Why Do My Muscles Feel Tight?

Why do muscles feel tight? Does that mean they are short? That they can’t relax? And what can you do about it?

Here are some of my thoughts about why muscles feel tight and what to do about it.

Tightness is a Feeling, Not Just a Mechanical Condition
If you say you feel “tight” in a particular area, that might mean several different things:

Poor range of motion.

Or maybe range of motion is fine, but movement to the end range feels uncomfortable or takes excess effort.

Or maybe the problem isn’t really with movement, but just that the area never reels feels relaxed.

Or maybe the area feels basically relaxed, but has some vague sense of discomfort – a feeling that is unpleasant but too mild to be called pain.

This ambiguity means that the feeling of tightness is just that – a feeling – which is not the same thing as the physical or mechanical property of excess tension, or stiffness, or shortness. You can have one without the other.

For example, I have many clients tell me their hamstrings feel tight, but they can easily put their palms to the floor in a forward bend. I also have clients whose hamstrings don’t feel tight at all, and they can barely get their hands past their knees. So the feeling of tightness is not an accurate measurement of range of motion.

Nor is it an accurate reflection of the actual tension or hardness of a muscle, or the existence of “knots.” When I palpate an area that feels tight to a client (let’s say the upper traps), they often ask – can you feel how tight that is?!

I often say something like:

Ummmmmm …… no. It feels just like the surrounding tissues.

But I completely understand that it FEELS tight in this area and you don’t like it.

I don’t like the feeling of tightness either so I want to help you get rid of it. But the feeling of being tight isn’t the same thing as that area actually being physically tight. Make sense?

This actually does make sense to most people, and they find it mildly interesting. I want people to understand this because it might help them reconsider a misconceived plan they may have already developed for curing their tightness – such as aggressive stretching, fascia smashing, or adhesion breaking. So now they are willing to consider an approach that is a bit more subtle than driving a lacrosse ball halfway through their ribcage.

Why do muscles feel tight if they are not actually tight?
So why would a muscle feel tight even if it physically loose?

I think we can use pain as an analogy. Pain can exist even in the absence of tissue damage, because pain results from perception of threat, and perception does not always match reality. Pain is essentially an alarm, and alarms sometimes go off even when there is no real danger.

Perhaps a similar logic is involved in the feeling of tightness. The feeling happens when we unconsciously perceive (rightly or wrongly) that there is threatening condition in the muscles that needs a movement correction.

So what is the threatening condition that a feeling of tightness is trying to warn us about? Surely it is not just the presence of tension – muscles are made to create tension and we often feel tightness in muscles even when they are almost completely relaxed.

So tension is not a threat, but the absence of adequate rest or blood flow is a threat, which could cause metabolic stress and activate chemical nociceptors. So the problem that a feeling of tightness is trying to warn us about is not the existence of tension, but the frequency of tension or the lack of blood flow (especially to nerves, which are very blood thirsty.)

With this in mind, I think of the feeling of tightness as a variety of pain, perhaps a pain too mild to deserve being called pain. But it is definitely bothersome. And it has a certain flavor or character that motivates an interest in changing resting posture, or moving around or stretching. Which is different from certain pains, which often make you want to keep still. Maybe we could say that pain is warning us to not move a certain area, while tightness is warning us to get moving.

https://www.bettermovement.org/blog/2015/why-do-muscles-feel-tight

Massage for Cancer Patients in the News

The benefits of massage therapy for cancer patients were communicated by an ABC affiliate serving Virginia, on March 5.

In “Cancer Patients Get Boost from Massage Therapy,” breast-cancer patient Sandy Briggs’ journey through chemotherapy—a journey on which she discovered massage—is detailed.
“After a successful lumpectomy, doctors told Briggs she’d need chemotherapy and it was at that time that she discovered massages at Rockingham Memorial Hospital’s Image Recovery Center,” the article noted.

“As a retired teacher, Briggs had read book after book about cancer, but never did she think massage therapy would play a role in her treatment … [b]ut the massages helped Briggs through her 7 months of treatment and she says now as a cancer survivor, life has so much more meaning.”

Read the article at www.whsv.com.

Prevent back, neck and shoulder pain

Back, neck and shoulder pain is the natural result of prolonged sitting at work behind a computer, as is bad posture. This can cause headaches and excessive tension in neck, shoulders, arms, forearms, wrists, back, hips, thighs and legs. The result is increased fatigue to the muscles and ligaments supporting the lower back and this can eventually lead to tissue injury and spinal joint dysfunction. Avoid these problems by posture correction, exercise and correct use of equipment.

Symptoms of back problems due to excessive computer use include:

* Back and neck muscle spasm and pain
* Back and neck soft tissue inflammation
* Back, neck and shoulder pain on movement and involvement of other muscles as a reaction
* Referred pain to buttocks and thighs or up the spine

Preventing back and neck pain while sitting is not an exact science as there are many differing opinions on the subject. However, there are some common denominators on which most chiropractors and other medical professionals agree:

Tips to Prevent Computer Related Neck and Shoulder Pain

Do not slouch in front of the computer or lie in bed and work on a laptop.

