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 Heals the Tissues of the Body

Brush aside any thoughts that massage is only a luxury splurge that has no real health benefits. To the contrary, hands-on healing helps you unwind, lowers blood pressure, promotes muscle relaxation and boosts your immune system. During a massage session, massage therapists use their hands and fingers to press and manipulate your skin, tendons, ligaments and muscles. The strokes gently move your blood, oxygen and lymph to various tissues and organs in a way that normally doesn’t happen in the bodies of most people. As a result, the person who is receiving the massage experiences a level of physical and mental renewal that is hard to surpass.

Hidden Health Benefits of Human Touch

Today, numerous well respected studies indicate that massage therapy doesn’t only feel good, it also may be good for you. Take a look at the health benefits below and discover the power of human touch:

    • Stress & anxiety relief

 

    • Muscle relaxation

 

    • Blood pressure control

 

    • Better circulation

 

    • Pain reduction

 

    • Enhanced cancer treatment

 

    • Improved quality of sleep

But there’s more – a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine suggests that individuals who undergo massage therapy experience measurable improvements in their immune response.

Mark Rapaport, M.D., and his colleagues from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center followed 53 healthy adults who were divided into two groups: The participants received either 45 minutes of Swedish massage or the same amount of time of light touch massage, which is much milder and served mainly as a comparison to the more vigorous Swedish massage. After examining their blood samples, the scientists found that people in the Swedish massage group experienced a decrease in cortisol and a significant increase in lymphocytes, cells that keep our immune system strong.

More research is ahead of us but it appears that a single massage may deliver a measurable benefit,” Rapaport said in a news release.

Massage is far more potent therapy than most people realize. In fact, it can (and should) replace analgesics as a treatment for tension headaches. As it turns out, it takes only a 30-minute massage on cervical trigger points to boost autonomic nervous system regulation and alleviate the symptoms. Patients also report an improvement in their psychological and physiological state, which goes hand in hand with the reduction in stress and anxiety associated with such a disturbing condition.

Stress and lack of rest have devastating effects on our health, fitness and beauty. Don’t be afraid to find yourself a good massage therapist and get some healing on a regular basis. When you’re taking care of your skin and what’s beneath it, you are taking care of your whole world.