creating adaptations in the muscle that improve endurance, which makes our muscles less likely to suffer metabolic stress.
How do I stop my muscles from feeling tight?
When we think of how best to stop our muscles from feeling tight, many people will instantly think of stretching. However, many have tried and failed when it comes to this strategy. The best way to go about stretching is to be gentle and stay away from any aggressive stretching programmes. If it feels good, continue to do it. If it hurts or doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.
There are also various soft tissue treatments such as massage, which aim to lengthen the shortened tissues and break down adhesions. Here at Fire & Earth, we are pros when it comes to soft tissue treatments. We offer a range of soft tissue treatments, including sports and deep tissue massage, myofascial cupping and dry needling, which helps with the feeling of tightness.
So, the take home message is that when your muscles feel stiff or tight, it’s a feeling and not necessarily a condition that needs an aggressive treatment plan. Like any other feelings, when you are more sensitive, you’ll feel it more. The tightness, and in particular your endurance, will start to get better when you improve your overall fitness, strength, awareness, motor control and health.
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