Why do muscles go tight and how can we minimise this tightness!

Do you ever wonder why your muscles go tight and you have done nothing? Ever wonder why your muscles feel painful after training?  Ever wondered why your muscles go into cramp?

In this blog I am going to answer those questions and give some personal experiences when working in clinic on how we can help minimise that tightness through home care and massage therapy.

Firstly, tight muscles are very frustrating, painful and this can become stressful over a long period of time. Over this period, you will build up tolerance to this tightness but that will come with a price to pay, restricted movement in that area.

So what is tightness?

Muscle tightness is when your muscles feel tight, stiff and painful and you find it more difficult to move the muscles than normal.  A tight muscle is your bodies way of protecting you and the tightness/pain is going to prevent you from further injury. It is also a lack of communication between your brian and certain muscles and in order to protect you, you brain will limit the use of these tight muscles. It will then find other muscles to use to help which is called compensation, which is great short term but in the long term it causes harm.  Muscle tightness is a very unpleasant feeling and it feels like there is something wrong in the body. When someone has muscle tightness it never feels comfortable. Knowing how to manage and prevent tight muscles will help you live better pain free. Muscle Tightness is a predisposing factor for muscle injuries

3 Main Types of Tightness?

Inactivity – This is a result of restricted movements for long periods of time whether this be at work or on the sofa. Let say you are sitting at a desk all day in a seated position your hips are in a shortened phase and the muscles in your back are in a lengthened phase. Over long periods of time this will lead to muscle imbalance with your hips becoming tight and your lower back becoming weak. Due to sitting for the majority of the day, this will trigger something called muscle movement memory which is the brains memory to remember the muscles correct movement and because it remembers being in that shortened position it will stay like that until it is acted upon. The muscles should then resume working for you exactly as they are designed to do.

Muscle Cramp – Muscle cramps are abrupt, unpleasant, painful sensations caused by a variety of factors such as mineral depletion, inadequate blood supply and muscle fatigue resulting in an involuntary sudden muscle contraction of the muscle. Usually the cramp is short-lived and after the cramp has stopped the muscle may feel tender for up to 24 hours.

Exercise Tightness – This is the feeling after you have exercised, and you wake up the next day feeling tight and achy. This is a term called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS gets progressively worse over 48hrs but then should start to decrease after 72hrs. The most available research into DOMS is linked to inflammatory response to microscopic tears in the muscle following exercise. One common misconception about DOMS is that it is due to lactic acid accumulation, but lactic acid is not a component of this process.

The Research behind muscle tightness and muscle injury?

There are some great studies out there which have a direct correlation between muscle tightness and muscle injury. One of the studies looked at Muscle flexibility as a risk factor for developing muscle injuries in male professional soccer players. This found that participants with significantly lower flexibility in both their quads and hamstrings have a statistically higher risk of muscle legions. Another that looked at the relationship between range of motion and muscle strain in elite soccer players shown that players that had poor preseason range of motion compare to players with good preseason rand of motion in the knee and hip flexor muscle had a significant increase chance of a muscle strain.  This study showed that the difference in range of motion in the hip and knee joint was 3 degrees difference between both injured and non-injured groups.

So what does this mean?

The two studies I have mention are two of many but with me being a football as a youth and I found it interesting to add in but there are lots of different studies. So lets link the studies into actual real life day to day situations. I am going to try make this as simple as possible but feel free to ask any questions in the comments box below. So, both studies showed an increase risk of injury with the groups that had a lower range of motion and flexibility in both the joint and muscle. For those of you who don’t know what range of motion is, it is the distance and directions a joint/muscle can move between its flexed and extended position. So the tighter you are going into any day to day task, the more risk you are to muscle injury. This is clinically proven and as an evidenced based practice we stick to this type of research.

Sitting at a desk all day > muscle imbalance > muscle tightness > increased risk factor for muscle injuries

Muscle cramps > variety of factors > muscle contraction > muscle tightness > increased risk factor for muscle injuries

Exercising > DOMS > muscle tightness due to inflammatory response > increased risk factor for muscle injuries

As you can see all of the above have an increased risk factor for muscle injuries due to the muscles being tight.  Well you are probably thinking, basically if I work I will become tight and if I exercise I become tight so how can I avoid this? Well remember this is a blog relating to the increased chance of injury due to muscle tightness, it does not mean you WILL get injured. What we want to do is counter act the muscle tightness to decrease that risk factor of injury.

By sitting at a desk all day, we can prevent muscle imbalance by working the opposing muscles and restoring brain memory to the muscles. For example, due to sitting at a desk all day your chest muscles will become tight and your upper back/trap muscles will become weak. This will result in muscle imbalance and tightness in the chest and muscle ache in the upper back. To counter act this I would suggest stretching out your chest muscles and strengthening your upper back muscles.

Muscle cramps can be avoided most of the time by keeping hydrated, replenish your electrolytes and low to moderated exercise to help with blood circulation.

Research has proven that Massage Therapy can lower the intensity of DOMES soreness. But remember, Massage therapy can help reduce DOMS soreness not DOMS its self. Another good way to reduce DOMS is to do a good and proper warm up and cool down. A good warm up will increase blood flow to your muscles, loosen them and will reduce risk of injury. Remember DOMS is micro trauma to the muscle, so the tighter we are before exercise the more trauma we will cause during exercise. Also you probably seen why people have ice baths, well applying cold compress will decrease inflammations and since DOMS is a inflammation response this will help minimise the pain.


So we have concluded that there is concrete evidence that muscle tightness is directly linked with muscle injuries. We have also concluded that staying in the same position at work for long periods of times induces muscle movement memory and muscles imbalances and we have concluded that DOMS happens after exercise.

A proper exercise, stretching and nutrition strategy will help with the 3 main types of muscle tightness. Exercise routine will help muscle imbalances and strengthen weak muscles. A good stretching plan will help release tight muscles and improve muscle movement memory and the nutrition strategy will help with muscle cramps. I would also suggest a good warm up and cool down before and after exercise to minimise and muscle trauma and inflammation response.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you stretch each body part for 60 seconds. You can do this by 3 bouts of 20 seconds or all in one go. Another study has found that if you stretch for 30 seconds, this will sustain hamstring length and increase range of motion. They also suggested that there was no increase in flexibility when increasing the stretch between 30-60 seconds.

It is important we know the facts behind things in order for us to understand and benefit from them. Lots of people stretch but not for 30 seconds each time. We also advice getting regular Massage Therapy treatment every 4 to 6 weeks to help prevent muscle tightness. I would suggest either Sports or Deep Tissue Massage

  • Strengthen Weak Muscle
  • Stretch Tight Muscles (30 Seconds Minimum)
  • Schedule Regular Movement Break at Work to Improve Muscle Movement Memory
  • Warm Up and Cool Down properly
  • Improve Your Nutrition
  • Get Regular Massage Therapy Treatment To Prevent Muscle Tightness.



Mark Poolan
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