Have you ever complained of tight hamstrings, tight hip flexors, tight calves, or tight muscles anywhere along the chain? Have you spent multiple sessions working on stretching and mobility without any relief, or very temporary relief of tightness? Chronic tightness may be because your muscles are weak. Check out our Youtube channel for exercises that can help you strengthen your muscles!
Are Your Muscles Tight or Weak?
Oftentimes our muscles can be “perceived” as tight due to an underlying strength or stability deficit. Just because the muscle feels tight, does not always mean it needs to be loosened or lengthened. Sometimes muscles feel tight due to a subconscious attempt to provide additional stability to the joint – but the actual length of that muscle is normal. In order to counteract this feeling of tightness, we need to find and strengthen the muscle or group of muscles that are not providing the adequate strength and stability to the joint involved. Ready to get started and have your muscles evaluated? Contact us for help!
Another interesting example of perceived tightness comes from people with hypermobility. Hypermobility refers to having “too much” mobility in the joints. Too much mobility is not inherently a bad thing, unless there is not enough stability to control the mobility. This type of joint mobility is often seen in people who are very flexible with little to no range of motion restrictions. With all of that mobility, the joints require significant amounts of stability to control the movement. Oftentimes, the surrounding muscles are not doing their job to provide adequate stability, therefore the affected muscles continue to feel chronically tight. Use the Beighton Score (here) to determine if you have joint hyper mobility.
Below are several common examples of muscle tightness versus weakness.
The hamstrings are one of the most common areas where people experience muscle tightness. Although several factors can contribute to hamstring tightness (true tightness from sedentary lifestyle, anterior pelvic tilt, neural tension, disc herniation), perceived hamstring tightness can also be due to lack of gluteal strength. When the gluteals are weak, the hamstrings get a signal from the brain to increase activity as a compensatory mechanism to make up for lack of support coming from the gluteals. Increasing activity of the hamstrings will provide additional stability to the hip and pelvis, but will lead to the hamstrings feeling chronically tight. If constantly stretching the hamstrings provides little to no relief of symptoms, instead try strengthening the gluteals to allow the hamstrings to relax.
Upper Trapezius Tightness
The upper trapezius is another muscle that often feels chronically tight. Our patients who typically experience upper trapezius tightness because they spend many hours sitting, working on the computer, driving, or looking down at their cell phones. Stretching, massage, and joint mobilizations can provide only temporary relief. The root cause of the issue is not coming from muscle tightness. Usually, symptoms stem from strength and stability deficits of the deep cervical flexor muscles and/or the lower/middle trapezius muscle.
What Should You Do?
It is time to start strengthening if you experience chronic muscle tightness. Strengthening is the best solution if there is no relief from stretching, massage, or mobilization. At Symmetry Physical Therapy we provide a thorough musculoskeletal examination to determine the root cause of muscle tightness and develop a plan of care to target the appropriate muscles. Chronic muscle tightness is not always an easy fix and more structures may be involved than expected. Conservative treatment such as physical therapy is the best way to combat these symptoms and get you moving better.
Check out our Instagram page here for tons of education, strengthening exercises, mobility exercises, and more!
Our Doctors of Physical Therapy can help you determine whether or not your muscles are tight or weak. We can help you determine the root of the issue and recommend an ideal treatment plan!
Written By: Dr. Nicole Willis, PT, DPT, SFMA-C