Constantly stretching your tight muscles? Well, stop the madness!
Stretching has been a hotly debated topic for decades. Conventional wisdom maintains that if a muscle is “tight” or “short”, it must be stretched. That seems fair. But the truth is much more complicated than that.
Can a muscle be physically short enough that it interferes with a joint’s ability to move through its full range of motion?
Yes. But that would be rare. A muscle can be physically short either through genetics (you were born that way) or after a significant injury that resulted in scar tissue in the muscle belly (a torn muscle, etc.). Normal use, or even the rough and tumble soreness and bruises that come from contact sports, would not lead to enough scar tissue in a muscle or in its connective tissue to result in a physically shortened muscle.
But stretching always makes it feel better!
There’s nothing wrong with feeling better, so go ahead and stretch it out. Try some foam rolling. Or go get a massage! (And who doesn’t like a good massage?!?) But if you take care of the cause, you won’t have that sensation of a tight muscle and you won’t need to stretch it all the time.
So, what causes the muscle to feel tight all the time?
Stress can cause your muscles to stay in their Fight or Flight state. That is… always tense and ready for action. If this is what is causing your constant tension, focus on stress relieving activities like deep diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) or take a nice walk around the park. Even ten minutes of light exercise can really help lower your body’s stress response and maybe help those tight muscles loosen up.
Weakness in a particular muscle group, or the muscles around the “tight” one, can lead to that muscle feeling like it’s tight. This is because it is always over-working, even just to keep you upright and moving. This can lead to overuse injuries and poor movement patterns that can exacerbate the feeling of something always being tight and needing stretched. Instead, focus on strength training. As the muscle strengthens, it won’t have to work so hard to keep you moving and can instead relax.
So, what do you do for a tight muscles? Add some strength training to your routine. (This may be your most important intervention!)
Move more. Focus on your mental health and stress levels. And if you are dealing with an injury, ask your trainer, physical therapist, chiropractor or physician to evaluate it and see if it needs more specific care.