Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tight Muscles Are Not All the Same

Most of my clients (or should I say most Americans?) have tight muscles. While tightness is certainly uncomfortable and a request for attention, it’s not a useful adjective for diagnosis, because tightness is caused by different factors. Treatment for one type of tight muscle can actually make another worse. I'll explain six types of tightness so you can respond to your muscles’ complaints more effectively.

#1 – Short and overused
After a long hike or intense workout, the muscles in your legs may feel tight and sore, because they have been overused. The muscles are contracted and could benefit from gentle stretching, especially while they are warm from activity.

#2 – Long and overused, but weak
When in an unbalanced posture, some muscles will be short and contracted and others will be long for counterbalance, which creates stiffness that feels like tightness. Computer posture is a great example, as shown in the illustration. The muscles in the front of the chest are short and overused, the upper back and shoulders are overstretched and working in a compromised, weakened position. They need to be shortened and strengthened. Isometric exercise like squeezing the shoulder blades together is effective. (As a matter of fact, half the benefit of a doorway stretch is stretching the front, the other benefit is shortening the muscles in the upper back.) Follow this link for shoulder blade squeeze instructions,S,89941.

#3 – Underused and weak
If a muscle isn’t used, it will atrophy and the surrounding connective tissue and fascia gets sticky and dense. In computer posture, several of the arm muscles fall into this category. Gradually increase strength through exercise to rebuild the health of the muscle and feeling of suppleness to the fascia. Multiple muscle exercises like mini push-ups or bench press is better than single muscle exercises on a machine. Here are instructions for a wall push-up:

#4 – Strained
Muscles that are overused to the point of strain tighten up for protection. The first step in healing is rest. Ice, heat, or a combination can help, too. Then gradually introduce exercise and stretching. You can read more about injury treatment here:

#5 – Trigger points
Strain can create trigger points and so can structural imbalance, poor posture, and being cold. These knots are often described as tightness. The best treatment is warming the muscle, pressing or massaging the tender points, and then stretching.

#6 – Scar tissue
Muscles and connective tissue that have been damaged, either from a sudden injury or continual microtrauma of poor alignment, repair themselves with stiff, inflexible scar tissue. Manual therapy like deep tissue and cross fiber friction massage is an effective treatment. Sometimes stretching helps, but overstretching creates even more scar tissue.

You can’t lump all tight muscles together and treat them the same way. For example, lengthening or stretching a long and overused muscle or muscles with internal scar tissue makes them even more stiff. Become aware of what underlies your internal feelings and you’ll improve your muscle health, prevent injuries, and discover new insights about yourself.
However, there are some types of exercises that are good for your muscles, ligaments, and joints at any time. You can read more about why here:
Also, download a free copy of 7 Undulatiosn to Relieve Office Tension and try seven exercises that relieve tight muscles in the neck, shoulders, hands, and back.

1 comment:

FitOldDog said...

Hi, I just found your site, and you're certainly right that muscles differ in their character, behavior and response to treatment for tightness. Nice to hear someone talking sense. -k (FitOldDog)