Muscles that are chronically tight and knotted need more than passive stretching to regain flexibility.
Since tight muscles are the leading cause of chronic back pain and other pain conditions, it is important to know how to relieve muscle tension.
Muscles chronically tense due to injury, poor posture, repetitive use, or improper training. Knots called trigger points often develop in tight bands of muscle fibers and the connective tissue that surrounds muscles called myofascia.
Trigger points are isolated spasms of tissue that can cause localized and referred pain, as well as making it more difficult to relax the tight muscle.
Passive stretching, involving the use of a body part or other surface to keep our stretched muscle in position, is ineffective in relieving chronically strained muscles and trigger points. Examples of passive stretches are lunges, where the floor supports the legs, or the popular quad stretch in which you hold your heel up to your butt with your hand.
On the contrary, the spasmodic knots can tighten even more in reaction to the attempt to lengthen the muscle fibers; it can be a form of self-protection to prevent tearing.
It is possible to restore length, strength and flexibility to tense muscles with the following techniques.
Myofascial release can be sought from a practitioner or self-administered.
A specialist trained in myofascial bodywork can locate trigger points and use practical techniques to release spasmodic tissue bundles. Bodywork techniques are also used to lengthen the entire muscle. Auto-myofascial release (SMR) involves the use of a foam roller or other round, dense object.
To practice SMR, you roll on the taut muscle with the roller between your body and the ground. Pause on the softer spots (knots) and hold for 30-45 seconds. Performed twice a day and before and after workouts, SMR can provide enough relief for some.
Active stretching uses the principle of reciprocal inhibition. This principle develops between the so-called agonist and antagonist muscles. These muscle groups are located on opposite sides of a joint and facilitate opposite movements.
An example of these opposing muscles are the hamstrings and quadriceps; the quads extend the knee while the hamstrings flex it. The principle of reciprocal inhibition states that activation of an agonist muscle causes inhibition of the antagonist through neuronal communication.
When the quadriceps are activated, a motor neuron signal is sent from the quadriceps through the spinal cord to the hamstring, inhibiting their activation. This encourages the hamstring to relax and stretch. Active stretching has the added benefit of strengthening the agonist muscles (the ones that are activated in stretching).
Muscle imbalances involve differences in strength and length between muscles; the tighter muscle is shorter and stronger than the opposite muscle, which is weak and overstretched. In reality, both muscles are weak, because a strained and strained muscle cannot work hard.
Active stretching gives back length to overly tense muscles, which will lead to strength, and strengthens opposing weaker muscles by activating them.
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