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  • What it Means When a Muscle Feels Tight

    I’m sure you’ve felt tight muscles on yourself. Whether you physically touched the muscles with your hands or just felt the sense of tension in your body, there’s a good chance you rubbed those muscles yourself or asked someone else to do it for you. Maybe both.

    But what does the term “tight muscle” mean? What makes a muscle feel tight and do you always need or want to release it?

    Muscles Can Be Contracted Short

    muscle length contracted vs relaxedWhen a muscle feels tight, it could be tight from being shortened or contracted. This is what most people assume whenever they feel a tight muscle… that it’s contracted and needs to be released or relaxed. But that’s not always the case

    If the muscle is contracted tight it will feel thicker than normal. (see picture)

    Muscles Can Be Stretched Long

    But muscles can also feel tight because they’re being pulled or stretched when other muscles that move your body in the opposite direction are contracted. Both sets of muscles can feel tight to the touch, but it’s likely that only one set of muscles will hurt. Often the ones that hurt are the ones being pulled. (Not always, but often.)

    My favorite (albeit somewhat oversimplified) example is a kid pulling on your arm to get you to come see or do something with them. If you’re in the middle of doing something, you’ll put them off. If for some reason they were to keep pulling on your arm (and you let them) until you were ready to go with them, your arm would likely begin to hurt. No amount of massage on those arm muscles is going to relieve the pain of the muscle being stretched until the kid stops pulling.

    The same thing happens when you have one set of contracted (tight) muscles pulling on another set of muscles that are pulled (or stretched) tight. One set will usually hurt while the other doesn’t.

    If the muscle is stretched or pulled tight it will feel thin and taut like a trampoline or army cot.

    If you “release” a muscle that’s being stretched tight, you’ll do yourself quite a mischief. That stretched muscle is usually pulling back (or trying to) in an attempt to keep itself from being pulled even farther. In other words, it’s bracing your body against further pain. If you release it, the contracted muscle will be allowed to contract even more and stretch the already stretched muscle even further. If you thought it hurt when the muscle was being pulled before, it’s nothing to how it will feel if the shorted muscle is allowed to pull even harder.

    The Long and Short Of It

    So… just because you have a muscle that feels tight doesn’t mean you necessarily want someone to release it for you. *Shameless Plug* You want a professional massage therapist to evaluate your body and release the shortened muscles while comforting the stretched ones.