If a muscle is actually physiologically tight (versus feeling tight), it can only restrict movement when it is put on stretch/tension. So, if your left upper trap muscle in your neck feels tight and you’re missing left side bend but have normal motion into right side bend, the left upper trap muscle is not actually tight. A muscle like this on the left is put on slack with movement to the left and put on tension with movement to the right. Therefore, something ELSE - not the muscle - is the cause of the tightness feeling. That is, something ELSE is causing both the loss of motion in left side bend as well as the feeling of tightness in the left neck.
In this scenario, it is most likely that a joint in the neck is not moving properly – and that is the issue, the cause, that needs to be addressed. Joints that are not moving well can cause loss of movement in one or more planes of movement and can cause local symptoms or referred symptoms in other areas. The term I use for this diagnosis is joint derangement. It is addressed primarily with movement in a specific direction.
Just to be clear, it is rare that a muscle is actually physically tight, especially for no apparent reason. It is common, however, for muscles to feel tight as the feeling is referred from nearby structures such as joints. We can determine if a muscle is actually tight vs feeling tight with a thorough evaluation; we don't have to guess. The most obvious example I can think of when a muscle is indeed actually tight is when there has been direct muscle injury. As it heals, the scar tissue will be tight, as is its nature. With appropriate progressive movement, the length will be regained. -- Laura
Biking and spinning usually involve a lot of spinal flexion. That's not bad, per se. But part of having healthy joints is understanding what makes them healthy. Joint mobility is a big part of joint health.
Except for the lower neck, which is extended to look up, the mid back and low back are usually flexed forward with these activities. Sitting upright is of course an option on a bike, but when people are going for speed or effort, they tend to adopt a hunched forward posture. As I say over and over, maintaining full mobility in your joints is paramount to health. If your joints are consistently in one direction or one position - and rarely if ever get moved in the opposite direction - you are much more likely to lose range of motion. Be smart about your activities and your joint mobility and significant injuries can largely be mitigated. -- Laura
My biceps is usually in quite a shortened position due to shoulder flexion and elbow flexion. Ditto for my neck flexors and hip flexors. But they’re not actually shortened (or tighter than normal). I have full flexibility in each of those muscle groups. Muscles can indeed become shortened, but it’s not a given they will get short if they spend most of their day like that.
Again, there are ways to test muscle length/flexibility. I don’t rely on muscle length/flexibility tests alone because they are not very specific. That is, when you test the flexibility of a muscle, you are also testing other structures. What I do if I suspect muscle shortening is perform the muscle length test and note the findings. Then I will do dynamic movement testing and assess the effect on the muscle length test when re-tested. If we rule out everything else, and the muscle stays tight, then we can diagnose muscle tightness.
But my distinct point here is that we can’t make an assumption based on daily positions or activities. If you think “hip flexors get tight” because they’re shortened all day, well then what about all the other muscles that are shortened all day? Isn’t it more likely that something else is going on in the hip area? Things can be figured out with competent testing - not assumptions. -- Laura
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