In Part 1 it was posited that when the brain concludes there is a bodily sensation that warrants the use of the word “tight”, (or its derivatives) it probably does not automatically mean there is a material problem with the fabric of the passive tissues (ligaments, tendons, bone, fascia) in the location described by the individual. Additionally, we concluded that the application of local manual techniques (rubbing, heating, stretching, vibrating, etc.) over the course of a few seconds or even minutes will not result in any detectable tissue property changes due to the tightly regulated cell-to-cell electro-mechanical connectivity, even if the individual reports a change in the feeling of the tightness. Any change in bodily sensation experienced following manual material/fabric-based approaches are due to the stimulation of the sensory system, which generates new bodily information and may lead to the brain reaching a new (albeit temporary) conclusion that it no longer needs to report “tightness”.
What makes someone even think they should be able to move through a range of joint motion (ROM) and never feel “tightness”?
- They used to be able to.
- They see other people can move that way without reporting tightness. Perhaps they are in a yoga class and their classmates are all touching their toes or twisting more than they.
- Someone told them that they are supposed to be able to get into the position. (This probably should have been #1). Whether it’s a group ex class instructor, personal trainer, a book, an Instagram picture, or whatever, some authority figure or supposed expert decided they know best and you should be able to move that way without tightness.
- They think that if they have more ROM, they can have; more slender muscles, lose fat faster, increase muscle size, prevent injuries, increase their muscle power, run faster, recover faster, etc.
- They are supposed to be perfectly symmetrical between their left and right sides.
Is tightness similar to pain in that it is a signal that something is wrong?
What is the risk in attempting to move through a motion that your brain concludes is “tight”?
The body’s anatomical structures can limit motion. For example, take the hip joint. There is a specified shape and amount of space – unique to each individual – at the top of the femur (thigh bone) that allows the head (ball) to move a certain amount within the socket of the pelvis. If the
shapes and dimensions of the bones are such that they contact each other, at any point along a pathway of motion, then no more motion can occur without damaging the bone and related tissues. If that joint space has disease or damage then the motion will be limited and information may be generated from the sensory system that may alter muscle function in such a way that it stops one from moving the joint into certain positions and along certain pathways. In this case “tightness” might be absolutely necessary to prevent further damage to the joint materials.
What is the risk of changing the sensation with strategies like passive stretching, heating pads, deep tissue rubbing, vibration tools, etc.?
The manipulation of bodily tissues (stretching, heat, pressure, vibration), which are embedded with an array of sensors that create information for the brain to use, can stimulate receptors to send information which may alter the main function of muscle – which is to generate tension to initiate and control movement/position and react quickly to forces in order to protect the passive materials. (Ligaments, joint capsules, blood vessels, connective tissues)
What do you think an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury is? It’s when the forces acting on the body exceed the muscle’s control and that
energy transfers into the ligament and tears it.
If the use of passive approaches attempting to alter the fabric of the body e.g. stretching, vibration, heat, deep tissue pressure, etc. temporarily removes the sensation of tightness but creates a scenario that negatively affects muscle tension generating capability – and subsequently control – then when forces are placed on tissues (running, lifting weights, etc.) they are possibly more susceptible to being injured.
So what do you if you want to try and change the sensation of tightness and increase range of motion (ROM) without compromising the control of the muscle system via these passive approaches?
- Don’t force anything to make it “longer”. Negotiate with the body and focus on the movement (position) you are trying to improve and think about squeezing/contracting muscles in both directions and on both side of the joint(s) that feel the tightness or limit in ROM.
- Now try the same with progressive resistance with dumbbells, tubing, or machines. In other words, try to develop more contraction in your muscles in the directions you are attempting to increase ROM. Vary those contractions e.g. isometrics, miometrics, pliometrics.
- Keep in mind that this is a process that will likely be different for each person and will certainly be influenced by the individual’s current state, history, and the muscle/joint system in question.
- There may be different “stretching” techniques you want to attempt. Remember, we are now focusing on the “movers”, not the “restrictors”. While there may be some application with “stretching” techniques, that’s a much broader topic. Be on the lookout for that article…
- When it comes to removing the sensation of tightness and/or increase ROM, acknowledge that any part of the body (system) can be affected by any other part.
This means that your limited ROM or sensation of tightness may:
- Not be something bad or wrong at all.
- May be a result of some other part of your system not operating at a high enough quality that is remote to the local sensation of tightness.
Remember, the only thing that can actively move your joints is your neuro-musculo-tendono-skeletal subsystem.
With that in mind consider the following (which can affect the process and outcome of using muscle contraction to try and resolve tightness and ROM concerns):
- The more injuries you have the more complex and stubborn the problem might be.
- The more pain you have the more your nervous system may fight anything that you are trying to change.
- The more restricted or tighter you feel the less you should force the process.
- Joint and muscle disease can curtail progress.