Muscle tightness vs Muscle weakness

Jan 30, 2020

Do you stretch daily but the feeling of muscle tightness keep coming back!!?


Muscle tightness is a feeling and not a mechanical condition. Muscles that feel tight are not always shortened and stiff but can in fact be elongated, fatigued / weak! The feeling of muscle tightness is not an accurate measurement of range of motion. Patients come to us saying they have ‘tight’ hamstrings but can bend forward and put their hands on the floor! Also it doesn’t always correlate with hands on soft tissue work, patients might complain of ‘tight’ calves but there is no tension in them at all.

On the contrary some muscles that don’t feel tight to the client have high tension and muscle tone! This is very important to take into consideration, as the go to treatment for ‘tightness’ is doing stretches, which in fact could actually be making the problem worse and only giving you temporary relief.

A typical muscle that we see in our clinic which can cause a feeling of tightness in the neck and top of the shoulder blade is the levator scapulae. This can be caused from prolonged postures such as slumped shoulders, thoracic flexion, rounded shoulders causing shoulder blade protraction and / or forward head postures. These can put this muscle under stretch / tension for long periods causing fatigue in the muscle and therefore pain, which is commonly self treated with stretches, but in fact strengthening may be the best route to focus on.

Prolonged postures can also reduce the blood supply to certain areas which irritates the nerves giving you a sensation of discomfort / tightness causing you to react and move, increasing the blood supply back to the nerve. Once nerves are irritated they are easily irritated again so this can become an ongoing problem.

Furthermore we must always consider the kinetic chain as you may be compensating from weakness in another muscle or from altered mechanics.. For instance ‘tight’ (fatigued) hamstrings might be a symptom of weak glutes. The gluteus maximus is the main hip extensor but if this is not doing its job properly this can put more load through the hamstrings and adductor magnus causing fatigue in those muscles, in turn you get a sensation of tightness in your hamstrings or adductors. Also with a shoulder / neck injury you may start to alter the mechanics of your shoulder blade muscles which force certain muscles to do extra work
to get you through daily life. Take in to consideration if you go to the gym and train legs for the first time in a while, the delayed onset muscle soreness you get (muscle fatigue) acutely reduces your range of motion and you get a feeling of tightness/ fatigue in your legs!

We regularly see patients with back / neck (spinal) tension which in certain cases the feeling of tightness looks to be a protective mechanism to reduce movement and re-injury. This is all well and good in the acute stage of an injury or perceived threat of danger, however it can become a vicious circle over time as your reduction in movement will reduce your function / capacity. It has been shown in the research that two factors that help reduce the chances of getting lower back pain in the future is high movement variability and increasing general activity. So don’t rush to stretch those muscles!!!! You might get temporary relief but it may make it
worse and it may be not getting to the root cause!

What we can do at SB Sports Massage & Rehabilitation?
The first aim if you are coming to us with the above issues is finding the root cause of your problems by going through a thorough subjective and objective examination to provide you with advice and a personalised treatment program. We see people in our clinics on a daily basis with these issue’s so we are highly experienced in getting you back to full fitness and improving your quality of life.
You can book an appointment online via this link, BOOK HERE or call one of our clinics direct!

You can find more of our informative blogs HERE
By Ben Hampson BSc – Sport Rehabilitator (BASRaT registered)
Instagram: @sbsportsmassage
Facebook: SB Sports Massage & Rehabilitation

Tasha R. Stanton, G. Lorimer Moseley, Arnold Y. L. Wong, & Gregory N. Kawchuk. (2017). Feeling stiffness in the back: A protective perceptual inference in chronic back pain. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 1-12.
Hargrove, T (2017) Why do muscles feel tight? Physio-Network

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