Do not work for hours in front of a computer without breaks.

Do not ignore back twinges and back pain, hoping that the problem will resolve itself.

Avoid taking pain or anti-inflammatory medication when in pain from using a computer. This will serve to mask the symptoms but can lead to serious injury or permanent nerve damage in the long term.

Do not sit on one leg or sit with legs crossed as this causes additional strain to the back.

Do not perch a laptop on the lap and stare down at the screen – this places extra strain on the neck, spine and arms.

Buy a chair that encourages you to use your back muscles, such as a stool chair with no back or arm rests. Lower back pain can be reduced or eliminated by strengthening the lower back muscles through active sitting exercises.

Buy an ergonomic keyboard and mouse and ensure that the height is adjusted appropriately.

Have a break every hour and do stretching exercises like neck rolls, chin tucks, cupping head in hands behind the head and extension exercises.

Visiting a Chiropractic Clinic

A chiropractor is a medical professional who treats spinal column dysfunction. Back and neck pain may be the result of the back being badly aligned and the chiropractor sets out to relieve the problem by manual manipulation, exercise, massage and the application of heat, cold and light.

Massage Therapy to Relieve Back and Neck Pain

If done correctly, massage therapy can help to relieve back pain and tension. It is best to find a therapist trained in techniques that address back pain issues and has a knowledge of muscle imbalances relating to back pain, such as sports injuries. Massage therapy should never be considered a substitute for proper medical attention where there are serious back problems.

A Golfer’s Worst Nightmare Rehabilitated Through Massage

For many golfers, the only meaningful way to spend a sunny day is out on the links. With 18 holes to look forward to — the sun’s rays caressing the greens, blue skies inviting deep breathes, and the warm leather grip of a favored club in hand — nothing much can break their joy of being alive.

Until, that is, pain strikes. Pain in the physical sense such as a muscle tear or unstable joint, or the pain they feel from a continually declining game performance. For a die-hard golfer, the two pains are equally worrisome. And, left unresolved, grow to become their worst nightmare: the end of their golfing and no more need for sunny days.

Massage therapists are all well aware that, as the human body ages: muscles atrophy, tissues lose elasticity and overall flexibility declines. What many therapists have yet to fully understand, however, is that static stretching of muscles is rarely enough to correct these affects (Siff and Verkhosansky 1993, Siff 1994, and 1998). And even dynamic stretching is an incomplete course of treatment for many of our clients — especially those who golf.

Kinematic Sequencing and Therapeutic Improvements

To effectively assess and treat the unique needs of a golf client requires that the therapist first acquire an advanced knowledge of body dynamics, namely, the kinematic sequencing of the golfer’s body.

Kinematic sequencing refers to the specific order that the body engages its muscles, bones, joints and balance to perform a movement. In our golfing clients, the movement is striking the ball.

For an efficient golf swing to take place, the process of kinematic sequencing looks like this:

  • First, the pelvis is engaged and rotates towards the ball.
  • Second, the trunk engages and follows the pelvis.
  • Third, the arms engage and follow the trunk.
  • Fourth, the hands and club follow the arms until the ball is struck.

Once the ball is struck, the body again engages in a kinematic sequence, this time of deceleration, with the pelvis engaging first, followed by the trunk, followed by the arms, followed by the hands and club. That is good sequencing.

As massage therapists, the better we understand kinematic sequencing — especially in our rotational athletes who play golf, tennis, baseball, bowling and soccer — the the better we become at assessing our clients’ pains, restrictions, limitations and frustrations.

And the first step to better assessing our clients is to perform better evaluations. Specifically, how they present when they take a static posture and when they take a dynamic posture as they describe their pains, restrictions and issues.

Static posture is, of course, the position of the body at rest, sitting, standing or lying down. This is typically what we see most often as massage therapists. Our clients sitting or standing before us or perhaps already laying on the table as they describe their pains and wait for us to treat them.

Dynamic posture, on the other hand, has the patient: move, twist, lift, pull, push and balance in order to reveal the likely causes of the client’s pain or imbalance. The difference in evaluating your client’s condition using dynamic posture as well as a static posture is often the critical and missing step in properly assessing and treating our patients (Doctor Vladimir Janda “Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome” 1979, cited in Lewitt 1999).

To only evaluate your client in a static posture would be missing the holistic nature of human dynamic motion and posture. Sure, you can look at a left hip internal rotation when your client is on the table and find a deficiency of say 15-20 degrees, but that won’t give you an accurate picture of what’s really affecting the golf swing until you ask your client to stand up and perform the very movement that causes the trouble. So to replicate the golf swing, you must ask your client to do an internal rotation so as to move the trunk over the hip.

Frankenstein on the Golf Course

Here’s an example from my own clinic. I recently had the opportunity to work with a golfer who had bilateral hip replacements, a right knee replacement, and a left shoulder injury that was never repaired. I hate to say it, but he walked like Frankenstein and, as you can predict, his traumas lead to a continuing decline in his game performance.

