It’s no secret that tight muscles can cause us a lot of issues, and can restrict our capacity to undertake certain daily activities or even perform sports to our highest level.
A lot of injuries will arise from muscular imbalances, meaning that it’s likely we have to stretch and mobilise one group of muscles, whilst we activate and strengthen the opposing muscles.
My patients often ask me: So why do muscles get tight? And this is a great question!
So let’s have a look…
Yes, we’ve all heard it before- poor posture can influence the length of our muscles. Seated desk posture often involves slouching at our desk. Sitting at our desk for prolonged periods of time, say 9am – 5pm for example, will tighten our hip flexors, whilst rounding our shoulders from typing at the computer, is likely to shorten and tighten our chest muscles.
The technology industry has accelerated over the past 10 years, which is fantastic, but unfortunately, we have seen an increase in the use of mobile phones for messaging and social media- especially amongst the younger population. This is causing an increase in the number of cases suffering from neck and shoulder problems, from the protruding neck staring at smaller screens, consequently causing tight chest and neck muscles.
I would also like to highlight that as our chest muscles shorten, our back muscles (Rhomboids) lengthen. Lengthening muscles, like a taught elastic band, can also give us the perception of tightness, but may not respond very well to stretching or mobility. It’s likely that these need strengthening instead!
If you are experiencing tightness, consult one of our Therapists here at Function Jigsaw and we can determine the exact root of your problem.
So… do our muscles respond any better if we exercise as well?
Exercise is great for our muscles- for strength, endurance, power and daily function. However, performing any exercise, requires repetitive muscle contraction- usually with greater force or increase in speed of contraction. Let’s be clear… muscles don’t return to their pre-exercise length, unless they are managed- i.e. stretching, mobility routines or foam rolling. Therefore, any exercise has the capability of shortening our muscle fibres, which will eventually lead to tightness, muscular imbalances and potential injury. We might not feel it after our first session, nor after our second, but it does build up, so it will come and find you one way or another.
Another caution, often harder workouts can cause muscle soreness the following day, also known as DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness). DOMS can actually be quite painful and in some cases quite debilitating, but may also give you the perception of muscle tightness. This feeling is a result of microscopic tears or ruptures within your muscles. Sounds bad, but it’s completely normal and is actually the way we build muscle. DOMS usually arises within 24 hours and can last up to 72 hours depending on how hard your session was. Feeling tight in this period is normal, but stretching is not advised, as it may just make your microtears a little bigger- Rest for these days, or stretch elsewhere.
Q: Why is it, that we only address an issue when it arises, but we won’t sacrifice our time to perform some key components to our exercise routine (warm-up & cool down) that will actually help reduce our injuries in the first place?
It’s rhetorical…think about it!
It’s a lot harder to reverse muscle tightness (that’s built up over weeks, months and years), than it is to maintain it a little bit every day.
You might find yourself sacrificing more time to reverse your tightness, to achieve greater mobility or treat an injury, than you would if you disciplined yourself with mobility routines to start with- better now than never! So if you haven’t been performing mobility, stretching and foam rolling, it might be worth thinking about starting.
So what can we do to reduce the likelihood of tightness? Well, I’ve mentioned it before: stretching, dynamic stretching, mobility routines, foam rolling, trigger ball release and treat yourself to a massage.
See both our “Warm-up” and “Cool-down” blogs on how and when to preform stretching safely and effectively.
Getting tight muscles is almost inevitable, but it’s how we manage them that counts.