Chronic muscle tightness can be frustrating. It limits range of motion and can lead to increased soreness and fatigue. When stretching doesn't relieve your tense muscles, it's time to look at both how you are stretching and other possible solutions. Muscle tightness can be related to diet, over training, muscle imbalances, biomechanics or improper stretching. In order to find the right treatment for stiff muscles, it's helpful to know what is causing your issue. If the condition persists or does not improve with any remedies or alterations to your training, consult a physician.
When you experience limitations in your range of motion, it is usually the result of either joint or muscle restrictions. Proper stretching reduces tightness and tension by increasing the length of the musculotendinous unit that includes the muscle and attached tendons. Before stretching, warm up with 12 minutes of walking, biking or jogging. If it's cold outside, you might need a little extra warm-up time. Focus on active stretching that engages agonist muscles and dynamic stretching that gradually increases range of motion before starting your primary workout. An example of an active stretch is to stand upright, and, by engaging your hamstring, bring your heel toward your buttocks, stretching your quadriceps. A walking lunge is a dynamic stretch that targets the same muscles. At the end of your workout session, cool down with 10 minutes of easy activity such as walking followed by 10 minutes of active stretching.
If your diet is lacking minerals, especially magnesium or calcium, your muscles may have difficulty relaxing after they contract. You should be getting approximately 1,000 mg of calcium and 320 mg of magnesium each day. You may enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, but too much caffeine overstimulates the nerves that control your muscles, causing them to remain partially contracted. Vegetarians have to be extra cautious to make sure they are getting enough vitamin B12 in their diet. A lack of this vitamin can cause chronic muscle tightness.
Muscle recovery is an important aspect of any training schedule. Make sure you are getting enough sleep so that your muscles get a good dose of increased oxygen that will help heal minor tears in your muscles that occur during activity. More rest will allow you to take a mental break from the worries of your day, and that will reduce general tension in your muscles, especially your back, shoulder and neck muscles. If your muscles have been feeling tight during workouts, a few days of complete rest should help them feel more refreshed and responsive.
One-sided tightness in your body is a sign that you are overcompensating or favoring one side. This could be related to muscle weakness, a potential injury forming or compensating because of a past or existing injury. Proper foot landing allows your body to move more efficiently and is less stressful on your body. This results in less soreness in your muscles. Good posture also helps reduce muscle tension. You use less energy when your spine is in alignment, and your muscles don't have to work as hard to keep it in place.
- Running Sports Essentials: Mobility, Potentiation, Core Strengthening, and Stretching; Bobby McGee
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: Current Concepts in Muscle Stretching For Exercise and Rehabilitation
- Sports Injury Clinic: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Lize Brittin lives in Boulder, Colo. A writer since 2001, she is the author of the book "Training on Empty." Brittin has also written for publications such as Competitor, Active Cities, Boulder Magazine and Thrill. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University Of Colorado.