My Personal Rant on Tight Muscles

The fig 4 Stretch isn’t helping Gumby out at all.

As professionals, especially those dealing with the human body; chiropractors, MDs, and DO’s. PTs, personal trainers, massage therapists, coaches, nurses, and whoever else wants to be involved in my rant, I feel a big need for some grassroots verbiage changes, specifically with the word “Tight.”

At some point, we all have tight muscles.  We have all been told our stress is due in part to our tight muscles, maybe even your running and workouts are being sabotaged by tight hamstrings, IT bands, or shoulders.  Seems you have tried everything and are still tight?  Can’t seem to get stretched out properly?

Well, maybe it’s time for everyone to re-look at what it is we’re trying to change.  We need a better question (see the previous episode  “Simple Answers for Life’s Complex Questions.”

Maybe change the way that some of our body issues are dealt with and try a new approach.  This starts with the proper descriptor- getting rid of “tight” muscles.

Let’s me attempt to help you understand “tight” in the first place…

Tight… I would guess that most people visualize muscles that are rock hard and contracted.

Make a muscle with your bicep by flexing your arm.  The muscles (that are attached at both the elbow and the shoulder) contract, shorten and get bigger and tighter right?  Of course, they do, that’s what muscles do, they contract and get shorter and move joints and the body around.  If your muscles in the arms, low back, shoulders, and chest are “contracted tight” like that, then stretching, massage, heat, and relaxation would be a very valid and proper treatment.  Stretching works, there are millions of professionals that specialize in that exact thing, and billions of dollars are spent on books, apps, and classes to teach you the best way to do it.

I use the stretch in my office all the time!  HOWEVER – That’s not always the proper treatment.   That’s not the only “tight” I find.  In my opinion, it’s not even the most common “tight.”

I’d say, and I do all the time – there are about 5 versions of tight – so unless we change what we were taught and visualize we keep jacking ourselves up.

This exact idea is why I’m known in some national-speaking circles as “the guy that hates stretching.”

I don’t HATE stretching.  I think stretching a muscle that doesn’t need stretching is just dumb is all.  and I’m vocal about it.

If you are above age 30 you are probably looking kind of funny right now.  “what, no stretching? – But Mr. Timm my 6th grade PE teacher and every single doctor, trainer, coach, therapist, and chiropractor have confirmed this.  You’re telling me, Dr. Peters, you’re smarter than them???”

Here’s my answer, “How’s that stretching been working?  You’re what, 3% better after a month or two of work?  Better for 10 minutes and the tightness mysteriously returns?”

 

Let’s look at your arm again.  What if the same bicep muscle was really really elongated?  Go ahead, make a muscle and flex it,  contracted tightly huh?  Now elongate it- straighten your arm all the way out…now feel the bicep.  “Wow!  That feels tight too”

Yes, completely opposite but still technically tight, and would guess all of you would agree?  The problem is, this way, this muscle is “elongated tight.”  -Are you starting to see the point yet?

The problem with this elongation is that the muscle is already stretched. In fact, it is really stretched out and typical treatments for “contracted tight” muscles, such as stretching, hot packs, foam rollers, etc aren’t going to do much for muscles that are “elongated tight.”  In fact, they are most likely going to slow down healing and stall recovery.

But doc, it feels good.”    I know it does.  Blood coming to a muscle always feels good, but it’s not helping you FIX anything!

 

If this is new to you, you may be confused.  I go through this speech every day in the clinic.  But just go back to the idea of the bicep.   Stretching isn’t always the answer for tight muscles.

CONTRACTED VS ELONGATED.  It’s easy to see that the treatment for these distinct issues is strikingly different.  They feel the same, they’re both technically “tight” but the ability to differentiate between the two is paramount to proper treatment, speedy recovery, and increasing performance in sports.

Hopefully, I have you re-thinking your old sports injury that just hasn’t responded despite your diligent routine for the last three months.  

Believe me, every day in the clinic we will blow clients’ minds by having them contract a muscle and increasing mobility.  Sounds weird right?  But now you know a little of the science behind why it works.  Muscles and your whole body love perfect tension, they love perfect function – and with any type of injury and muscle issue, treatment works way better when you have the right diagnosis.

 

The ability to tell the difference between muscles [Elongated and Over-stretched] or [Contracted and Shortened] may take a professional.  It’s hard and you really need to know the physiology of the body.  The description really does make a difference however and calling it “tight” just confuses the whole idea. As professionals, as some of you are, let’s make the effort to properly figure out what is really going on with our clients and act appropriately.

For the layperson, how about this.

An example for a better explanation: 

Today, my stressor (it’s like this a lot of days) was a client who just couldn’t grasp the idea.  The whole “I love Yoga, stretch, mashing muscles, and love to get popped by the chiropractor” has left her so miserable and BROKEN that I needed to do pretty much an intervention…She is so OVER mobile that she has lost any stability and her body is screaming at her.    I explained it 15 different ways and she just couldn’t “get it.”  I’m pretty sure she still doesn’t but here’s what I ended with – sound advice for all of you out there.

Whatever therapy or at-home remedy or exercise or plan I have – ever given as a treatment. if it doesn’t show great results in 3-4 visits, try something else.

In fact, try the opposite.

Piriformis syndrome, figure 4 stretch – just sayin’ that’s not what I see – I see 90% of people having just the opposite.

How about if you’ve tried stretching for a few weeks and it just isn’t working try a revolutionary idea…Do the opposite, contract that muscle.  Strengthen it, make it better and while we’re all at it, Let’s all perpetuate the new modern term “Mobility” over antiquated “Flexibility.”   There’s a lot more going on in your body that a single tight muscle anyway.

 

I’ll get to more of this in future podcasts – I’ve mentioned there is 5 reasons why you’re tight – this was only 2 –

If there is one thing that makes my office stand out from others in my industry though, this might be the most important concept.    please get this – your health depends on it!

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