It’s important for you to know that weak musculature is something we all have in different regions of our body, and so I’m not intending to insult you when I tell you you’re weak. I’m weak too – we’re on the same page! With that disclaimer, let’s discuss why you’re so tight all the time and what you can do about it.
Muscles are made for movement. I’ve said it many times and I’ll keep saying it.
When we don’t move regularly enough we develop tension and mostly we’re familiar with that cycle. But part of what happens in chronically reduced movement is that the weakness we develop in certain muscle structures ends up leading to more discomfort in the long run.
Part of the reason why this happens, is related to the idea that our body is arranged in such a way to allow opposing movements.
So it’s really more to do with strength imbalance between opposing movements that causes the biggest portion of this discomfort. Let’s paint an example – if you’re sitting at a desk and if you commonly do this as part of your everyday activity, you’ll likely develop some extra strength in movement chains that bring you forward in space (towards the screen), such as your anterior arm and chest chains.
To the opposite of that our posterior arm chains are therefore commonly held in a lengthened state without any (or very little) muscular activation. Over time this leads to weakness of that muscle tissue.
We then go through somewhat of a cyclic tension-development process, where weakness in the posterior chain allows the stronger anterior chain to take over, pulling us further out of alignment. Naturally our tissues will try to resist such poor posture, and as a result the weaker fibers of the posterior chain are doing more work than they can handle to try and reverse the situation.
Coupled with the stress we often feel in that position (with work etc.) we end up with many painful trigger points in the shoulders and upper back due to chronically over-stimulated muscle spindles (special nerves within the muscle). That creates a feedback loop that makes you reach over your shoulder and think “man, that’s a knot!”.
Knowing this is important for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is that as therapists we need to ensure that we’re not only massaging the area that feels sore (posterior chain in this example) but we’re also helping to alleviate the larger issue. In this instance part of our work in-session would involve creating more openness and length in the anterior chains of the arms/chest as well as treating the posterior chains.
Without that dual approach the results/benefits of our work will be short-lived.
It also highlights the importance of remedial exercise (homework) and the idea of changing your movement habits. Unfortunately we as therapists can’t do the strength work for you – but we can guide you in the right direction with specific activities that help to build balancing strength and openness where needed. That means (again, unfortunately) that you have to do your homework to assist in eliminating the source of your pain.
Providing length, relaxation and immediate tension-release to the tissues of the body is what we can assist with. Reducing weakness and helping with the larger picture, is something we can help with, but it’s up to you to do the work.
Take a look at some muscle strengthening exercises for your neck (especially if you have neck pain).