We see this one a daily basis. Someone will inevitably come in and and say ” I have always had tight Hamstrings. No matter how much I stretch, they never loosen up.”
I just kind of smile when this happens. Typically with with muscles like the hamstrings, it’s either an alignment issue with 1. SI joints or a 2. strength issue. It’s really that simple.
There are 2 other reasons to have a tight muscle: 3. Neural Tension, 4. Scar tissue from a strain, or an active strain.
1. Joint alignment: Joints obviously have a big impact on how a muscle contracts and relaxes. A common mis-alignment that we see is the SI Joint but it can happen in a number of places in the body. If a joint moves and gets stuck out of place, the muscles attached to it will also be out place and can no longer work correctly. A realignment is necessary to restore the natural length of the muscle. The muscle will loosen the moment the joint is realigned.
2. Strength issue: This is probably the most over looked reason for a tight muscle. We don’t typically think that our muscles are weak. However, in extreme cases, the tight muscle just can’t keep up with the activities that you are performing. A muscle that can’t keep up, tightens in response to protect itself from injury.
3. Neural Tension: Sometimes tightness in a miscle has nothing to do with the muscle itself. Think of a nerve as an electrical cord, from your spine to your finger tips or toes. If this cord gets pinched or inflamed at any point along the path, it will fire up all the muscles it innervates. There are neural stretches to help correct it and ease the tightness and tingling.
4. Strains: These are the most common for athletes. A strain is simply where a muscle actually tears. These tears create scar tissue inorder for the muscle to continue to function, however this scar tissue, unless it is broken up, will make a muscle tight until it is addressed. It is a simple overuse injury and again the body locks it down in order to protect the muscle. Rest and stretching are the best remedy for strains. Time tables vary for healing. A good rule of thumb, if you are able to loosen the strain, when you activate that muscle again, if it tightens immediately, you’re not over it yet.