You stretch and stretch, and then do more stretching, but still feel tight?
When it comes to relieving tired, stiff and achy muscles, traditional stretching might not be the best solution for lasting results. So, if you often feel tight no matter how much you stretch, let’s review why that might be and what you can do to solve it.
First, a little background science about muscles, fascia and the nervous system. Just a little, I promise.
Flexibility improvements happen when you’re able to achieve greater range of motion across your joints. Traditional static stretching does contribute to improved flexibility, but the mechanism isn’t entirely clear. Muscle fibers don’t actually change length as a result of stretching, but the fascial connective tissue in the tendons and ligaments can. The nervous system can also adapt to gentle, slow stretching by recognizing that a new range of motion is “safe” which prevents protective responses from being triggered.
So, what’s going on? Based on the limited research that’s out there, it’s most likely that changes in the fascial and nervous systems have the greatest impact when it comes to gaining more flexibility and mobility.
In order to make sense of this, allow me to explain a bit more about fascia. It’s the remarkable connective tissue that is largely responsible for how well we move. When discussing the role fascia plays in movement, I’m mainly referring to the myofascial system that weaves through and surrounds our muscles and bones. Its primary job is to provide support, structure and communication between cells. It allows us to control and refine our movements by giving tension and stability to one area of our body so that another area may move freely. The entire fascial network within our bodies interconnects everything – from head to toe. And that’s why any area of restriction in the fascia can affect how the entire body moves and feels – nothing in the body works in isolation.
When it comes to restoring your body and gaining mobility, keep these key guidelines in mind for maintaining healthy fascia:
1. Move and stretch your fascia slowly and gently to relieve tightness and restrictions.
2. Change positions often to keep your joints mobile and prevent stiffness. Spend time on the floor.
3. Movement that is dynamic and allows the tissue to utilize its recoil properties is essential for building resiliency.
Now, let’s circle back to why feelings of chronic tightness don’t always improve with stretching? The most common reasons I find are:
#1 –the area of the body where tightness and tension is felt is different than the area that is causing the restriction.
#2 – the area that feels tight is often weaker than the opposing muscle group causing an imbalance of strength.
#3 – the type of stretching being done is not targeting the fascial system.
What does this mean? If you’re stretching what feels tight, but the restriction is somewhere else or that area is weak, stretching won’t help. Feeling tight and being tight can be very different things – perceived tension is your nervous system signaling that something is out of balance.
And here’s the problem: This perception can be misleading. For example, too much time hunched over a computer often leads to a feeling of tension and discomfort along the back of the neck and shoulders. But, instead of stretching your neck and shoulders, you probably need to address tightness in the front of the body by opening through the the chest and then strengthening the area between the shoulder blades for improved postural endurance.
If you can relate to pain like this through your neck and shoulder region, here’s something that’ll help. Give these two corrective movements a try to begin restoring balance to your upper back. Do them daily for the best results:
Chest Opening – lie lengthwise on a foam roller or a rolled-up beach towel, reach your arms out to the side with the palms up. Move your arms until you find the spot where you notice a gentle stretch across your chest and the front of your shoulders. Make sure it feels comfortable, because you’ll want to stay there for 2-3 minutes or more, so the tissues have time to relax.
Prone Shoulder Glides – lie on your stomach with your eyes looking at the floor and your arms reaching overhead. Inhale and lift your upper chest, head and arms off the floor. Exhale and bend your elbows as you pull them back toward your hips. Keep your chest lifted and repeat the arm motion, inhaling as you reach forward and exhaling as you pull back. Aim for 10-12 slow and controlled reps. Keep your eyes looking down to prevent straining your neck.
Now that you’ve begun working on your neck and shoulders, what’s next? Although these moves are a great place to start when you need relief, we have to look at the big picture. Your body functions as one being, and that means all areas must be balanced for you to feel your best.
I’ve got you covered if you’d like more specific ways to relieve tension throughout your whole body. To get started, click the link to get a copy of Restore Your Fascia from Head to Toe. In this guide, I’ve pulled together restorative self-care techniques that are super-effective for maintaining healthy fascia in every part of your body.
Let me leave you with this: Maintaining a healthy myofascial system is incredibly important for overall health and longevity. And the older you get, the more important this becomes for maintaining resiliency. Keeping your fascia in-tune doesn’t require a lot of time, just the commitment to feeling good. It’s amazing how much better you feel, inside and out, when you take some time every single day to make yourself a priority and show your body some love.
P.S. Be sure to grab your copy of Restore Your Fascia from Head to Toe