As professionals, especially those dealing with the human body; chiropractors, MD’s, DO’s. PT’s, personal trainers, massage therapists, coaches, nurses and whoever else wants involved in my rant, I feel a big need for some grassroots verbage 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 previous article “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 you 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 those 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 spent on books, apps, and classes to teach you the best way to do it.
I use 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.”
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 tight huh?, Now elongate it- straighten your arm all the way out…now feel the bicep..wow! It’s still pretty tight still isn’t it. I could still call this tight and would guess all of you would agree? 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!
I’m guessing this has you condfused. I go through this speech every day in clinic. But just go back to the idea of the bicep. Stretching isnt 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 client’s minds by having them contract a muscle and increasing flexibility. 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 lay person, how about this. How about if you’ve tried stretching for a few weeks and it just isnt 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.