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Why Are My Muscles Tight?

Why do your muscles feel tight and what can you do about it? It depends, but first let’s explore a few common misconceptions about muscle tightness.

Is My Muscle Short?

A short muscle is not the same as tone/tension within a muscle, or a “tight” muscle.

Muscle tone is described as a low level state of passive contraction that exists in all active skeletal muscle. Even when our muscles are at rest, there are still some cells contracting. A shortened muscle is described as having a resting length that limits joint mobility and range of motion.

When a skeletal muscle is stimulated, it contracts. Repetitive activation, overuse or physiological dysfunction can result in overstimulation which can lead to increased tension within the muscle. This can limit  the muscle’s ability to lengthen and generate maximum force. However, a muscle can exhibit increased tone and no sensation of muscle tightness, or a sensation of tightness with decreased tone. A muscle can also be short or long and have no sensation of muscle tightness, or have a sensation of muscle tightness in a shortened or lengthened state.

Is My Muscle Knotted?

Studies have shown increased tissue pain sensitivity is not associated with muscle tightness or hardening, and the painful spots were actually softer. Contrary to popular belief, it is impossible to palpate or feel tissue tightness. (See our article here explaining knots and tissue restrictions). 

It’s All Subjective

Muscle tightness is a subjective, unpleasant feeling or sensation. Only the subject can perceive the pain or sensation, much like experiencing a headache. Some causes for muscle tightness are weakness due to muscle overload, prolonged postures that impair blood flow such as sitting too long, overall stress, diet, or your emotional state.

How Can Massage Help My Muscle Tightness?

We’ve explained that muscle tightness is not a result of shortening or increased tension within a muscle, which makes stretching ineffective. One of the most effective methods of treating muscle tightness in a therapeutic session is through manual bodywork. Pressure applied through Deep Tissue Massage can inhibit receptors that perceive pain, though this effect may only be temporary.

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