When golfers ready themselves to strike the ball they bend their knees into a semi-squat formation. So to properly assess my client’s condition, I asked him to squat, slowly, all the way into a chair. And as he did so, I observed his ankles, knees, hips, trunk and motor control. I then asked him to stand on one leg. His ability to maintain a one-legged posture lasted less than three seconds. I also noted that he could not even begin to touch his toes; and he had limited trunk control, pelvic and spinal rotation. He had a forward head posture, kyphosis, and evaluation of his left shoulder joint presented the arm well in front of his ear instead of the proper placement which is beside or behind the ear. As you might infer, he clearly needed better flexibility. But, because of his hip prosthetics, it would be inadvisable to stretch his hips into internal rotation.

For this client, I began by making a basic golf movement better. Namely, the squat. Simply by teaching him to use his hips better, it allowed him to stay in a golf posture longer which helped with his swing path, tempo and striking distance — and his enjoyment of the game. We always combined our sessions with manual therapy, focusing around the hip rotators, to help him improve his hip hinge.

If you are ever presented with a client suffering with similar impairments, begin by writing down your assessment of how each muscle is affecting the joints in the lower extremities. Look at the flexibility of the feet as they relate to overall stability during weight shifts. Create more ankle mobility by addressing the dorsiflexors and removing myofascial restrictions. Check the client for the ability to do inversion and eversion of the ankles. Attempt to lengthen the quads, hamstrings, adductors, IT band, gluteals and psoas. Your goal is to increase the length of the flexor chain and increase strength to the extensor chain.

Once you’ve completed all of the above, recheck the client’s movement by asking your client to perform another squat or the movement pattern that is causing the concern. If your client has yet to improve, it may indicate that just stretching the lower extremity is not enough. Adding mobility without adding stability may not change the movement pattern. You may need to become a teacher of the squat. Put a chair behind the client, have them do an isometric press into their hands to activate the core, and teach them to hip-hinge back into the chair. Then repeat your manual therapy and re-check your client’s range-of-motion. Continue to do this as many times as necessary throughout the session to reveal how much your client’s motor control is improving. You will often see minor improvements during the first session and noticeably bigger improvements during subsequent appointments.

This is the protocol I implemented with my own client and he improved dramatically. In just three months, I had him transform his gate from that of a B-movie monster to that of a young man walking with a kick in his step. He also lowered his golf handicap, feels younger, stands taller and more importantly . . . he is now free of his worst fear — that of believing that he’d never again enjoy playing 18 rounds of the great game of golf.

References

  1. Supertraining: Yuri Verkhoshansky and Mel Siff.
  2. Manipulative Therapy in the Rehabilitation of the Locomotor System: Karel Lewit, Third Edition 1999.
  3. Superstretch : Mel Siff 1994.
  4. Facts and Fallacies of Fitness : Mel Siff 1998.

Tools For Touch Webinar

 

On Tuesday, October 25th, At Peace Media, in association with Massage Magazine Insurance Plus, will co-host its second LIVE online webinar, “Techniques, Tips & Success Methods of Top Massage Instructors” with Val Guin, creator of Forearm Dance Massage. Val will be joined by nine internationally known massage educators in the second production of the Tools for Touch Webinar series.
Sessions and prior plans prevent you from attending the full day webinar?  No worries…each presentation will be archived for later viewing, whenever you wish.  All presentations archived for minimum of 30 days. 
More reasons to sign up…
  • 9 CE hours available, NCBTMB approved
  • LIVE hands-on video demonstrations
  • Spend NO money on airfare, hotel, rental car, food or gas
  • Learn techniques from home or office
  • Up-close, insider success secrets
  • Participate in live Q&A sessions with presenters
  • 10am – 8pm Eastern time

Your Cost: $99.00

All-Star Webinar – Sign up Now

Oct. 25th Presenter Topics and Schedule

ALL Times are EST *
10am – Val Guin, Co-Host
Creator, Forearm Dance Massage
Topic: Side Lying-Shoulders; Applying Principles of Forearm Dance
11am – Tom Myers
Author, Anatomy Trains and Lecturer
Topic: Anatomy Trains and Fascial Response
12pm – Ryan Hoyme “MassageNerd”
Creator of MassageNerd website
Topic: How to Add Video to Your Own Massage Website
1pm – Chuck Duff
Founder, Thai Bodywork School of Thai Massage
Topic: Treating Muscle Shortening Dysfunction with Clinical Thai Bodywork
2pm – Tiffany Blackden
Social Media Expert and Massage Practice Owner
Topic: Use Facebook, LinkedIn & Twitter to Grow Your Practice
3pm – Ben Benjamin
Founder, Muscular Therapy Institute
Topic: TP7 ligament sprains, assessment and treatment
4pm – Whitney Lowe
Founder, OMERI
Topic: Orthopedic massage for lumbosacral pain
5pm – James Waslaski
International Lecturer, Author Advanced Clinical Massage Therapy – A Structural Approach to Pain Management
Topic: James will present clinical studies and research that will change the way manual therapists approach tendon pain and adhesive capsulitis of the hip and shoulders.  Added bonus:  James will discuss highlights from his new book.
6pm – Bruce Baltz
VP Education, Bon Vital’
Topic: Use of Lubricants in Stone Massage

*Schedule subject to change

More Info – Register Here