Are your hamstrings always tight? Do you keep stretching for hours but don’t seem to get any more flexible? Are you reaching for that foam roller in desperation?
This may sound obvious but if you’re stretching your muscles every day and you’re not noticing an improvement in flexibility, something is wrong. If this is you, the first question you need ask yourself is, “why do muscles get tight in the first place?”
Stretching muscles to their end range will result in a feeling of “tension” or “tightness.” Like an elastic band, muscles can only stretch out so far before tension starts to build. With daily stretching, flexibility in healthy muscles can be increased. There are however less obvious reasons muscles can feel tight, and all the stretching in the world won’t fix it.
- The first major reason muscles begin to tighten is because of adhesion. Adhesion forms in muscles, tendons and other tissues when they are overused in repetitive motions or prolonged postures. These activities cut off the blood supply and release chemicals that “trick” the body into thinking there is an injury. The body responds with adhesion which acts like glue in muscle. This will cause your muscles to tighten up and stretching won’t fix this.
- Just as adhesion can form in muscles it can also form around nerves. Nerves normally need to “floss” between muscles during normal movements. If adhesion “glues” a nerve to a muscle it won’t be able to “floss” and the nerve will start to stretch as you move. This will be felt as a typical muscle stretch. The most common nerve to get stuck in muscles is called the sciatic nerve. It is a big nerve that runs from your butt all the way down your leg to your toes. Have you ever bent forward to touch your toes and feel stretching in your calves? Bending forward isn’t stretching your calves to end range, and the tightness you’re feeling is actually your nerve stretching to its max point. The resulting tension is felt in your calves. Pretty weird right? This is a dead giveaway that you likely have adhesion between your muscles and sciatic nerve.
- The final major reason for muscle tightness is less obvious, and it’s one with which most people are unfamiliar. When you try to put your body in a position that could cause injury or harm, your muscles will tighten up to protect irritated or damaged areas. This is called protective tension. It might feel like your muscles are tight or stretching, but what’s actually happening is that the muscles are contracting unconsciously. For example, if someone has damage to a disc in the lumbar spine or tissues within the hip joint, the body will attempt to protect these structures leaving you with tight muscles.
The human body is incredibly complicated and just because something is tight doesn’t automatically mean that you need to stretch. If you find yourself constantly stretching without improving it’s likely something else is in play. Get yourself checked out by a certified professional who can diagnose the real cause of your tightness, and improve your flexibility.
Dr. Doug Rawlick, D.C.