By Tony ter Ellen, Physiotherapist, Massage Therapist and Yoga Instructor
We’ve all had that feeling of tight “achey” muscles. Most commonly, but not exclusively, this occurs around our neck and shoulders and lower back. Understanding why we get this feeling is key to correcting this.
That tight feeling can come from a range of reasons. Tightness is a subjective experience and people will use this word to describe a range of sensations which are kind of unpleasant but not quite painful. Here’s the top 4 reasons for it:
Tight/short underused muscle: The muscle may be relatively weak and hence has to work harder to do a new job in the overall body system.
Tight/short protective spasm muscle: Sometimes in the short term, muscles will tighten globally to splint an injury. This contraction can serve to protect the area but may become a counterproductive habit if held too long.
Tight/short overused muscle: The muscle may be contracted through constantly holding a posture or repeating a movement for long periods of time. The body is conservative of energy use and will reinforce the muscle with connective tissue if held for too long. Your mother warned you the wind might change and your face will stay like that and she was partly right!
Taught/long muscle: Similarly if a muscle is shortening on one side another must be lengthening on the other side. It too can get stiff in that lengthened position.
Take the example of a tent leaning over. Is it because one guy rope is being pulled too short or the other one is too long? Very often it is a combination of both. In the clinic we assess the relative condition of the muscles and use a variety of techniques to influence this relationship. This might include strengthening or stretching, manual therapy, needling, taping etc.
Knowing why your muscles feel tight is vital in then knowing how to treat and correct. It may not merely be stretching the muscle that helps. In fact, stretching muscles that are taught may actually make things worse. It’s also so important to learn how to then keep the muscle in the right state once corrections have taken place.
This is where a clinical exam comes in. At Advance, we make a structural and functional diagnosis to work on why you’re feeling tight and sore and what’s not quite working as it should be. Remember, where you’re feeling sore may not be where the problem originates.
Yoga has a nice blend of stretch and strengthening. Students are sometimes surprised that Yoga includes some hard work as well as relaxing stretches! Inherent in Yoga is an assumption that if the poses looks and feels light, that muscles will balance out and work optimally. Many students say that as they do Yoga their body awareness improves and they discover where they need to strengthen and where they need to relax.
If you suffer from the feeling of tight and sore muscles come in and learn what’s happening in your body and how we can help.