Tight. A word that I hear a lot from my patients, clients and students.
“My muscles feel tight.” “I was told that I have pain because I am tight.” “I should stretch to decrease my tightness. Right???”
Answer. Maybe. It depends. (I know…that answer is miserable. But it’s true!!)
Tightness is a subjective term. What you think is tight and what I think is tight can be different. The lid on the pickle jar? Tight. My upper traps? If you dig in, you might say, “wow, these are tight!” But I have no pain and I have full motion. So is it a problem? The need to hold on to the rope really firmly during a family tug-of-war? Yes, hold on tightly. But dig in too tightly, you might be pulled across the creek because your muscles can’t respond quickly enough!
One definition of muscle tightness: “Muscle tightness is an inability of a muscle(s) or muscle groups to move through a full range of motion for a specified body part. The muscle(s) may undergo a change in tissue quality and result in a semi-contracted state in which the muscle(s) are unable to relax or lengthen.” (Consensus of Muscle Tightness from Multidisciplinary Perspectives. Nursing Journal). Note: ALL muscles do shortening contractions (biceps curl) and lengthening contractions (lowering a weight). They move in different directions in response to forces, activities, and the need of the body and joints to move and to hold.
Key. They respond. They move.
When we ask them to hold for long periods of time, or to respond to a constant or minimally varied force (for instance, the pelvic floor responding and holding to downward forces of tummy sucked in or limited breath and diaphragm movement?) they may become shortened, stiff, or hold. You may perceive tightness. Or pain. Or in the case of the pelvic floor, difficulty emptying your bladder, frequency and urgency, or leakage (yep…leaking is not always weakness).
And in reference to leakage with activity, if the pelvic floor muscle GROUP (Not just one muscle, not just one layer!) is weak or not able to work as optimally with other muscles, the response to constant force MIGHT be to hold. Maybe too much. Or to not be able to respond as well as we would like.
Isn’t the body wonderfully complicated?
This is why when I meet someone for an appointment, I want to know the concern. What is your problem and why you are here? Then into the evaluation and the assessment. How you are moving, breathing, how your tissues and muscles are working and moving together (including scarring. Is a scar preventing the teamwork? Or Pain?).
AND then the fun part of creating change. Often, as we go through the assessment we are already seeing changes because we are moving tissues. Maybe we’re stretching. Perhaps not. It depends on your body and what your responses are. And each visit: what’s different? What’s good? What’s not great? Assess, re-assess, and make changes.
Interested in different movement, strength, balance, and function? Ask! Embody provides Physical Therapy, classes and workshops. We’re here to help you and your tissues and muscles feel and move as optimally as possible!
Consensus of Muscle Tightness from Multidiscinplinary Perspectives
Rebecca Meehan PT WCS PYT loves movement and gets excited by creating change with her patients, clients, and students. She co-founded Embody Physiotherapy & Wellness in 2014 to have the time and ability to educate and to treat her clients in one to one visits as the individuals they are, to teach movement and strength classes, and to teach yoga classes for movement, strength, and balance. You can reach Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org