“Feeling tight” is a common presentation for patients at seventy9 Sports Therapy. There’s nothing specifically wrong – structurally everything is OK – but the patient feels tight during movement which often leads to a functional loss. Sometimes, a “tightness” is the first sign of an injury developing. But feeling tight is nothing to worry about so long as you intervene to change the picture.
Why do we get tight?
Muscular tightness/stiffness generally occurs through 3 distinct pathways, outside of the acute traumatic setting. If there has been recently/historically a tear in the muscle, there may still be some latent tightness or stiffness due to scar tissue during the repair of the tear. The same applies for tendons.
In a more chronic/atraumatic setting, muscular tightness/stiffness can be characterised as one of three things: Short, Shortening, Fatigued.
Short muscles are tight because they are short, in that they spend significant time during the day/activity placed in a shortened position. This can have an effect on both the structure and behaviour of the muscle which in turn effects the way we move it through range of movement. The most common example of this are the hip flexors in patients who sit at a desk all day. Since sitting is a hip flexed position, the hip flexors are in a short position for long periods of the day. This can cause stiffness and a lack of hip extension range of movement, and in some cases lead to general hip dysfunction and the risk of further injury.
A simple positive intervention in this example would be to ask the patient to stand more often during the day, whether that be to undertake simple tasks (answering the phone, reading a document) or to work for portions of the day in standing using a standing desk. Clinically, our approach would be to provide some sports massage, as well as providing the patient with a focussed mobility programme.
A shortening muscle has the opposite problem to a short muscle. These are muscles that are placed in a lengthened position for large periods of the day/activity, resulting in the body attempting to shorten them back to their normative length. If we consider our desk based patient, their glutes would fit this description. Glutes are hip extensors and since sitting is a hip flexed position, their glutes would be lengthened for large periods of the day. The response from the body would be to attempt to shorten them by applying tension until they returned to their normative range. The patient would feel “tightness” in their glutes, however as they are not tight because they are short, the treatment approach would be different to that of the hip flexor example.
We would still suggest to the patient to stand more during the day. Since the hip flexor and glute work in opposition during movement, a short/hyperactive hip flexor can reduce the capacity and function of the glute. Clinically, the patient would still benefit from sports massage, though the technique would change as the goal is to reduce the neural activity (hypertonicity) of the muscle. That work can be continued by the patient though the focus of the rehab programme would be on improving the recruitment and strength of the gluteal muscle fibres. The important distinction to make between a short and shortening muscle is that short muscles require a mobility focus, shortening muscles require a strengthening focus.
Fatigue could also be thought of as “sport and exercise related tightness”. As we exercise we intentionally do a small amount of damage to our muscles. This is in the form of micro-trauma. In turn this causes a regeneration of the muscle, making it stronger and with greater capacity to load. This is how we become fitter, faster, stronger, though over time can leave us with muscle stiffness.
Managing this is two-fold.
The first thing is to prioritise rest and recovery at certain points during a training block. Typically this may include one or two active recovery or rest days each week during which your exercise output may be a yoga session, or you may have a sports massage, or you may just do nothing! Just as important is to include download weeks within your exercise programme. These are weeks where the overall weekly training volume significantly decreases, yet the intensity stays the same, allowing the body to adapt and recover in preparation for your next training block. This is usually built around a 4 week model to coincide with the monthly calendar, with the 4th week being the download week. Typically you would decrease the volume of each session during the week (and the intervals/efforts within it) whilst keeping the relative intensity the same. Whilst you’re exercising less during this week it is often of benefit to focus on recovery modalities such as sports massage, as well as rest, during this period.
Secondly, it is important to include regular mobility in your weekly schedule. This should be a mix of different things: foam rolling, theragun, massage stick, lacrosse ball, stretching, mobilising, yoga. Additional to this, sports massage can really help as a supplement to the mobility work you are undertaking at home. At times, there may be need for more frequent visits to the clinic, for example when you are in a high volume block of training such that you are struggling to fit enough mobility/recovery work in around work/family commitments. Regardless of how often you need us, sports massage can have short term benefits in improving your mobility and recovery, as well as long term benefits in highlighting possible injury issues and addressing them before they start to become a problem.
Having “tight” muscles is nothing to be concerned about though should be something that you are intervening on. It is important to identify which structure is tight and why it is tight, so that an appropriate intervention can be put in place to deal with it. A trip to seventy9 Sports Therapy can help with assessing and diagnosing the problem, as well as creating focussed and custom interventions to deal with it.
Don’t let your injury ruin your day, speed up your recovery process with our Sports Therapy and Sports Massage in Surrey. For more information, speak to one of our therapists or secure an appointment today using our online booking system.