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WHY ARE MY MUSCLES TIGHT?

By Greg Morris, PT, DPT, OCS, ATC | August 4, 2021

WHY ARE MY MUSCLES TIGHT?

Do you feel like your muscles are always tight? Do you wish your muscles would relax so you could enjoy some rest? Muscle tightness is quite common, and it may come as a surprise how simple and effective treatments can be in resolving muscle tightness. 

WHAT IS MUSCLE TIGHTNESS?

The feeling of stiffness and tightness in muscles can lead to signs and symptoms such as cramping, muscle pains, joint pain, and limit your ability to go about typical daily chores. In some cases, the pain and symptoms felt from “muscle tightness” may actually originate from a different source. A study from The Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation examined the stiffness of the hamstrings in relation to patients with low back pain. They concluded that the restricted range of motion in the hamstrings was not caused by muscle stiffness, but rather a decreased stretch tolerance. Stretch tolerance can increase the more an individual stretches and conditions their body to that range of motion. 

SHOULD I STRETCH?

In some cases, yes. However, the common tendency to immediately turn to stretch in an attempt to relieve the symptoms felt could have the opposite effect. In certain cases, this could end up making the problem worse. If there is neural tension stemming from a herniated disc or other condition in which a nerve is compromised, stretching could actually aggravate that nerve and increase the intensity of the symptoms.  Your genetics could possibly lead to muscular stiffness, such as collagen malabsorption or mis-production, stretching may worsen the problem. 

HOW CAN I RELAX MY MUSCLES?

The solution to the relaxation of tight muscles depends on the cause of the stiffness. Common factors contributing to muscle tightness as well as their recommended solution are:

  • Muscle weakness (inactivity): Building strength in the muscle and loading the weakened muscles may aid in relieving stiffness.  
  • Overuse: A repeated movement pattern or too much exercise with inadequate recovery can lead to muscle fatigue.  Rest and adequate recovery (time and nutrition) are big factors here.
  • Dehydration: Most people under-hydrate their bodies on a daily basis. The recommended amount of water per day 0.5 – 1.0 ounce of water per pound of body weight. Since there are 8 ounces in a cup, a 100lb person should be drinking between 50-100 ounces, or 6-12 cups, every day. The typical purified or spring water bottle contains two cups of water. On days when exercise is planned, try to drink more to compensate for the water that is lost through exercise.
  • Muscle imbalance/compensation: If a part of the body is injured or has been in the past, other muscles will compensate for what the injured muscle(s) cannot do. This will lead to overworking the muscles that are compensating and may result in stiffness and muscle imbalance. Compensation can arise from many other factors as well, such as walking with pain or a limp, poor posture, and chronic/repeated motions that engage only one side of the body.  

The symptoms associated with muscle tightness can range from slight to severe. Our Physical Therapists at Virginia Therapy and Fitness Center are educated in the solutions to muscle tightness and understand the pain may lead to functional limitations in daily life. Our therapists will personally assess you, educate you on the situation, then lead you through resolving your symptoms to achieve your goals and move toward a pain-free lifestyle.  

 

 

About The Authors

Greg Morris, PT, DPT, OCS, ATC

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