Why do we feel muscle tightness?

Ever felt a muscle tight? Perhaps you’ve felt when a muscle needed a good stretch.

Lately, I’ve felt the side of my leg tight. There’s some dysfunction with my  IT Band but I’m not sure what’s causing the problem, therefore, I don’t know how to fix it. When our muscles feel “tight” our muscles could either be short and tight or long and taught. 

Before we dive further into this question you need to understand some concepts. Our muscles have two components to them: Actin and Myosin. When they attach, myosin will pull actin and this creates movement; its known as Sliding Filament Theory. Secondly, there is the Length-Tension Relationship, which says there is an optimal length actin and myosin need to be from each other in order to produce maximum force production. A sub-optimal length-tension relationship means one of two things; 1. myosin heads can only reach a couple actin binding sites meaning the sarcomere is closer to its longest possible length or 2. myosin heads overlap many actin heads but the sarcomere is closer to its shortest length possible. Either scenario isn’t in the ideal length to create the maximum force possible. Third, we have Force-Couple Relationships, which is the sum of the vectors our muscles produce around a joint. Multiple muscles work together to create movement there isn’t a movement that requires only one muscle to contract.  As a result, the length-tension relationship of each individual muscles that is part of a movement will automatically affect the force-couple relationship around a joint as well as the length-tension relationships of the other muscles within the force-couple.

Now, how do length-tension relationships and force-couple relationships relate to muscles being either short/tight or long/taught? Well, if the length-tension relationship within my hip flexors is short, my pelvis will tilt forward but instead of feeling my hip flexors tight I’ll feel that my hamstrings are tight. My hip flexors have affected the force-couple relationship within my LPHC (Lumbopelvic hip complex) so because my hip flexors have become shorter by default the opposite muscles (hamstring group) are going to be lengthened.

Unfortunately, we aren’t simple. Just because you feel your hamstrings “tight” does not automatically mean the problem is short/tight hip flexors. The problem could be emanating from my lower leg but affecting my hamstrings. It’s important to check the opposite muscle(s) as well as the muscles above and below the area where you feel “tight” or pain.

How do I figure out where the problem is coming from? Well, stay tuned. 🙂